18 January 2012

Quiet: I'm an Introvert

I recently read (and reread) the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  The book will be released on January 24 - I highly recommend you go preorder it right now!  As a contributor to From Left to Write, this post will not be a traditional review but rather an experience this book brought to mind.  You'll see a review in the coming days from me - I have LOTS to say about this book!

I am an introvert.  The people that truly know me have no doubt about that.  The people that sort of know me might express some surprise; upon reflection I'm sure they'll confess to seeing my introvert tendencies (Do your calls always go to my voicemail? Am I better at responding to texts or emails than actual messages?  Do I "disappear" sometimes, to get some quiet time to myself?).  And people that are mere acquaintances are always shocked I'm not an extrovert ("But you're SO friendly!!" I hear all the time).  My secret?  I fake it well.  Or, as it turns out, I am excellent at self-monitoring, a concept discussed in the book.  (Disclaimer: I'm also bipolar, which makes being an introvert really difficult sometimes)

Last year (almost a year ago exactly) I did something completely out of character for me: I flew across the country, alone, to attend a trade show with a group of women I'd never actually met in person.  I don't go to the grocery store in my small town alone.  I never go anywhere alone.  And I have a very strong aversion to strangers, crowds, noisy places....all things you encounter when you fly out to Los Angeles.  Plus, I'd never left my children for that long (I was scheduled to be gone a week) - I hadn't even left my seven month old son at all.

One of the things that really struck me during the course of the book was a study the author touched on by Dr. Carl Schwartz, the Director of the Developmental Neuroimaging and Psychopathology Research Lab at Harvard Medical School.  Subjects (who were inside an fMRI scanner) were shown a series of photos "...one after another, each showing an unfamiliar face: disembodied black and white heads floating against a dark background." Cain notes that she too participated in the study, albeit in a more informal way (she was not in a scanner, and saw the images on a computer monitor instead) but had the same reaction many subjects did.  She noted that her pulse quickened, and as Schwartz began to cycle back though the photos and some faces became familiar, she relaxed a little.  Schwartz's research suggests that the amygdala reacts more in introverted (or "high reactive") subjects.

Well, that must clearly be me!  I am as introverted as they come, and a convention full of strangers makes my pulse race like you would not believe.  I actually wondered if I could be having a heart attack at 32. The entire trip out to LA from the East Coast was beyond stressful for me. I'm sure I called home no less than a hundred times.  While I was out there, however, I managed to "play nice" and seem peppy and fun (well, I think I did).  I ducked out as often as possible to check on my little people, and just to get some quiet.  But I hugged and smiled and pretended that the sea of faces was not absolutely terrifying.  Turns out I flew home within 48 hours anyway (a whole other story that is not worth getting into here!).

I'll take a small, intimate gathering any day over a huge convention,  Even that, though, is difficult for me.  Seriously - I even avoid one-on-one lunch dates sometimes!  I really wish I could get people to understand how truly difficult it can be to be in public situations.  It's not for everyone!

Are you an introvert or extrovert?.Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we discuss Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my  own.
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