Tuesday, 28 January 2014

When Anxiety Meets Introversion: Calamity.

Last week I attended a professional development class as part of my training for my new gig at the local college. I’ve been attending a lot of these lately, and I gotta say, they totally freak me out. Everyone seems so excited to be working there—which shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, but when you’ve worked in as many places as I have, you meet a lot of unhappy employees. More than happy ones, frankly. Anyway, all these happy people had me wondering what it is they’re slipping into the Kool-Aid, which is awfully pessimistic of me considering I’m just as excited to be there, too. Plus, the instructor is just amazing, funny, and engaging. I know: how can this be WORK???

Yes. I put socks on the dog. ONE TIME.
Anyway, last week was a rough week for me. Probably the easiest way to explain what happened is to share the phone call I gave to my bestie, MJ, after I left.

MJ: Hello?

JORDAN: Okay, I just had the worst class ever. And it’s totally my own fault.

MJ: What?! Why?

JORDAN: Well, first off the class is full of all these extroverts, okay? So everyone is all happy and jokey and having a great time. Anyway, so we watched this video of Sir Ken Robinson, talking about the ADHD epidemic and what’s wrong with the current educational system. Somewhere in the video, he said, “People learn best in groups”, which is fine I suppose, but in the ensuing class discussion, so many teachers were saying this just proved that group work is super valuable. Even though students hate it and they fight us on it every time.

MJ: Okay…

JORDAN: So when it was my turn to talk, I was all frazzled and I knew I had this really unpopular thing to say, but I wanted to say it. I said that learning in a group wasn’t always about group work, and that there was other ways to learn in a group. I said that for some of us who are introverted, we come to class and gather the information but do our actual learning when we get home. I said that as an introvert, sitting around in a circle makes me really uncomfortable.

MJ: Okay…fair…maybe a little blunt, though.

JORDAN: Yeah, no kidding! It just came out, though! It was all my anxiety and my introversion rolled into one giant statement that basically when you think about it, said, “I hate being in this discussion right now and I just want to go home away from all you people!” We took a break right after that and I ended up skulking outside because I felt like such a dork.

MJ: [laughing] Oh dear.

JORDAN: Okay, so if that wasn’t bad enough, when I got back in I was determined to try to be like the extroverts.

MJ: And pretend you don’t have an anxiety disorder.

From Hyperbole and a Half. SO good. Check it out.
JORDAN: Yeah. That too. So anyway, I was sitting at the front of the class and I just kept smiling, smiling, smiling. I figured if I smiled enough, I would look friendly. You remember that Hyperbole And A Half where she says depression makes you forget how to interact with people? Well so does working for yourself, when you work from home. MJ, the only other conversation I’d had that day was with Corben, and it involved me asking him, “Who has a monkey butt?” over and over again.

MJ: Hahahahaha.

JORDAN: So anyway, I’m smiling away, and then the instructor tells us we’re going to do a sort of personality test type thing. She says here are five shapes: a circle, square, triangle, rectangle, and squiggle. She says, go stand by the one that best represents you.

MJ: You went with squiggle.

JORDAN: Of course I did, and lucky for me it was the one assigned to my corner of the room, so I didn’t even have to move. But as people started coming over to join the squiggle group, I realized that these are all the loud, boisterous, excited people. I was like, “Holy frak, I’m in the wrong group.” The instructor said we could move if we thought we were in the wrong place, but I’d be damned if I was going to walk around that room, after my “I hate people” speech, looking for a group to be a part of!

MJ: Ohhh dear.

JORDAN: Yeah. Anyway, it worked out okay because it turns out I am a squiggle, but just not the laughy-loud type. I kept having trouble getting people to hear me and that made my anxiety worse, and now my face was hurting from trying to smile so much.

MJ: Ohhhh, honey. What a rough night.

JORDAN: Well, it all came to a head after the exercise, when people were presenting their notes about their personality groups, and at some point I thought I heard someone applaud. Looking back, I think it was a book falling over, because it was just one loud crack sound. Anyway, it was too late: I was trying so hard to fit in with the regular folk that I`d just taken that as a cue to start clapping. So then I was just clapping and clapping, the only one in the room clapping. And smiling maniacally.

MJ: [Can’t talk because she’s laughing so hard.]

JORDAN: This is why the only person I talk to all day is my dog.

Despite all this, I’m having a great time learning, and all these people are so incredibly nice. There’s just no way to explain to a non-introvert, sans-anxiety disorder, what goes wrong with you when you’ve got these traits and you’re stuck in an interactive group situation. I got home and Alan asked me how my night went and it took me fifteen minutes to start talking.

It’s probably best I’m getting out of the house more. The dog has things to do and can’t always be answering my pressing questions, like whether he knows he has a monkey butt. 


  1. Hi Jordan! It's Julie ... your fellow squiggle :) I just wanted to let you know that I'm sure you're not the only one who feels anxious in class. And also, I never noticed that you were clapping on your own. Or even that you were feeling uncomfortable. You're good with your disguises -- especially your great smile! (But, in future, please don't feel you need to wear these disguises. You can just be who you are. It will probably feel way better.) All the best, and please keep in touch! Julie

    1. Julie, I had big smile when I read this. Thanks so much for the encouragement! I *am* good with my disguises...you'd be suprised how many people are NOT okay with me 'just being myself'. Here's an example that stuck with me: when I did my free wedding project, someone comment on the internet that she'd met me once at an event and felt that I "didn't really even look at people or talk to them unless they were someone important to had something to offer her." This person obviously had no understanding that, in a large event, that look on my face is, "Are you easy to talk to? Are you expecting me to say something witty? Do we have an easy conversation topic?" That one hurt a lot.

      I've also had a few bosses who see any sign of anxiety as some sort of workplace-damaging problem.

      So for now, I keep trying to act normal. SOOOO glad you didn't hear me applaud all on my own. Phew.


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