“The tragedy is not that we are alone, but that we cannot be.”
– Albert Camus
I understand that because of what I have written on this blog, I am looked up to and praised by some people. If it is true that my words (or even outfits) have inspired others to do something great, then this makes me extremely happy. I want to do this more than anything else. However, this pedestal I am placed on may stem from misunderstanding. Nobody wants to know that I spend a large part of my days suppressing a severe appetite for solitude. I struggle against it, I even attempt to meditate my way out of it, but it is futile.
Since I left New York, I have been so severely deprived of solitude… Not a haughty solitude derived from some superiority complex, or the type of ambiverted solitude that constitutes a few hours of alone time everyday. I’m talking about the type of solitude I was blessed with in my last few months in New York. I would isolate myself from people for weeks on end and make up silly excuses not to leave the house just so that I pursue my interests mercilessly. Human interaction was limited to handing money to the delivery man, and ordering my black coffee from the Starbucks downstairs. In retrospect, I’ve learned that solitude is my lifeblood, my motivation, and my inspiration. To outsiders, and even to myself, my introversion is often confused with a case of arrogant misanthropy.
The reality is, I am overwhelmed by most social gatherings. I get irritated whenever my phone buzzes, annoyed by prolonged conversations about nothing. Even my dearest friends understand how much they mean to me when I am willing to emerge from my cave and see them once a month. They understand that my love is expressed intuitively, and they know that my thoughts are with them everyday. But sometimes I hear complaints that I am inept, or that I seem to not care about my friends, simply because I don’t see the point of these strange, extroverted declarations of gratitude and friendships. So I continue to meet with the ones I love, at the expense of lagging behind in all other aspects of my life, because I understand that to some, loving them mandates my physical presence once in a while.
Yet I am terrible company. Those who are afraid of silence cannot bear to be around me (and vice versa). I don’t think there is anything “awkward” about silences. To be able to share a silence with another animate being is a pivotal bonding moment– one of the rare social interactions I truly relish. But when my face is blank and my mouth is not moving, I am always interrupted by a nervous look on the other person’s face. They scavenge for any signs or slips on my face… They do not realize that I am so extremely internally expressed that I have to expend ridiculous amounts of energy to showcase my emotions externally. The silence daunts them. They are eager to prolong the conversation and throw in meaningless speech to fill in the silences. Social graces obligate me to accept these interactions and master the art of small talk. But it is so terribly energy draining.
Sometimes, when I have exceeded my daily caffeine budget (which is frighteningly generous), I do actually run out of fuel. I no longer have the internal strength to channel my inner happiness, frustration, or sympathy into its externally expressive counterpart. At best I manage to maintain a blank look on my face. It confuses them. Does she hate me? Is she annoyed? Is she bored? Is she even listening to me? I no longer have the mental energy to console them. When I arrive home I collapse with exhaustion. Physical activity does not exhaust me, but the mental effort I must dedicate to socializing under extroverted obligations overwhelms me.
To write and to hopefully inspire requires an immense amount of effort. I refuse to mislead people the way in which psychotherapists chose to mislead me. To write something that props people into the right place, to break people out of their comfort zones, requires secluding myself in an absolute solitude for days, left alone to myself and my self-destructive habits. I write better when my surroundings are chaotic, so my workplace occasionally ends up resembling a nuclear war zone. For the past few weeks I have written half a notebook worth of words, probably enough to compile a series of short stories, mostly written at the brink of exhaustion… But then I ended up tearing up the pages and trashing them away. It is so frustrating and disheartening it is to watch my quality of writing deteriorate. I am sick of talking so much about writing but never actually delivering.
I am confessing all of this because a few entries ago, I said I would stop living a lie. I still am. I am still vulnerable and affected by the prejudice that all introverts are subjected to. Sometimes I even find myself wishing that I had been born an extrovert instead. These moments when I try to deny my introverted nature make my productivity lag behind for weeks. This is what has been happening to me since I landed in London. I am failing myself and others around me because I am still trying to prove to myself that I can juggle the best of both worlds- that I can somehow nudge my way into ambiversion. Who am I kidding? My Myer-Briggs personality test lists me as 89% introverted (extremely expressed introvert). This attempt to nudge my way into the center of the introvert/extrovert scale is a waste of time, and I have no one to blame but myself. It is only when I embrace my full-fledged introversion that I perform at the height of productivity.
I spent the past two weeks with my best friend in London, Paris, and Prague. It was then and there that I realized how introverted we both were, and how so much of my ferocious understanding and love of one another flourished upon that. Our friendship wasn’t shackled by the need for superficial declarations of love. It was purely intuitive. To be able to sit happily at a restaurant with her and not say a word for thirty minutes was pure bliss. We just sat there and observed the passerbys. It took this vacation with her to remind me of how much my feigned extraversion is making me fall behind.
The months of isolation in New York (prior to coming to London) were, in retrospect, the best and most productive times of my life. I was at the peak of my creativity. I learned basic PHP, MYSQL commands, realized that I was capable of grasping all these computer languages with ease. I finished more books than I had in the years prior to my self-imposed isolation. In fact, I created The Stranger, and begun writing several short stories that would eventually be brought together as a book. I was in great shape, eating healthy, and living in a routine that never bored me for a second. I justified my behavior with Camus. If he was so severely introverted, then I could be that way too. Camus was the beginning of the end of my introversion-in-denial. Now I’m on a mission to rediscover this solitude and embrace my introversion with pride.
I’ve notice that the most introverted personalities around me spend so much energy trying to live up to the expectations of an extrovert-dominated world. It bothers me to watch introverts participate in social gatherings and overstimulating activities that exhaust them of energy just because these activities are so adamantly championed by extroverts. If I paint the picture that introverts are unfairly antagonized in this society… It is only because we are. I am tired of watching brilliant ideas being overshadowed by mediocre ones simply because the latter are delivered by people who speak loudly. Introversion is not synonymous to lack of sociability or self-perpetuated pessimism. I believe we need to put an end to all the unspoken stigma behind introversion. Introverts, let your silence resonate.
Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, I urge you all to watch this TED talk by Susan Cain: The power of introverts. The video is courtesy of Mik, the voice behind Uncover and Writhe for Me and a brilliant introvert who will soon conquer this world.
Photographer: Tippy Hung