There was a time many moons ago when I was outgoing and extroverted. I could talk to anyone about anything and fit in with any group. I enjoyed getting out of the house and going places and seeing people. Nothing about being in a social situation scared me. Sure, I didn’t like crowds, but back then it was just because I didn’t want to get trampled in the event of a disaster. (That is still a very valid fear of mine, by the way…) That all changed a few years ago.
Before I married my husband I did not have a stable life. It was pretty much the opposite of stable, really. I hesitate to say that I lived out of my car, but I was close. I drove up to two or more hours a day and stayed at a different house every night. I live in the largest city in the United States land-wise and I traveled every inch of it. Every night I found myself on a different side of town and somehow managed to pick jobs that were nowhere near any of the houses in which I was staying.
Not only was I constantly around people, but they were people I couldn’t be myself around. Whether it was extended family or in-laws, I never felt truly comfortable unless it was just me and my (now) husband, or if I were with my immediate family. However, on a daily basis I was around at least two or three people I would call acquaintances more than close friends. This meant I always had to be on my guard, keeping my filter updated and ready to go at all times.
When I’m comfortable in my surroundings, I tend to have the vocabulary of a well-educated sailor, and you can’t exactly go dropping F bombs in front of your soon-to-be in-laws (who, I might add, are quite religious), right? My sense of humor, the way I speak and carry myself – all of it had to be curtailed to fit whichever home I was in at the time. Oh, and there was no walking around the house without a bra on – I was always around male family members.
Then I got married and my husband and I bought our house. That was when everything changed. I’ve never been happier than I am now, but having my own house changed me in more ways than one, including my personality and general willingness to be, you know, outside of my house.
It’s funny how quickly you can get used to a new situation. I had gone from being a nomad with no privacy to a wife with a stable life in a day and I just hit the ground running. Once I no longer had to leave the house I just didn’t. It didn’t take long for that to become my norm.
It wasn’t until I stopped leaving my house that I realized how introversion vs extroversion could depend so much on circumstances. The more I stayed home the less comfortable I felt anywhere else. The less interactions I had, the more anxiety I got about even the slightest possibility of being around people.
Like many other things, excelling at social interaction requires practice and in my late teens to early twenties I had plenty of that. The more I dealt with strangers and acquaintances, the more comfortable I became. Because I was constantly having to talk to people or drive all over town, I couldn’t afford to be anxious or afraid of any “what ifs” I might encounter.
Now that I spend so much time alone or with my husband (and I mean so much time), the harder it has become for me to be around people or to leave the shelter of my house. I’ve forgotten how to read social cues and that filter I had up to date and ready at all times? Well, let’s just say it has atrophied. Because who needs a filter when you’re constantly by yourself? I talk to myself all the time and I’ve been known to say some pretty stupid things while doing it, but it never matters because no one hears me. Except for my husband, but he’s used to it now.
So this got me thinking about how circumstances can cause social anxiety and how that social anxiety can turn someone into an introvert. If I were still living the life of a nomad, I’d probably still be pretty outgoing because I would have no choice. I would be constantly practicing my social skills by spending time with people I’m not 100% comfortable with.
Instead, I now spend the majority of my time not dealing with people, and this leads to a vicious cycle. When I go out I am pretty much guaranteed to embarrass myself, which makes me avoid going out in the future. But sometimes I have no choice, so I go out and embarrass myself and start the process all over again.
Over the course of four or so years I have gone from an extrovert to an introvert. From a social butterfly to a social disaster. From the center of the room to the “Do I really have to go to this?”
Of course this is all anecdotal and doesn’t apply to everyone. My depression and anxiety is generally situational, too, which I intend to write about soon. However, realizing this has helped me come to terms with my introversion and social anxiety and it’s helping me open back up a bit. Not a lot, though. I’d still choose staying home over going out any day.