Isolation and Introversion

I’ve been trying to think of a positive subject about introversion since most of the posts so far have been rants about this, that and the other. The thing is I’m at a point in my life where I have yet to figure out how to use my introvert strengths to my advantage. They feel more like hurdles keeping me from living a full life.

Why isolation in the title? Introverts are supposed to enjoy solitude, spending time on their own etcetera. We do and I do but I also perceive it as very isolating to constantly feel that I’m in the wrong place, forced to function in the wrong environment, forced to handle life in a way that is opposite to what comes natural.

I would prefer to live by myself, or possible with one other person. In London that is close to impossible. No one can afford it. Instead I house share with three other people. I get along with all of them for the most part but it is draining to always have someone else in the house – seven days a week. I actually leave the house to find my restorative niches where I can re-charge my batteries.

The same goes for work. I’m lucky to work in a small company. I share office with only one other person who, like me, prefer that it is quiet. In a lot of the companies I have worked for the structure has been lacking. Get stuck in wherever you’re needed at short notice. Juggle several things at once but also make things up as you go along. I like structure – I need structure. To improvise my way through the day makes me do a bad job – or at least not as good as it could be. Part of my current job is to answer the phone for my department. On busy days I have the impression of not doing anything, because as soon as I find my focus the phone rings again.

Most of my socializing is through various writers groups and arts organisations. I love these groups and what we do. I like the people there but we are always in a group. Even when I go home to visit my family, my sister arranges for us to have dinner with our friends. It makes sense since I can’t see them that often, to try to see as many as possible in one go. But I’m an introvert, I prefer a quiet coffee with one or two friends, not a dinner with 5-6 of them in a busy restaurant.

We often hear that we need to step out of our comfort zone. I hate that phrase, because even if I understand the underlying meaning and agree with it, most days, I don’t feel that I’m ever in a comfort zone. How would an extrovert feel if they never got to be themselves on any given day of the week – or all of them?

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Talking Machines

I’m sure you don’t need to be an introvert to dislike machines that try to talk to you, but considering introverts tend to prefer writing to talking, reading to small talk etcetera, this might be one of the annoyances of the introvert’s world.

Example one, choosing the right selection in the phone options. I remember when, if you called a phone number you would get a busy signal, a person on the other line or no reply at all. Ok, I have got used to getting an automatic voice insisting that I choose between a number of options. Fine, give me the option, of which one ought to be to actually talk to someone, and let’s get started. I have come across a few times that you have to say the reason for you call. Sorry, there is no chance in hell that I will talk in to thin air at worst or to a computer at best. I refuse. I will wait them out or start researching their website for a email or chat option. At the very least, there should be the option to dial your option.

Another example are the self-checkouts at the grocery store. Why are they always screaming at me? Ok, I get it, for those with impaired hearing there needs to be sounds but it really triggers a stress response to have an automatic voice that talk in an absurd volume for the whole neighborhood to hear that I should scan my first item. Especially, screaming that I should take my items after I bought them. It’s self-service we’re talking about. I’ll take however long I want to grab my shopping and leave.

Why does everything make noise? From your phone to your computer, self-scanning to microwave, some clever product designer have added some idiotic sound. I turn it off whenever I can.

Stop Overtalking

I must confess that I probably have two disadvantages, or advantages, however you’d like to view it, when it comes to tolerating overtalking. First, I come from a country known for it’s economic use of language and straight-forward way of communication. No hidden meanings if you can avoid it, please. Second, I’m an introvert, who prefer to stay quiet unless I have something to say and then convey that as straight to the point as possible.

It can be helpful to communicate this way but it can also cause problems. My current boss is a talker. He prefers to sit down five minutes to discuss something or make a phone call rather than to respond to an email. Both email and speech, he uses a paragraph to say something I could condense in to a sentence. When asking a yes or no question, it’s not unusual to get a five-ten minutes response that never gives the yes or no answer.

It is his style of communication and I shall not pass judgement. However, from my point of view this can be extremely frustrating. Having a five minute sit-down when all that was needed was a quick reply to an email, feels like a waste of my time. Reading an essay-style email as well as listening to long replies, takes a lot of effort to try to decipher for the information I actually asked for. Among the traits for introverts are listed that we don’t like small talk. I would say that also includes irrelevant talk.

This is most likely not a one sided issue. My boss probably finds me unresponsive and look for cues and underlying meaning that isn’t there. I might sound very rigid and final in my replies. At times, perhaps, I even come across as rude and unwilling to find a solution. This might also be where extroverts and introverts differ. When we start a discussion I have already thought through my position and know my course for action. Alternatively, I will need to take the information I receive and mull it over. Extroverts do much more thinking on their feet. They have neither thought about it before the discussion, nor intend to think about it any further after the discussion is done.

Unfortunately, I think the frustration is mostly on my side.

Do You Sing in the Shower?

I don’t, although I like singing and will happily sing along to music or hum a tune as I go about my day. I’m also quite conscious that other people might not enjoy my singing and therefore choose my moments. I think earphones are one of the world’s greatest inventions – I can enjoy my music (obviously not singing along) and no one else needs to know what I’m listening to.

I bring this up because, as I live in London, which must be the house sharing capital of the world, your habits can be a joy or more likely an annoyance to those you live with. Let’s see how many introverts will wince over this story.

I live with lovely people. I mean, I really do get along with them but one of my house mates has the habit of listening to radio chat shows while he is taking a shower, hence no earphones. I can be mildly amused by this habit early evenings when I’m just coming downstairs to get something and can then return to my room and my earphones. I’m not as amused at 6.30 in the morning when a constant chatter is coming through the floor to my room and through the wall between the kitchen and bathroom as I’m preparing breakfast. Personally I hate chat shows. You can’t possibly have that much interesting to say for such a long time, aka you’re just talking rubbish. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little.

It makes me relish silence and I know that my silence can be unnerving to other people, but I don’t think the same people understand just how tiring this constant chatter can be to me.

Highly Sensitive Introvert

A subject closely related to Introverts are highly sensitive persons. Although not all introverts are highly sensitive and there are extroverts that are highly sensitive too, the majority of highly sensitive persons are also introverts (Quiet, Susan Cain).

The psychologist Elaine N. Aron, PhD, and author of the book The Highly Sensitive Person, has defined highly sensitive persons as someone who “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment” (http://hsperson.com/books/the-highly-sensitive-person/). But how does that feel?

I perceive it as if my filters are too thin. When other people seem to be able to filter out and not hear, see or be affected by outer stimuli, I don’t seem to be able to. On a fairly conscious level I am aware of any sound, smell, touch and visual cue within my range of perception. I can choose to ignore responding to it but I can’t choose to not be aware of it. To me the idea of a rave party seems ridiculous when a simple restaurant visit can be quite overwhelming with chatter, music, different smells of food, numerous people moving within my field of vision. This includes sounds, smells and visual stimuli that is pleasant. If I’m also tired it all blurs together into chaos.

At the moment I’m trying out audiobooks for the first time. I know that the underground isn’t the most ideal place to listen as I hear the train, other people, station announcements as well as this woman (the reader) talking in my ears. Listening at home doesn’t necessarily help, as I’m still aware of the other housemates moving about in the house, the toilet flushing, the washing machine going, the neighbours’ dogs barking, even the quiet sound the central heating makes when heating up the radiator.

Next time you’re in a crowded public place, stop and try to identify every single sound you can detect. If you think it’s tiring to listen to the chaos of sounds for 5-10 minutes, try doing it for a lifetime. It is no wonder that introverts/high sensitive persons want and need a lot of quiet, low-stimuli time.

Mobile Phones are Great but Please Don’t Call Me

Isn’t mobile phones great. You can take them anywhere, get hold of your friends whether they are home or out and about, and you can catch up on your social media. Don’t get me wrong, mobiles have impacted my life just as much as for anyone else. Just like brushing your teeth in the morning it’s become a natural part of our daily life.

Here’s the thing. I love my mobile phone because I’ve never been a phone person. I’ve never liked talking on the phone, with possibly the exception of when I was a teenager. Honestly, what teenager doesn’t talk excessively on the phone? With my mobile though, I don’t have to. With text messages, WhatsApp and Messenger there is little need to actually call people. Like most introverts I prefer to write. Writing takes longer, requires you to think through what you going to write and you can go back and re-read yours and other’s reply. Trust me, I do too.

Especially at work I notice a difference between my introvert need to write rather than talk, especially on the phone, and the needs of the extroverts in my work place. ‘Don’t send numerous emails. Call each other.’ Is something we, as a team, have been told. Yes, for quick questions a phone call can resolve a lot but for giving instructions or summarizing a procedure or a current project, emails are far better when you can’t meet in person, especially if you’re an introvert who likes to go back and re-read and double-check the information you have been given or are about to give.

On the phone I sometimes have the same issues as when I’m in a larger group – I find it difficult to concentrate and to hear what the person I’m talking to is saying. I’m too easily distracted. There are also only so many times you can ask: ‘sorry could you repeat that.’ Apart from the fact that once you hang up, something else might interrupt your train of thought and what you agreed over the phone, slips you mind. You can’t go back to it either unless you’re going to call the person again.

Texts, messages and emails also have the advantage of not interrupting. I can decide when to check and reply to text and emails during the course of the day and also let colleagues and friends do the same. We all have those days at work when a five minute job takes the whole day to complete because the phone keeps ringing. We also have those days when waiting for the train home, we text a friend we haven’t heard from in a while…just because we had 5 minutes to spare and they popped up in our heads.

‘You just disappear’

After a bit of hiatus I’m back writing about being introvert. Last week I read at a open mic night. I’m part of an arts organisation that organises events, theatre performances and work shops. Most of the friends I have in London I have met through this organisation. It’s great in many ways, as I can show up at their events and there is always some of my friends there. When I had just moved to London that was invaluable.

Like most introverts however I don’t function very well in a group. Many of my friends would never guess that I’m introvert so it’s likely that they have no idea of the problems I face in group settings. When in a group I find it hard to focus on whoever I’m talking to. Other sounds, movements etcetera, is constantly drawing my attention away from the person I’m talking to, especially if the sounds are the voices of friends, and movements are people I know but I have yet to say hello to. Introverts prefer in-depth talks. For me that doesn’t have to be as serious as it sounds but in a group I’m either unfocused or I’m forced to talk briefly to many different people. It makes me feel as if I’m not paying anyone enough attention. It makes me feel as if I didn’t really talk to anyone.

Another aspect is that groups can be draining. As many introverts will know, especially in a setting with people you like, you’ve suddenly exhausted you resources and you need to make your escape. I’m forever struggling to get enough sleep. This is what happens. I feel tired, I look at my watch, I realize that I should probably have left for home half an hour ago. Here comes the next dilemma. I can either turn to whoever is closest to me, say that I need to leave and say goodbye to that person, maybe wave goodbye to whoever I happen to get eye contact with on my way out. Or I can try to say goodbye to as many of my friends as possible which will probably take me another 30 minutes of mingling around the room before I can leave. I normally choose the first option which has prompted the comment from one of my friends: ‘you just up and leave.’ I feel really rude and anti-social on my way home after an event like that. Not the greatest ending to a nice evening.

I obviously still go to these events, I hang out with my friends in group settings, I try to make the most of it. But to be honest I would prefer to meet for a coffee in some quiet cafe or go for a walk in the park. At events and social gatherings I would prefer to settle in a corner where friends can find me. But how, to quietly slip away home without feeling like a horrible friend?

To Share or Not To Share

Last couple of weeks I have written little pieces for the blog and then not published them. I haven’t felt like sharing my impressions of the world and found myself thinking that I just sound like a grumpy old lady –  anti-social on top of that.

Although I know I’m neither grumpy or old – or anti-social for that matter, I’m still very easily disturbed. It can be hard to hold back the urge to pop people over the head with my newspaper in the underground, ask if they have ever heard of this amazing, rather old fashion invention called earphones, and why they have to scream down their phone on the otherwise quiet bus.

Lately, I have found myself spending most of my weekends at Costa Coffee because I can’t get any kind of peace and quiet in the house where I live. I live with very quiet people in a quiet neighborhood but I was not made for house-sharing. That I never have the house completely to myself during an average week drives me out the house.

This is all normal, I suspect, if your an introvert and highly sensitive person. Especially when you despite this still prefer to live in a large city rather than in a secluded country cottage.

What Introverts Do Not Understand Part I

Lately, I have seen a number of people, both young and old, that seem to have forgotten their earphones. Know what I mean?

Well, as an introvert it is beyond my comprehension why you would feel the need, or even want to, play your music to everyone around you, especially if you are in a busy street or in the Underground – buskers excepted. It’s like this obsession with fame has made people believe that they are in a music video or that they must be heard to know that they exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I love music. I play music any time I get a chance. If I’m home alone which is very rare nowadays, I play music loud and sing along at the top of my voice. As an introvert however I am aware that we live in a noisy world and people around me might not want to hear my music or they don’t like the kind of music I like. Hence, one of the modern world’s best inventions – earphones. Nowadays, they come as personalized as you could ever want them to be.

And for those who feel the need to play a sound track to their life for everyone else to hear – you are annoying. More so, you are as beautiful, important and valuable without tiresomely drawing attention to yourself. Your existence is not diminished just because the rest of us can’t constantly hear you.

What do you do on your own?

Does having no one to join you, stop you from doing things you’d really want to do? Do you go to see your favourite band by yourself, the long awaited movie, a dinner on your own or go for a walk in the park? Do you join that yoga class or local gym? Do you travel solo?

Chances are that if you are happy to do things by yourself that are not normally seen as solitary activities, you’re likely an introvert. Introverts are much more comfortable in their own company and therefore, I would think, less likely to opt out of doing something because they don’t have someone to go with. Possibly with the apprehension of having to talk to people they don’t know. Extrovert on the other hand might see going somewhere solo as an opportunity to get to know new people, much more likely to interact with the new set of people.

Yes, we all read in our own quiet corner, or even to put a barrier between us and the rest of the world, such as communting on an overcrowded tube train. We watch TV in our own favourite chair at home. We have a coffee or maybe even a beer at our local cafe or pub. Most will go for walks in the park when the weather is warm without needing company. But how far are you willing to push yourself?

When I moved to London, on my own, which I’m sure many would see as a brave step, I was quite aware that if I wasn’t prepared to go places by myself, I would spend my entire time in London confined to my rented room. Not much fun! I believe I already had this ability, to do things solo. I went seight-seeing, to the museums, to photo exhibitions etcetera by myself and I still do. Sometimes prefereing to experience things without anyone else’s opinion.

Later I started going to the movies by myself, went out to dinner as a treat, attended events that are local to my community. I confess that there are still things I don’t do by myself. It’s more about feeling vulnerable than that I care about whether it’s socially acceptable or not. Medium-to-big concerts, dancing, late-night pubs, travelling, are things where I don’t feel comfortable. But, even smaller concerts, I love sitting in my own corner listening to a really talented musician.

So how solo are you prepared to go? Or are you dependent on having someone with you to share the things you love doing?