NON FICTION: You’re Not Alone

Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard

Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard

I’m at the neighbourhood coffee shop sipping on a bottle of beer. Visits here are always a quiet affair. The customers tend to be alone, just like today. Some are nursing beer bottles, while others tuck into their dinners for one. I’m aware of my flatter-than-usual jeans pocket, because I left my phone at home today. It doesn’t matter. I could use some time apart from the internet anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. The internet is great. There’s nothing closer to a godsend than finding a solution because someone had the same question in 2003. It’s like an archive of life’s problems, an indirect recording of human history. It’s also a great place to go when you want to feel like you belong.

For instance, I’ve always had this strange affinity for minimalism. I like being able to fit my life into a backpack, living free of clutter and noise. I’ve spent most of my life thinking I was alone. Turns out, there’s a onebag community (not related to safe sex) that takes things to a higher extreme than I ever thought possible.

Then there’s Allie Brosh’s perfect summary of my social struggles. Here’s a link to her page, before I completely rip her drawings off her site.

dep1dep2 dep3dep4

I was always aware of my social awkwardness, and I’ve always chided myself for it. Because of my dislike for small talk, I’ve always thought that I belonged to the stereotypical image of the loser, the guy that always gets picked on because he’s quiet and tends to fade into the backdrop.

It didn’t help that other people reinforced those thoughts as well. Quiet, anti-social, and loner are some of the labels that get thrown at me. This usually happens after I’ve declined an invitation to lunch or group dinners.

And it’s true. All I want to do—for the most part—is to spend the day enveloped in silence. Curling up with a book would be a bonus. Ditto alcohol. I’m not exaggerating this, but whenever I try to force human interaction, I get physically distressed. I lose energy, my head aches, and brain shuts down to any external stimuli.

You should get off your ass and do something about it then. I’ve had my share of tough love. Some people just cannot fathom the idea of people being different. But in retrospect, I have been doing something about it, albeit unknowingly. Spending six years in the service industry, two of which involved public speaking for eight hours a day, I’ve come to realise that I’ve had my fair share of ‘therapy’. If there was a fix for introversion, you’d think I’d be cured by now.

But no. I am who I am, and I lie pretty damn far down the hermit scale. And that’s where I’m grateful for the internet and people like Allie. It’s great knowing that someone goes through the exact same things that I do, and that, in itself is comfort enough. I don’t need a ten-step plan to ‘curing introversion’, or a magical solution to my shyness. All I need is knowing that I’m not alone in wanting to be alone.

sit myself

And yet, that’s the introvert’s greatest downfall. We’re still human, and the very thing that we shun is the exact thing we can’t live without: human contact. Believe it or not, we actually open up to a select few. Given the fact that you’d have a higher chance of seeing a unicorn shitting Skittles over Bigfoot, it still happens.

But sometimes life gets in the way, and our special people can’t be around all the time. And we’re not exactly equipped to foster and keep new bonds, so the number of these people dwindle as the years pass. There’s this saying about how introverts are scared of being lonely, but are too tired to socialise. And it’s true, and that’s how you get people sitting alone in coffee shops, sipping on a beer, staring off into nothing in particular.

That’s how we end up with me and my band of brothers in the joint, united only by solitude. It was a particularly long day at work, and I’m unwinding from all the anxiety the open office concept unleashes on me. Topping off a big bottle gives me ample time for introspection. In between the cigarette swirls from the next table and the patron that keeps burping every five minutes, it occurs to me that perhaps this isn’t the best birthday I’ve ever had.

#

I return home and finally get to check my phone. There’s a couple of happy birthday messages and no missed calls. Told you leaving my phone at home didn’t matter. I get ready for bed and turn off the lights. My phone display slowly dims in the dark, resembling the closest thing to birthday candles for the day. I make a birthday wish and shut my eyes to alcohol-induced slumber.

#

No resolutions; no happy endings. It’s a fairly boring piece (like my life). But someday, another introvert is going to stumble across this article, and find solace from my experience. And I hope—like what Allie’s drawings did to me—that it helps them accept their own quirks or shortcomings.

Because despite the loner you think you may be, you’re not alone.

Hyperbole book

PS: I may have stolen her work, but I’ve supported her by getting her book. (Thanks Jo!)

6 thoughts on “NON FICTION: You’re Not Alone

  1. Hiya Stuart. I originally found this post from reddit, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been a hermit for pretty much all of my teenage years. Although I figured I knew how to connect with people since I found it easy to when I was around those who I feel most comfortable with (the rare ones). It’s been the past two weeks of being an intern in ‘the real world’ that has opened my eyes to just how much of a loner I am, and how that makes me feel so different to other people. It can be quite the isolating feeling. Today, as I usually do, I walked to the park in my lunch break and sat on the grass by myself. I saw so many people around me who were the same age as me. There were all looking happy in their big groups of friends and there were young couples enjoying each others company. It made me have one of those moments where you wonder what you’d be like if you had grown up the ‘normal’ way, blossoming into an extrovert. How do you manage to feel like a part of society when you feel your best not directly in it?

    • Hi Jennifer!

      I do similarly wonder how things would’ve turned out had I grown up into someone more outgoing as well.

      I can only speak from personal experience, and what I’ve been doing is just giving up trying to force myself to be an extrovert, the same way I’ve given up on my hopes of growing taller or being better looking.

      Most importantly, it’s paramount that you listen to your own heart. If you need someone to talk to, reach out and do it. If you want to be alone, take time out for yourself. As for finding the perfect balance between the both, I’m afraid I haven’t found an answer myself as well.

      Of course, do take my words with a pinch of salt, because all a stranger on the internet can do is speculate.

      Having said that, I know that all the introverts in the world (myself included) will be rooting for you, and that we’ll all be there for each other from the comfort of our own homes.

  2. I love your post! Especially the part of keeping new bonds. Most of my new friends stop talking to me because they think I only come to them when I need them. In reality, I am always in my bubble and come out to daylight once in a blue moon.

    • Indeed! It’s almost as if our nature requires us to burn our social bridges. Maybe in a way, our friends dislike it because it seems as though we’re rejecting them, which isn’t the case at all.

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