You know what’s the most frequently asked question in my life?
“Why are you so emo?”
It comes in several different forms: “Why are you so angsty?” “Why are you always so mad?” “Why do you never smile?”
The answer is very simple: smiling is painful. It literally hurts my face to smile more than a minute straight, even when I’m having a good time around people I like. Who the hell decided to make curved lips on full stretch the universal expression of happiness? It’s physically exhausting, like holding a coffee mug in your palm for an extended period of time. But some people can smile for hours on end like their jaws were born ajar. I used to think those people were phony as fuck until I got to know a few of them and discovered that they’re the sweetest people ever. That’s when I realized that I’m the phony one, baring my teeth like a fucking vampire when all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and cry. And it made me wonder: are introverts just inherently more depressed and cynical than extroverts?
That’s a difficult question to answer because most introverts are camouflaged among extroverts. We all lie somewhere on the introvert-extrovert continuum, and the more heavily you lean toward the introvert side of the spectrum the more excessively you have to lie. Pretending to be outgoing and outspoken people has become our defense mechanism. Obviously some of us are better at lying than others. I suck at lying. I drop my smile when it gets even slightly unbearable. I stop socializing with people as soon as I detect the emergence of an headache. I flow in and out of my own reality when conversations get awkward. I retreat back to solitude the first chance I get. The longer I dwell in my own head the more depressed I get. So if all introverts are like me then yes, maybe we’re just a bleak species. But I can rarely distinguish the hidden introverts in a sea of extroverts.
Amazingly, even I have managed to fool some very intelligent people. A classmate said she didn’t believe I was an introvert. A relative complained that I was “too gregarious.” If an atypically shy introvert like I can convince people that I’m “too gregarious,” imagine what normal, less awkward introverts could do. Regardless of how good a liar an introvert may be, I’m sure we’re all sick of putting on a bloody mask all the damn time.
Sometimes I just want to start over. I’m not talking about going back to a particular moment in my life. I don’t want to rewind the clock because I don’t need more regrets gnawing at my messed up mind. I just want to be in a different place, like Budapest or something, with a different name, preferably something asexual like Alex or Taylor or Jaime. I’d reset, find my place in new surroundings, among people who can never unearth my past transgressions. As much as I love some people in my life right now, there are just too many others I can no longer deal with. Remember how Forest said life is like a box of chocolates? For me it feels more like a box of Bean Boozled jelly beans. You know, the ones containing both nasty and yummy flavors, except my box is 80% the former, so I’d get three boogers every time I get a strawberry.
Anyway, I’m well aware that life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and sometimes it’s compromise that moves us along (lol thanks Maroon 5). I know it’s mostly my own fault that I’m so unhappy with myself, and I know that I can fix my situation without ditching everything I’ve come to know. I also think fate is bullshit. Your life’s not gonna be some perfectly structured skyline with proportionally distributed peaks and troughs, interrupted by occasional periods of dullness. Who knows? Maybe my life will turn out to be some downward sloping curve that gets steeper as time goes on.
But right now it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be. As I said before, I don’t know how many of you out there are introverts going through the same identity/life crisis I am, but if you’re reading this then this next part is for you too. Maybe self-pity and self-doubt is something we’ll always have to deal with, but we will work through it and it will get easier. And here’s a crazy thought: maybe we need that pang of self-pity and self-doubt to remind us of who we really are. Lying is a skill that can be improved, even perfected, through practice. The more we pretend to be the extroverted, outspoken individuals this fucked up society pressures us to be, the more we’ll be convinced that that’s who we were made to be. We’ll start to believe that introversion was an illness that we have finally cured.
And that’s absolute bullshit. It took me almost twenty years to stop hating my preference for self-reflection over social interaction. Introversion is not a problem. It’s a personality trait that’s every bit as beautiful and important as extroversion. It may not thrive in this stupid 21st Century world, but it needs to exist.