Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses, and they often occur together. Just because its relatively common, though, doesn’t make dealing with both feel any less weird. Exhibit A, this image I ran across on Pinterest:
It’s overly simplified, of course, to say “depression is when you don’t really care about anything” and “anxiety is when you care too much about everything.” Still, these comments capture part of how strange it feels to simultaneously (or alternately) deal with depression and anxiety. “Having both is staying in bed because you don’t want to go to school and then panicking because you don’t want to fail. Having both is wanting to go see your friends so you don’t lose them all, then staying home in bed because you don’t want to make the effort.”
Anxiety and depression are going to show up a bit different for everyone who struggles with them, but for me it’s like one day I’m on-edge, jittery, and so distracted by my inner anxiety monologue that I struggle to remember how things actually happened. Then the next day I feel like a weight’s pressing down on me snuffing out all motivation and hope. And some days, the smothering feeling is there but I’m also anxious about stuff I should care about and there’s this weird fight going on in my head. It’s exhausting.
I love stories about mermaids. I also love well-written stories that deal with mental health issues, so I was excited to receive an advance reader copy of Coral by Sara Ella through NetGalley. To quote the Goodreads description, “Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.”
Coral is a story told from three perspectives. Coral, the mermaid who doesn’t fit in with her family and fears she has been infected with the Disease that causes mermaids to feel human emotions. Brook, a young woman whose struggle with anxiety and depression have brought her to Fathoms, a group therapy home she doubts will help her find any point in living. And Merrick, who wants to escape his controlling father and finally reaches his breaking point when his mother disappears after his younger sister attempts suicide.
A note on mental illness in Coral
On the topic of suicide, I think it’s time to bring up trigger warnings for this book. The author says in a note at the beginning of this book that “Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.” The author approaches mental health issues in a sensitive, caring way. She did extensive research, got feedback from sensitivity readers, and used her own personal experiences when writing this book. Read more →
Introversion is not the same thing as being shy. Every decent definition of “introvert” makes that distinction. Being an introvert means the outer world drains you and the inner world recharges you. Being shy means you get nervous and self-conscious when in social situations. They’re different things.
But what if you’re an introvert who’s also shy?
Even though shyness and introversion are different, there are quite a few introverts who are also shy (it’s worth noting there are also shy extroverts as well, though they’re not the focus of this post). And when you’re a shy introvert, there are certain struggles that other introverts don’t always resonate with. In today’s post, we’ll talk about 10 that I’ve dealt with.
1) You don’t always fit in with the introverts
I struggle with social anxiety. When I first started reading about introversion, I kept coming across people saying things like “introverts aren’t shy” or “introverts aren’t socially awkward.” This made me feel a little out-of-place. I’m an introvert and I’m also shy and socially awkward. So where do I fit in? I’m sure I’m not the only shy introvert who has asked themselves this question.
2) You wonder if you need to change
Introversion is an inborn personality trait and it’s not something that you need to “fix.” Social anxiety is a mental-health disorder that can negatively impact your life, and it’s a good idea to seek professional counseling if you’re struggling with that. But what about the in-between area where shyness lives? For those who are more shy than other introverts but not always socially anxious, it can be a struggle to figure out how much of your shyness is just part of your personality and how much is something you might want to work on overcoming.
3) People mistake your intentions
I’ve had so many people mistake me for being rude or stuck-up simply because my shyness made it hard for me to join-in to groups. I don’t think I’m better than others just because I’m off on the side watching instead of in the middle of the dance floor gyrating. I don’t mean to be rude when I have trouble coming up with small talk when I first meet someone. And I’ve talked with or read articles by many introverts who face this struggle, especially if they’re also shy.
4) Starting a conversation is hard
Actually, “hard” doesn’t do the feeling justice. It’s more like well-nigh impossible at times. Not only are you more comfortable inside your safe introvert shell, but you also have your shyness worrying about how terribly wrong this conversation could go. Maybe they’ll think it’s weird you started a conversation with them. Maybe you’ll run out of things to say and embarrass yourself. Maybe you’ll want to escape the conversation later and won’t know how. You know you’re probably over-thinking things, but it still makes starting a conversation challenging.
5) Sometimes you just need to leave
Being in groups of people can be a struggle for any introvert. But when you’re shy on top of being introverted there are going to be times when you’re in a group of people and suddenly feel like you just have to leave RIGHT NOW. Maybe this is more my anxiety speaking than my shyness, but sometimes I just hit a point where I’m overwhelmed and/or totally drained and I have to bail on a group, event, or other gathering. In many cases, my energy starts to return as soon as I’m alone.
6) You feel underestimated
Sure you’re not the most outgoing person around, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills and talents. Unfortunately for shy introverts, people often assume that because we’re hesitant to speak up it means we don’t have anything valuable to contribute. That can lead to people vastly underestimating us. From people talking over you in meetings to people assuming you can’t handle a task on your own, it’s often quite a challenge to try and convince others to stop underestimating you.
7) Avoiding people you know
Introverts, even shy ones, don’t hate people. But we vastly prefer interacting with people when we can plan ahead for it. Bumping into people accidentally seems incredibly awkward. If we spot someone we know out in public and they haven’t seen us yet, there’s a good chance we’ll go out of our way to avoid running into them. We might also avoid planning activities with people because we know they’ll be draining and overwhelming, so it just seems easier to not go in the first place than to leave early.
8) Your body gives away your shyness
Shyness and anxiety have some very real physical effects and sometimes they’re impossible to hide. One minute you seem calm, put-together, and in control of the situation. You might be worried on the inside but outside you can make it seem like everything’s okay. Then suddenly your palms are sweating, your voice starts shaking, and your nerves take over so much that you’re not even sure what you’re saying anymore. It’s embarrassing, but it’s not something we’re really in control of so we just have to live with it (though there are grounding techniques that can help).
9) You agree to things you don’t want to
Fear of confrontation is something lots of people struggle with, and it can be a particular challenge for shy introverts. It’s hard enough talking to people at all but when you have to contradict them it’s, like, 100 times more difficult. So you might end up agreeing to things you don’t want to or losing arguments that you should have won. It can get pretty frustrating at times. And if you avoid conflict too much, you might also have to deal with the added uncomfortableness of later trying to get out of something you agreed to when you were too shy to speak up.
10) You listen better than you speak
Listening is an underappreciated skill that shy people are often really good at. Just because social situations make us anxious doesn’t mean we’re not attuned to other people and their needs. Many of us are really good listeners and we’re often much more happy sitting back and listening than with taking a more active role in the conversation. We get so comfortable listening that it can be really jarring when someone encourages us to speak up more. In fact, the more someone draws attention to the fact that we’re not speaking “enough,” the less likely we are to want to say anything.
What are your experiences with living as a shy introvert? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Have you ever thought that maybe you’re going through something that you can’t handle on your own, but something held you back from asking for help?
That’s a feeling quite a large number of people who struggle with anxiety (and I’m sure other mental health issues as well) can relate to. Maybe you don’t think it’s “bad enough” to bother with therapy, or you’re concerned that therapy won’t do you any good. Or maybe you’re worried about what other people will think of you if you seek help. Perhaps it’s a financial concern, or pressure from someone in your life, or something else entirely that’s telling you not to ask for help.
The stigma against talking about mental health issues is lessening, but it hasn’t gone away completely. Admitting we need help with something that’s going on inside our own heads is rarely easy. But there’s nothing wrong or weak in seeking help. Rather, it’s a choice of strength and self-care to seek out the help you need when you’re struggling with anxiety.
Waiting 10 years for treatment
While some of the things I’m going to say in this post might apply to other mental health issues, I’m going to focus on anxiety (and to a lesser extent depression) because that’s what I have direct experience with.
For introverts like me, learning about your personality is often a huge relief. We read books like Susan Cain’s Quiet, Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage, or Laurie Helgoe’s Introvert Power and we marvel that there are other people like us. We’re not alone anymore. All our weirdness finally makes sense.
Except, introversion didn’t explain everything about my personality. Those writing about introversion were careful to point out that it isn’t the same thing as shyness. I was shy, though, so how did I fit in? Learning from Elaine Aron’s books that I’m a highly sensitive person helped explain why certain environments and situations feel overwhelming, but it didn’t explain the racing heart, sweaty palms, and anxious thoughts that followed me into interactions with people.
I had my first panic attack in a Blockbuster when I was about 14 or 15 years old. That was when I realized there was something going on other than just shyness. Another 15 years later and I now know that I struggle with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression. I won’t get into all that here but if you’re curious you can click to read “My Anxiety Story.”
One of the good things that has come out of all this is that I can write about introversion, social anxiety, and what it means to have both. I can’t speak for everyone, though. Our personalities and anxieties are highly individual and if you’re socially anxious it’s going to be a different experience for you than it is for me. There are commonalities, however, and I think there’s a good chance you’ll identify with some of my confessions as a socially anxious introvert. Read more →
One of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve confronted and worked through my anxiety is that (for me at least) much of it is connected to control. I fear being controlled, losing control, and not having control. Not being able to predict, plan, and prepare for things can leave me shivering, sweating, and struggling to breathe.
I know part of this goes along with anxiety as a mental health condition. But there’s also a layer that’s something human beings — no matter how their brains function — have struggled with for years. We don’t want to accept “that control is an illusion. There is only one Sovereign … and it isn’t me” (What Does Your Soul Love?).
Now, by saying this I don’t mean for us to think, “Great, one more thing I need to ‘fix’ about myself. As if there wasn’t enough on the list already.” That kind of response is still trying to cling to our own control over the situation. Not only that, it leads to self-condemnation which (as a friend recently reminded me) is not a good place to be. Instead, the solution to grasping for control we can’t really have is to surrender everything to God and trust Him to be God.
Let Go, and Let God
I’ve been reading a new book, which will be out in September, called What Does Your Soul Love? by Alan and Gem Fadling. Chapter 8’s title is “Control: What Are You Clinging To?” Reading it has been a challenging, but it’s one that I’ve found both convicting and helpful.
“Much of the anxiety we carry is actually brought on by our own fear and a desire for control. We want to put our fears to rest, so we try to control people and situations …
“Letting go is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself … [It] is a process, and the loving arms of God are a good place to start” (What Does Your Soul Love?)
Of course, my first response to this was trying to come up with a plan for how I can get better at letting go. Then the book hit me with the line, “We want to get control of our transformation and cling to personal strategies of how to make it happen.” I do that. Even reading this book is another step in trying to get reliable, controllable strategies for fixing myself.
“Sometimes, my implicit prayer when it comes to change has ended up as something like, ‘Lord, change me … as long as I can be in control of how it happens.'” (What Does Your Soul Love?)
Ouch. I do that, too. The unknown is scary, but “I’m afraid” isn’t a good excuse for not putting yourself in God’s hands. Attempting to control things ourselves certainly isn’t safer than trusting the only all-powerful and all-loving Beings in the universe. The Father and Jesus are perfectly capable of handling anything we face and They want us to let Them help. Also, They’re not going to condemn us for struggling. God is love, and filling us with His love is how He transforms us. Read more →