What I Need as an 'Extroverted Introvert' Struggling With Anxiety
Extrovert (noun): An outgoing, overtly expressive person.
Introvert (noun): A shy, reticent person.
Extroverted introvert (noun): Me.
As someone who has always deemed herself an “extroverted introvert,” my life has never been necessarily “easy.” Working in emergency medical services (EMS), I have to talk to people — a lot of people — every day. Even when talking to people is the absolute last thing I want to do. And working for a small to medium sized hospital-based service makes it even tougher. The corporation I work for contains seven EMS services, four community hospitals, several doctors offices and thousands of employees. Yes, thousands, with a “S.” If you were to ask any of my coworkers, I think they’d use the words: responsible, Type A and outgoing to describe me. But the me they see and the me that I actually am can be two totally different people.
The me they see is the extrovert. The girl who fakes a smile, regardless of how she’s feeling. The girl who says “hello” to everyone as she walks through the halls of the hospital. The girl who comes in early, stays late and takes on everyone else’s problems as her own because she’s dying to make a difference and help in any way she can. They see the 20-something-year-old, goofy kid, whose goal in life is to make people feel good by making them laugh. That’s the me they see.
The me they don’t see is the introvert. The girl who is having a full-blown panic attack when talking to anyone new. The girl whose mind is asking her five million questions about the most random bullshit while you’re talking to her. The girl who is constantly worried that she’s not making a good impression, she’s not working hard enough, she’s not helping out enough, she’s not giving enough and that she’s just in no way, shape or form… enough.
At age 15, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was on and off medications for years. Being so young, I just wanted to be “normal,” so keeping up with my daily medications was never my top priority. As an adult (I’m almost 30 now, ouch), I’ve definitely come to learn that one of my top priorities each day is to take my medicine. Not that the medication fixes everything. It is most definitely not a cure for everyone. But it helps. My anxiety and depression “spells,” as I not-so-lovingly like to refer to them, don’t hit often, but when they hit, they hit hard. And when I say hard, I mean like a freight train slamming into a concrete wall at full speed. These “spells” can be life-altering.
Even when I’m in a “good place” and things are going well, the daily task to keep my anxiety at bay can be a daunting one, to say the least. I constantly worry that I’m doing something wrong. That I’m too much or that I’m too distant. That my anxiousness is flashing in big neon lights across my forehead. So when I’m in a “bad place,” it gets even worse. Getting out of bed seems like the most impossible task. Forget going to work, showering, doing laundry and general pickup around my apartment. The autonomic task of simply breathing is absolutely exhausting. My friends and family say things like “just stay positive,” “you don’t need to be alone right now, so why don’t you come over,” or “you can’t let this get you so down.” They love me and think they’re helping, but unfortunately, all of those little “cheer you up” sayings tend to just make things worse.
So, what do I need when these spells hit? I need you to not think that I’m “crazy.” I need you to be there but not be pushy – offer to hang out, but if I say “no,” don’t be hurt and let that be OK. Saying things like, “I’m here if you need me,” or in the case of my innocent and precious Southern Baptist grandmother, “I’m praying for you,” is OK. Those things are good and very much welcomed. But say it and then move on. If I want to talk about it, I will. But the chances are, I don’t want to. So, while I love and appreciate you for caring and for loving me, what I need and what you want in times like this are likely on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Just because I back off for a bit doesn’t mean I’m backing off forever. It means that I need some time and space to process whatever bazillion things are going on in my head and heart at the time. Let that be OK. If you do, I swear that, in time, it will become easier for me to be honest with you about what I’m thinking and feeling.
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Unsplash photo via Vanessa Serpas