During my teenage-hood and not long after my parents’ divorce, my childhood shyness and quietness was amplified a hundred-fold by what I consider a watershed moment in my life. I was in ninth grade and had to give a speech in front of my social studies class. For some reason, I didn’t prepare my speech to the best of my ability. About a minute in, I froze. I had nothing else to say, nor could I remember what to say. It felt as if I had been struck by lightning, and my body felt as if it was being electrocuted. Up the right side of my neck and into my head, it felt like someone had turned on a garden hose of adrenaline and hot redness and blasted the hose up my jugular and into my face. I couldn’t stop shaking and sweating, and my voice was violently trembling as if I was about to be attacked in a horror film.
This incident set off very painful teenage years for me. I pretty much had a panic attack in front of a bunch of 14-year-olds, who aren’t the most forgiving people in the world. This resulted in having panic attacks every time I even suspected that I would be called on in class. I would skip class and go to the nurse’s or guidance counselor’s office or skip school altogether. This, of course, drove my divorced parents insane. They sent me to a counselor, who diagnosed me as a “social phobic.” I somehow managed to get through high school though.
I only started healing and coming out of my shyness/public speaking shell in my mid to late twenties. While in graduate school, I joined a local Toastmasters group and was able to do two to three speeches, but, my god, was that a struggle. I felt as if I was going to faint and my legs were going to go out on me the first few times I gave a speech.
To this day, I struggle with being embarrassed very easily. I spend many weekends isolating and “recovering” from the work week. I’m sensitive to type A extroverts and tend to shut down when too many are in the room all talking at once. Sometimes, it feels as if the air is being sucked out of the room!
I don’t want to finish this essay on my introversion like some “VH1, Behind the Music” redemption story because I’m not a finished product by any means. But here is what I’ve managed to accomplish because of AND despite my tendency towards severe shyness and introversion:
I earned two bachelor’s degrees from Penn State University in English and Communications.
I earned two master’s degrees from the University of Michigan in Social Work and Urban and Regional Planning.
I’ve belonged to two Toastmasters groups that have helped me in immeasurable ways.
I’m a runner who has finished two marathons and one half-marathon, and I’m training for another half-marathon.
I’m a town planner who works for a local government in Colorado and regularly gives presentations before both Planning Commission and Town Council (sometimes with large and angry audiences in attendance).
I think my deep thinking and introverted behavior and tendencies help me (in my career and job) by helping me think of all possible scenarios, outcomes, and effects (long and short term) of decisions (intended, unintended, and otherwise). I’m not quick to answer questions off the top of my head. I tend to say “Can I get back to you on that?” a lot.
I sometimes think that my introversion is a choice. I mean from a very practical standpoint, I have never learned anything new from hearing myself talk and am genuinely interested in hearing what most people have to say. I come to people and conversations assuming I will learn something.
I hope my story makes you feel not as alone. I hope you connect to it in some way, and it makes you feel good and maybe open to the possibilities in life.