Quote: In terms of, like, instant relief, cancelling plans is like heroin

A social introvert?!

My mom calls me a social butterfly. I call me an introvert. Who’s right? Well, believe it or not, both of us. My calendar is usually pretty full and I’m always planning some activity with one friend or another. That’s right, I’m a social introvert.

Yes, like the M&M guys, we do exist. Just because we’re introverts doesn’t mean we hate people. I mean, sure, some of us genuinely prefer a good book and solitude to socializing 100% of the time. But some of us still like to get together with friends, go to crowded events or *gasp* go to a party.

Running an energy tab

As I’ve mentioned before, the biggest difference between extroverts and introverts is how we recharge our batteries. For the most part, I enjoy socializing. One might even accuse me of having FOMO. However, as much fun as I’m having, socializing is work for me and every interaction has an energy cost.

Small talk with acquaintances, for instance, can be fairly pricey, but doesn’t tend to last long. Hanging out with my best friend is very low-cost, but over an extended period, the tab can really rack up. Add a few more close friends and the cost increases. Put us somewhere crowded, like a restaurant or somewhere loud, like a bar or concert, and the bill starts to go through the roof. I might be having the time of my life, but I’ll be running on fumes and likely need a full day to recharge.

Hitting the wall

At a certain point each day, I’m just done. It might come earlier some days than others, depending on how much recharging time I’ve been getting. If I’ve had plans every day after work, which is sometimes the case, and haven’t had some good quality quiet time a night, I’m no use to the world by Friday.

For this reason, it’s not uncommon for the social introvert to bail. The social part of me is excited to make lots of fun plans and see the people I care about. The introvert part of me, however, may have other things in mind. It can come across as flakey, inconsiderate or downright rude, but please know that I really did intend to do the thing I committed to doing. It’s just that I spent all of my social energy and simply can’t afford to use up any more. Just like you wouldn’t have a shopping trip when your bank account is in overdraft.

Trust me when I say that at that point, it’s better for all involved if I don’t try. Trust me when I also say that I’ve likely wrestled with the decision of whether or not to cancel for an absurd amount of time. I’ve pictured myself going through the process of getting to my destination and having interactions and the thought alone exhausts me. I do feel bad about bailing on you. It’s just that the guilt is soon replaced by a glorious sense of relief that I don’t have to be “on.”

Reading a book in the bathtub

Recharging my battery

The biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts gain energy from social interaction, whereas we gain energy from alone time. I like to compare myself to a cell phone. Throughout the day, I lose my charge and the more interaction I have, the quicker my battery drains. You know when you’ve been using your phone a lot and suddenly the “battery critically low” message pops up? That’s me on days where a lot is going on or I go out after work without a break in between. Although, my “battery critically low” warning usually appears in the form of me being irritable, feeling drained or finding myself cowering in a corner with my hands over my ears, muttering, “shut up, shut up, shut up!” to myself.

Plugging in the charger

Getting into a quiet environment and being by myself is the only way to my battery so I don’t lose power completely. Most days are calm enough, and I’m still at about 30% when I get home, so any alone time is enough. But here are some of best ways I’ve found to calm my nerves and rest my brain.

  1. Sinking into a hot bath 
    Does anything beat a hot bath? I make a ritual of it by adding bubble bath, epsom salts to rejuvenate my body, a scented bath bomb (Lush can be an introvert’s best friend) to rejuvenate my senses and a good book to rejuvenate my mind.
  2. Colouring
    The 2015 fad of adult colouring books turned out to be a great one for me. I can put all of my focus onto something monotonous, quiet and completely mindless. I let my mind wander while I fill in the white space.
  3. Tuning in
    A tried and true method, tuning in to a good show or settling down for a movie is the quick and dirty way to instant relaxation. Netflix has been a godsend for the socially disinclined.

The ultimate recharge

A few years ago, I decided to try something when I was living in the UK, because there was a Groupon for it: an isolation float tank. Since that day, I’ve had a secret weapon in my pocket for a complete and total recharge.

Initially, the idea of climbing into a pod that looked like something out of a sci fi movie, shutting the lid and lying in the dark seemed a bit…creepy. But these tanks, filled with water and enough salt to make you float completely weightless, are big containers of bliss.

I’m not claustrophobic at all. In fact, I find small spaces cozy and comforting. But I’ll admit had a hard time closing the pod’s lid at first. And it wasn’t until halfway through my first one hour session that I was able to turn off the light inside the tank. Once I got over the initial weirdness of it all, I relaxed and enjoyed the solitude. By my second session, I was hooked.

A few years later, back in Toronto, I was delighted to find out that H2O Float Spa was opening just up the road from my home.

Shutting the whole world off

At H2O, you have the option of choosing an open concept float, which is like a giant saltwater bath, or a float pod. For an introvert like me, choosing the sensory deprivation of the pod is a no brainer. That’s exactly why I opt not to have music played and turn off the light inside the pod as soon as I get in.

The water in the tank is heated to the temperature of the average body and it doesn’t take long before I find myself completely unsure what parts of my body are under water and what parts aren’t. But what if you fall asleep? Won’t you drown? The salt content of the water is comparable to that of the Dead Sea. It’s pretty tough to move without bouncing back to the surface and darn near impossible to drown.

Once I settle and the the water becomes still, I simply let my mind go. I can’t see or hear or smell or feel anything– it’s almost like floating in space. At first, it was difficult to shut off the constant flow of thoughts, but as with any meditation, I learned to let the thoughts come and go without focusing on any one of them. I completely disconnect for an hour and when I emerge, it’s like I’ve got a shiny new battery.

A dog holding its paws over its face

I’m not just shy

I’m an introvert. Oh, so you’re shy? No. I’m an introvert.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been labelled “shy.” I never really liked speaking to people and have an especially hard time with new people. To some extent, I guess I am shy. However, that’s not the full story. It rarely is for us introverts.

So what is an introvert?

The average introvert is someone who turns inward mentally. That is to say: someone who tends to spend more time thinking to themselves than speaking out loud. We’re the types to sit silently in a meeting, taking in all of the facts and ideas, rather than reacting to each item.

Introverts generally prefer solitary activities, since socializing drains our energy. If you can get us to a party, we’ll be the ones sitting somewhere along a wall, out of the way. We’re watching the shenanigans, not causing them. It doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying ourselves; it’s just that engaging with others is work to us. Hard work. Where our counterparts, the extroverts, are energized by social activity, we are utterly exhausted by it.

Shhh…

One of the major telltale signs of introversion is the critical need for alone time in order to recover from socializing. We are also more likely to need recovery time from sensory overload in general. For me, leaving the quiet tranquility of my apartment (where I live alone, naturally) and venturing into the loud, bright, constantly buzzing world can be pretty jarring. By the time I’ve taken a crowded subway, where I’ve spent the whole time silently willing people to get out of my “bubble,” and sat down under bright fluorescent lights in my cubicle, I’m already feeling weary.

I have the good fortune of sitting right beside the front door to my office. Throughout my day, I hear the door slam, footsteps rushing to and from various meetings, every conversation on the floor, even the beep of someone’s security badge for the office next door. Concentrating can be, for lack of a more descriptive word, tough.

By the end of some days, my head feels heavy, like I’ve soaked up all of the noise and stimuli from my surroundings, and the only way I can make it home in one piece is by the grace of soft and soothing music in my headphones until I can get back to my quiet cave—I mean home—and just…not for a while.

Being quiet is OK

It took me a while to realize not only what I am, but also that it’s totally fine. Now that I know how my mind works, I can cater to it. I know what’s going to drain me and how to refuel. I know how I think and work and interact with people. I know that I’m not shy or anti-social– I’m an introvert.