Is it my personality or my anxiety?

It’s a Friday night in 2004. I’m a junior in high school and all my friends are heading to the football game. They’re pumped, all chattering excitedly about the boys they like, the cute football players, the events of the school week. I smile and mirror their excitement but nobody knows I’m pretending. I’d rather be home reading a book or watching One Tree Hill, but feel the need to act like I’m just as excited as everyone else.

In high school, and college, and probably even after that, for years, I was a closet introvert. In my mind, all the cool kids were extroverted which made it the better personality type, and, so, even though deep down I knew I’d rather be at home, I’d act like I loved going out with everyone else. I’d pretend I couldn’t wait for the party on the weekend, when really I was just hoping it would be canceled and I could stay home in my pajamas.

Fake it till you make it, right?

It took me a long time to accept the introverted part of me. A lot of therapy, a lot of acceptance and the book, Quiet, by Susan Cain, helped. I think I’m finally at a place where I fully accept that I’m an introvert and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I’m actually proud of that part of me, but it took me years to feel that way.

Recently, there’s been a major shift in my day to day anxiety. More on that to come, but long story short, I no longer deal with it daily, at least on the same level, as I once did. The social angst I felt 90% of the time is gone and it’s got me thinking, am I really as introverted as I thought?

There’s no question, I’m an introvert. I recharge at home, alone, in a quiet space. I do prefer reading or watching a show quietly than being around a bunch of people. I enjoy the comfort of my own space, revel in my alone time, and the thought of a quiet retreat in the mountains for a couple of days, without another soul around, except for a couple of dogs, sounds like heaven to me. I am easily overstimulated in large groups of people and, after an event, I often feel like I need a nap.

But, I have noticed a shift lately. I may still breathe a sigh of relief when I get home after a long social engagement, but I’m not exhausted. My energy level may be slightly lower, but it’s not completely depleted. The sense of dread I used to feel, the weariness, the stress is gone.

Does this mean I’m an extrovert?

No, but the thought did cross my mind.

Then I realized and I remembered, anxiety is so, SO exhausting. I felt so drained after every social interaction, and I think I attributed the exhaustion to my “introverted-ness”, but that was only half of the picture.

Before, so much of my mental energy was focused on just surviving, just getting through the uncomfortable symptoms my already frazzled nervous system was putting out. I wasn’t sleeping well at night because my anxious mind would keep me up. I would worry about all the things that could go wrong the next day during my work meeting, my dinner with friends, or my family gathering. Sure, the events could be tiring, but not as tiring as the anticipatory anxiety was for my fragile nervous system.

Unless you’ve experienced it, you don’t know how absolutely draining it is to battle an anxiety disorder on a daily basis. You need extra rest. You need time for your mind and body to heal, and most of us, unfortunately, don’t get the amount of time our nervous systems require to fully recover.

My lack of exhaustion after social events made me question whether or not I’m as introverted as I once thought. I can say for certain, that yes, I’m introverted. I can also say for certain, that anxiety made me more so, just because my already taxed nervous system was unable to deal with any more added stress, i.e. anything that required energy.

Sometimes it can be tricky to tell if it’s a personality trait or your anxiety, especially if you’ve been struggling for a long time. Anxiety doesn’t change who you are, but it can make things that used to feel easy hard.

I may be an introvert, but I sure am grateful I don’t feel the same level of exhaustion pre & post social event that I once did.

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