Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Confessions of a Closet Introvert

People who know me think I'm an extrovert. People who REALLY know me, know that I'm not. I'd rather be hiding in a monastery somewhere, in a quiet corner in the dark, than attending a party. Yes..even if David Bowie is there.

This is something that I like to keep secret for the most part. But a recent contact on Facebook by an old school friend has freaked me out so much that I want to run away to Abbey of Gethsemani right now and stay there until I stop hyperventilating. It's not that I don't like this old classmate. I do. But the last time I met with old friends -- which took more courage than I like to admit -- I realized that they could hardly wait for me to leave so they could start talking about me. Believe me, it was obvious. This thought upset me so much that I broke out into ick all over my body as I hurried away in my car. Even an emergency trip to the Abbey where no one's allowed to talk to me didn't cure it.

Within a week I'd seen three specialists to treat the symptoms brought on by my secret introversion and sensitivity. One side of my face had broken out into shingles, the other side lumped up with rosacea, and the doctors figured what was happening on my forehead must have been an allergic response. But the truth was that it was a simple, widespread immunological meltdown caused by stress. It's no wonder I surround myself with woodland creatures and monks.

I know that whenever I get upset about anything, my brain will conspire to kill me. I have subjected it to stress, so it sends a message to my immune system, "Destroy her!" My immune system kicks into action.

I've been this way all my life. When I was five, I got a fever each morning as soon as I arrived at school. You can imagine how thrilled my Mom was when they called to tell her I was on my way home. Again.

If someone invites me to a party, I'll be sick either the day before or the day after...depending upon whether or not I attend.

When people visit us at home, I'm often in bed with a flu the entire time, or at the emergency ward of the hospital. You think I'm kidding, don't you? Ask our good friends, Jerry and Laurie Towner. They're starting to think I don't like them. But I do. I love them! It's just that being with people makes me sick.

Over the years, I've become so good at it that hardly anyone realizes that I'm only pretending I'm almost normal. Beneath this facade of middle-aged looniness, I'm an overly sensitive, inwardly hysterical, shy person. I'm jealous of guys who get sentenced to life in isolation with no opportunity for parole. And the only people who really believe me and understand what's going on in my head are the HR people at a few corporations where I've worked. They're the ones who administer Meyers-Briggs.

"I see you're an INFP," they whisper to me as they hand back the results of the test. "I never would have guessed."

But when the questionnaire asked, "Would you rather receive an award at a company dinner or be curled up in the fetal position under your desk?" my true personality came out.

And when they inquired, "Who do you think you're most like: Aunt Bee or Emo Phillips?" I responded, "Some mornings it just isn't worth chewing through the leather straps."

I'm sure there are a lot of other people like me out there. Well, out there and hiding from other people like me. And I think I know who some of them are: that sweet nun at the convent I stayed in in Orvieto. The nice monk at the abbey in Kentucky who gave me a rosary. The wonderful tour guide at the remote monastery in France. They're all people who've found their calling as introverts. And if I were Catholic, I might have found that calling, too.

So if you invite me to a party or to dinner I hope you're not offended when I don't show up. It's not that I don't like you. I'm sure I do. It's just that my brain will try to kill me if I come.


cjj said...

I know exactly how you feel, cause I'm one too. I'd rather read a good book or a quiet dinner for two (DH & me)than attend any group function at all. What hurts my feelings is that most people think I am "stuck up", I'm not, just very shy, esp. with people I don't know very well. love reading your blog. cjj

Deborah Knight said...

CJJ -- Yes! They don't understand how you feel. I think my epiphany came when I was director of an Insurance Company and I got onto an elevator with a bunch of people. They all sort of looked at me and I was so embarrassed I just put my head down and moved to the back. Then I realized that if I didn't say, "Good morning" they'd think I was a snob. So I had to force myself to talk. I hope you've learned to fake it as well as I have!

Robin said...

I feel exposed. I recognized me whiles reading your post. I cover up by using humor (which can border on inappropriate). Thanks for sharing so we shy folks know we aren't alone. On my next trip to YM I won't talk to you.

Deborah Knight said...

Robin, I do exactly the same thing! I use humor to hide the fact that I'm a lily-livered coward who'd rather be huddled in the fetal position under my desk than speaking face-to-face with anyone. On the bright side, I've learned to "fake it" pretty well over the past 55 years. Okay...I confess. some things I've only been faking for 35.

laura bryant said...

Hi Deb-- a little behind in my reading, but this really struck a chord with me (another person who is highly introverted but noone knows...). You might get a kick out of this: I loved it!

Deborah Knight said...

It's so nice to know there are other people like me who have learned how to overcome their shyness to lead (almost) normal lives. The link that Laura Bryant (who creates all those fantastic Prism yarns) is wonderful and I recommend you read it. I love the comment about introverts being gifted!