How to start?

I’ve rewritten this article a few times as I’m finding it difficult to express myself without sounding defensive or for fear of offending people who do not identify with what I’m saying.

So, after reading the third rewrite, what I think I’m trying to express is what it’s like to be introvert and how I have shaped myself to fit rather than being unashamedly myself.

This blog rose out of an article that I read in The Guardian back in June – How the lucky ones lived under lockdown (and I do identify with being one of the lucky ones!).

Baking, gardening, crochet … how the lucky ones lived under lockdown

As I was reading, a quote jumped out at me.

“I’m more clear-eyed, energetic and positive since lockdown,” the 47-year-old therapist says. “I’m an introvert, and I think what I always wanted to do was be a homebody. But I was so embarrassed about that. I thought it was unacceptable, and that I always had to be out there socialising. Now I have the perfect excuse to stay in and be cosy, and I’m just so happy.”

This is how I feel. Exactly how I feel.

Square peg in a round hole

The life that lockdown has afforded me makes me happy, it suits me. It suits my introverted personality. I haven’t had to strive, or meet expectations (of myself or from others), I haven’t had to socialise where it’s previously made me feel so uncomfortable, and I have been ‘allowed’ to be happy with my lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my friends and family and I have missed that. But what I haven’t missed are the social occasions that make me feel like shrivelling up inside, that leave me exhausted, that I dread as I feel the time grows nearer.

And I realise that not everyone feels this way. Some yearn for people, for stimulation, for company. Some are desperate to escape from a homelife that is not safe. I know am in a privileged situation of a stable and loving homelife and I have people to share it with.

But really the revelation that I felt when reading The Guardian article wasn’t about how lockdown made me feel. Lockdown has just highlighted it. I realised I have always felt this way but tried really hard to push it deep down, somewhere inside.

I also have come to realise that all the stress and mental challenges some people are feeling now in lockdown, is how I felt pre-lockdown, and have felt all my life. Like a square peg in a round hole.

Room 101

From school to college to work, from child to adulthood. Feeling compelled to fit into societies norms. To tick the boxes, to be well travelled, have a degree, a fascinating job, be the social butterfly flitting from drinks party to barbecue, regaling people with my stories of ‘when I did this’ or ‘when I did that’ (I don’t do that by the way!).

Do you remember the program Room 101 with Frank Skinner? Where people relegated stuff they found annoying or hated into Room 101. And by symbolic gesture, a representation of that annoyance was sent down a shoot into the room amidst whoops and cheers from the audience.

Well, a certain episode from years ago has always stayed with me, a female celebrity wanted to put shy people in the room as she felt they were annoying. Like they were lazy for not interacting, that it was just an excuse and they were pathetic, shrinking violets. Frank Skinner wouldn’t send them down the shoot and I have always loved him for that.

Polishing the veneer

Oh I’ve learnt to put it on over the years. The chat, the outer shield, polish the veneer, take a deep breath and in we go. But I come home exhausted, spent, relieved that I might not have to do it again for a while.

There has been a lot of talk about the rise in mental health issues coming out of the Covid-19 crisis – I don’t doubt it – but now I see, I see the exhausting mental health issues I have had to face up to all my life because I’m just me and society doesn’t promote people like me. Many of us have been battling this all our lives – lockdown has just given us a chance to breathe again.

And I know we are all different and need different things in life. I’m not saying my way is right, it just is. But what I have realised is that I have spent my life shaping myself to be the round peg so I could fit in the round hole, because that is acceptable. That is strong, that is confident, that doesn’t hurt people’s feelings by saying no thank you, that doesn’t suit me. Because expressing my discomfort makes others feel discomfort too. So, I end up pleasing others and not being true to myself.

*As a little side note, to any friends and family reading this, this isn’t me declaring that all the times we have spent together have been about me putting on an act. I love spending time together. Being an introvert doesn’t mean being a people hater. Those of you who know me well and love me, know that. I need connection and networks like all other human beings do. But for me it’s about being in an environment where I feel comfortable – small, intimate groups where I feel connection, not social gatherings where I stand in a corner wracking my brain about what to say, how to sound interesting/interested, how to make myself feel bigger than I’m feeling inside.

Choosing to be me

So as I tentatively come out of lockdown and the extroverts leap into action, I will be quietly continuing my journey of self-discovery, navigating how to undo years of conditioning. I will choose how I want to live my life. I will allow myself to be myself. I will set my boundaries. I will learn to say no with integrity.

If lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that this square peg no longer wants to be shaped to fit the round hole. Yes, I like solitude. No, I don’t like crowds or fuss or noise. Yes, I’m an introvert. But being an introvert doesn’t equal being weak. Because when I need to, I can step up as well as the rest. I’m not afraid to put my head above the parapet to stand up for my beliefs, for my loved ones, my values, my way of being.

And now? Well I choose to stand up for me.

May we, the introverts, stand shoulder to shoulder with the extroverts, with respect for each other’s differences and love for each other’s strengths that we all bring to the table of life!