I’ve lived my life teetering on the edge of being both an introvert and an extrovert. I love talking to people and making new friends, and I find social situations fairly easy most of the time. But that doesn’t mean I’m always confident.
As I grew up, I was taught to make the most of situations – including social situations – so that I would never miss out. The problem was, most of the time I didn’t want to go to that guy’s party or hang out at that friend’s house. I just liked sitting in bed.
It wasn’t until I hit about sixteen that I realised that the reason I didn’t ever want to go anywhere wasn’t because I of who I was as a person, but it was all down to anxiety and depression. While all my friends were starting to hit up parties in secondary school, I turned down every invite because of a crippling fear of drunk people (and their vomit). It wasn’t until I felt obliged to attend my best friend’s 17th birthday party that I came face to face with my fear, donned my party dress, and turned up hoping that I was exuding some kind of fake confidence. After spending most of the night sat on the stairs, squishing to one side to make room for the stumbling person trying to make it to the toilet, and propping up the occasional swaying drunk, I decided parties weren’t my thing. I left early (I know, I’m a terrible best friend) and was all too happy to crash, sober, into my bed.
By the time I got to college, the sense that I was missing out started to creep up on me, and I pushed myself to make the effort to attend people’s parties and various outings, even if I was going to be the only sober person there. The anxiety never left though. Although I may have been the loudest person singing Reach for the Stars, I was still the quickest person to get out of the way anybody who got a bit too drunk or started offering out drugs I’d never heard of. Yes, I was naive and sheltered, but I’d rather have had it that way.
As the months went on, I began to push myself more and more, trying to shove my overwhelming anxieties to the side. I had my first alcoholic drink not long after my 18th birthday, and was terrified of throwing it all back up again, even though I’d barely had anything at all. I became more and more adventurous, forcing myself to become the confident extrovert that I always wished I could be. I bought a ticket for my first ever festival, despite the knowledge that everybody would spend the entire weekend getting drunk and high. I survived it, even though I suffered panic attacks and had to battle with the constant fear I was going to be stabbed. I even got brave enough to book a holiday to Magaluf with a few friends, which turned out to be one of the worst weeks of my life: panic attacks, aggressive promoters, vomiting drunks… you name it. I was permanently on edge throughout the nights, but nobody wants to be the person to spoil everybody else’s fun. I’m pretty sure I was the only sober person in the whole of Magaluf.
By the time I moved to uni for my first year, I had convinced myself that I could leave my anxious self behind. I had tackled parties, a festival, and even a boozy holiday, and I was ready to recreate myself as a new person in a new city. I wanted to be the fun, care-free girl for once, instead of the one that’s always turning down invitations and going home early. But when my flatmates started drinking on our first weekend together, I couldn’t bring myself to join in. I sat sober as they played ring of fire, gulping down my water whenever somebody picked up an ace, and my heart went racing when the first person threw up.
Throughout my first year of university, I forced myself to be that “fun” person, going on almost every night out, and trying to stick it out until the club turned the lights on. But I’ve finally admitted defeat. That isn’t me. I’m not the person who wants to go out every night and get home at 6am. Sure, I like to boogie to some cheesy songs every now and then, but leave the drunken drama out of it.
After spending so long trying to be that adventurous person who climbs over fences and stays out until way too late, I finally crumbled and went spiralling back in the other direction, and it wasn’t pretty. I locked myself away in my room, terrified of being seen by my flatmates. I stuck a therapist’s business card over the peephole in my door so that nobody could see when my light was on. Every time somebody knocked on my door, my heart raced and I held back tears as I sat silently, filled with the fear that they would somehow break in. I refused to go into the kitchen to make food until everyone else had gone to sleep, and when you’re living in halls, that might not be until after 3am. I survived on pasta mostly, and those ten minutes waiting for it to cook were torture; my palms sweated at the thought of somebody walking in and seeing me. I couldn’t even leave my room at 3am without makeup on. I didn’t last the full year at uni.
By the time I went back to uni the following September, I accepted myself for who I was, and not who I wanted to be. I went out very little, and happily spent my nights tucked up in bed watching QI and eating pumpkin seeds. I stopped being so scared of people, and for the first time ever I actually left my room without makeup on. Suddenly it didn’t seem so bad to be the girl always in her pyjamas, and I would happily spend an hour in the kitchen cooking a giant meal. I found my balance.
I’m not spending my life trying to be anybody else’s idea of fun anymore. I like being tucked up in bed with a film and my knitting needles, but it’s still fun to go and sing my heart out to Backstreet Boys every now and then too. I have found a balance that makes me happy, so I’m not overdoing it, but I’m not closing myself off either. I can’t tell you if I’m introverted or extroverted, because honestly, I chop and change.
Parties or party rings? Well, you know what, I’ll take both.