For a university project last year I asked my parents, my brother, my best friend and my boyfriend at the time to write a short sentence to describe me. As a writer, I am constantly defining somebody else (though maybe, sometimes, I’m subconsciously describing aspects of myself), and I thought it would be interesting to turn it around and let those closest to me depict me. I was surprised that the words which moved me the most were those of my dad, considering he is a man of few words; particularly expressions of sentimentality.
Volcano; quiet for so long and then erupts with explosive emotion. Lights up any room she enters without ever intending to do so.
I was so incredibly awed by this description, mostly because it is undeniably beautiful… but also because of everyone I asked to describe me, it was my introverted father who empathised with me the most. I have been blessed with a liberal, hilarious, overbearing, embarrassing and unconditionally-loving mother who has always been very upfront with her emotions. Contrastingly, my father is the most loyal, intelligent and thoughtful man I know made only more endearing by his crippling shyness and awkwardness. As a result of my binary parents, I have grown into myself and accepted that I am an introverted extrovert.
Like a lot of people, I struggled growing up. By the age of ten I’d already realised that I was chubbier than most of my girlfriends, and I definitely wasn’t the prettiest or the cleverest. I was completely average, and when you’re a child being average and believing there is nothing that makes you special is really hard. So I think this is why I became ‘the wise guy’ or ‘the funny one’, because being silly and light-hearted somehow deflected attention from the fact that I wasn’t good at anything else.
Being funny (or more likely trying constantly to be) means that a lot of the time I want to be the centre of attention. When I’m having a conversation with somebody, I can’t resist butting in or making a sassy/mean/sarcastic comment. It stems from years of being afraid to say anything, never wanting to draw attention to myself. My teenage years were the hardest to cope with, and a time I would describe as my most introverted. I had a lot of friends, but somehow always felt on the outside of my group. I never felt quite ‘cool’ or ‘attractive’ enough to be friends with the people I was, and so whilst a lot of people would say I was in the popular crowd at high school, I never felt popular. When I was thirteen I was suddenly so self-aware and unhappy with myself that I became anorexic. Having always been slightly overweight as a child, I became worryingly underweight, and it’s only now years later that my family and friends feel comfortable expressing their concern for me at that time. I thought losing weight would make me happier, prettier and more comfortable in my own skin. But really it made me more reclusive, it was my own silent grief and for a long time I didn’t want to do anything other lie in my bed and not speak to anyone.
The only person that can get you out of a low is yourself. You can have the best, most supportive people around you, but until you force yourself it is impossible to get out of a depressive state. I can’t recall the exact time I decided to get up and start being functional again, but I’m grateful to myself none the less. Even now, when I consider myself the happiest and most secure I’ve ever been in myself, I walk into a room filled with dread. Why are they staring at me? Why do they hate me without even knowing me? Why did I come here? It takes all of my strength to be able to lift my head and look people in the eye when I speak to them, even people I know really well.
Those who know me well probably think I’m actually over-confident to the point of arrogance. As a coping-mechanism for my insecurities, I have adopted a persona…a self that I show to the world. I have be extremely flamboyant, spontaneous and almost rude sometimes. I see a situation and the extroverted self that I show to the world announces herself. The most recent example is when I approached an attractive stranger on an aeroplane. I was travelling to Spain on my own, and in the boarding lounge I noticed an attractive guy sitting opposite me. I couldn’t stop staring at him, and because I kept staring we were continuously catching each other’s eyes. I couldn’t judge if he was staring because he found me attractive, too, or because I just kept staring and we were having a silent staring competition. When we boarded the plane he was sat in the row directly parallel to me me and had the whole row to himself, so naturally the superstitious part of me thought this was fate. When the plane took off I tried to listen to my iPod but I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the handsome stranger and how I wished I had the confidence to go and sit next to him. The staring between us went on and on, and at one point we even smirked at each other. Eventually, as we were supposed to land in Madrid, our plane was redirected to Valencia due to a thunderstorm, meaning uproar on our plane and hundreds of passengers calling their loved ones to explain. The hot guy looked so traumatised that I saw my opportunity and just took it. I got up out of my seat and sat beside him, and asked if he wanted to use my phone to call someone…and that was it. We got talking straight away, and both laughed at our shyness. What if the other had a boyfriend? What if they didn’t speak English? What if they were actually staring because they were really freaked out? The introvert in me had asked all of these questions, but ultimately the extrovert took control of her destiny and it paid off.
Those who know me really well, however, and I’m talking know-my-favourite-song-even-though-I don’t well realise that I’m not this obnoxious, sarcastic and very loud person and actually I’m very shy. I live for cancelled plans and cloudy days just because it means I don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying being alone. I adore my own company, and when my life gets busy I crave ‘me’ time. Reading, writing, binge watching my latest series, napping, running…these are all things I can do with other people, but never in the same way. It has taken me nearly twenty years just to realise that it’s okay to be alone, and it’s even better to like it.
The introverted side of me will always be filled with self-doubt. She will always dread walking into a room, trying something new, taking on a new challenge. And while she loves being alone, after a while she will always get bored of the silence and need another human to break it. The extrovert will always compensate for her- there will be days when she is so energetic and confident in herself and the world, and because of her I’ve been able to do some really great things like go to university, travel the world, fall in love. And though these two sides of me are conflicting, they are two sides that I’ve learnt to harmonise to keep me grounded, and because of it I’m a much stronger person. So now on my low days, I re-read the statement my dad wrote about me, and I remind myself that I’m a damn volcano, and I can do this.