Sometimes, I just want to run away.
I can see it in my mind. I beautiful little farm with fields of grass waving in the wind. A dozen or so fat, red chickens. A couple of dogs. A milk cow. And not another person, as far as I can see.
A place so far removed from the world, so self-contained, that I could stay there forever and never see another human soul again.
It sounds so restful. So peaceful. And on days like today, there is nothing I want so much as that.
I am an introvert.
Many of us are. But I think I’m the kind of introvert who could easily become one of those crazy people who locks themselves in their house and never comes out again. Or, more respectably, a professional hermit.
Why do these options sometimes appeal to me? Simple: the world is a scary place. Incredibly scary. Sometimes, I think I’m strong enough to deal with it. I look at how much I’ve grown over the years, how easy it has become to interact with people as if I were one of them. I pat myself on the back for finally reaching a certain level of competence. I feel capable. And strong. Like I’ve finally figured out how to do life.
But other days, I feel so weak that I sit on my bed for half an hour in the morning before mustering the will to move my legs. So ill-equipped to face the world, I really could leave it all behind. It would be so much easier, if I just didn’t have to deal with people. Facing constant judgment. Repeated failures. Never meeting my own expectations. Wishing I could be better – at social interaction, at decision making, at basically everything. Hating the sick feeling in my stomach – the feeling that I am going to simultaneously hurl and faint, that someone long ago so flippantly compared to butterflies – and the cold sweat that I break into at the mere thought of speaking my mind in front of a group of people. Or saying hello to a stranger. Or entering an unfamiliar situation.
I’ve spoken about the need for community. This desire for closeness, for connection, that we all have. And the importance of reaching out, and not trying to live this life alone. But I understand how difficult that can be. People are terrifying. Honestly, I can hardly stand living with myself, never mind others. And I know how crazy that sounds. Because there is a sane corner of my brain that looks at all the goings-on that the rest of me is orchestrating, and realizes that none of this makes any sense. But there it is. My body reacts to other human beings as if they were deadly threats. And there is no rational argument that can stop it.
Does that make me crazy? Yeah, probably. A harmless kind of crazy, since my instinct is to run away and hide, rather than pick up a gun and start shooting. But still.
I’m using ‘crazy’ in the colloquial sense, of course. But more seriously, am I mentally ill?
I would probably never have considered this question, if I weren’t currently studying mental illness and health psychology. I don’t tend to put myself in categories, or attempt to diagnose myself. But when you’re learning about diagnosis, it’s inevitable. You look at a list of symptoms, and automatically put mental x’s and checkmarks next to them.
So, what is the verdict? Basically, based on the DSM-V, the gold standard in psychological disorders, I’m pretty messed up.
I qualify for a variety of psychological illnesses. I could walk into a doctor’s office today, be completely honest about the nature and extent of my issues, and how they affect my daily functioning, and walk out with a prescription for one or multiple psychotropic medications. It might actually be worthwhile to test that theory – except that I’m Canadian, so I would be frivolously wasting taxpayer money.
With that said, though, I don’t think I’m mentally ill. Do I have issues? Absolutely. So does everyone. Are my issues perhaps a bit more serious than the average? Probably. But you know what? I deal. Yeah, I break out into a nervous sweat in social situations. I go out of my way to avoid interactions with people I’m not familiar with. I’ve made major life decisions – including literally moving to the other side of the world – to escape the judgment of people I hardly knew. But in the end, I’m ok. Not fantastic, but ok. Functioning. I may not be overcoming all of my problems, but I am living in spite of them. I have relationships. I go outside. I talk to people. I smile. It doesn’t come naturally, but I do it.
Introversion is not an illness
Despite what the DSM would have us believe, introversion is not an illness. There is room in the world for people like me. I don’t need to go to a doctor and start taking pills. I don’t need to be pathologized. Medicating us all into conformity is not a necessity – it’s a dystopian novel premise. I think we can recognize our issues without overreacting to them.
And even if I do end up running away to that cabin in the woods, that’s ok. Society can handle outliers. I’d even go so far as to say we need them. Hermits have something to teach the rest of us – otherwise, why would we read about them so often? We can learn from the Amish as well as the Pentecostals. Speaking of which, Amish life sounds pretty amazing. I’ll have to write another post just on that.
In the meantime, my sympathies go out to all the other extreme introverts out there. It’s a tough road. Don’t be too hard on yourself. And maybe indulge a little in fantasies about wide open spaces and solitude. Better yet, make plans to find some. That’s what I’ll be doing.