Monday, July 11, 2011

Treating Your Introversion

I caught such an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times.

I can relate to this very well. Over a year ago, I had my first panic attack. I've always been overly worrisome. Little things that probably wouldn't inspire a second thought in others can consume me for days. With law school graduation, the bar exam, moving home, and no job in sight looming, I experienced a panic attack in the middle of the library while doing homework one night. Anyone who has had a panic attack can attest to how frightening it is.

Long story short, after the doctor promised me that I wasn't dying of a heart attack, I ended up with a prescription for anxiety medication. Now that I knew what the symptoms, I started taking a small dose of Ativan whenever I felt an attack coming on.

The few times I took the medication, I found myself actually mustering up the energy to engage. I was no extrovert, but chitchat and interactions were that much easier.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I began popping the anxiety medication to get through social events. I didn't do this because I wanted to or felt that it eased any social anxiety that I had (social anxiety and introversion, contrary to popular belief, are not interchangeable). I was doing it because I worried about how others perceived me. I was "curing" my introversion and fitting in, something I had never been able to do.

The more I "treated" my introversion, the more I became depressed. At the risk of sounding like an after school PSA, I wasn't using the medication to ease the physical symptoms of anxiety anymore. I was using, abusing change who I was. Taking the pills only exposed how insecure I was as an introvert. If people enjoyed my company at these functions more than they had in the past, it was only a sham. I tear up as I write this, because it still upsets me to realize how little I valued myself during those moments.

Although there are many necessary and life-altering uses for psychotropic drugs, I refuse to medicate myself because of who I am. Introversion is not an illness. My anxiety and introversion are completely separate. The author of the opinion piece I linked to above, Susan Cain, states it best:

"Perhaps we need to rethink our approach to social anxiety: to address the pain, but to respect the temperament that underlies it. The act of treating shyness as an illness obscures the value of that temperament. Ridding people of social unease need not involve pathologizing their fundamental nature, but rather urging them to use its gifts."

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