The Difference Between Shy and Introvert

When I was younger I used to dread the days where extended family would visit our home to catch up and chat with my parents. I would always ask if there was a child around my age with whom I could play with, or if I was allowed to scamper back to my room after saying hello when they arrived. My parents laughed off my behaviour, telling our guests that I was shy and didn’t like to meet new people.

Now that I’m older and have had the time to understand who I am, I realize that introversion is something that very much defines me. I like to be alone and watch shows all day, I like to stay in bed for hours and read a book while I sip on some tea. With that being said, I enjoy a good party and I love to get together with my friends. None of that means that I’m shy, it just means that I sometimes need to be alone more often than what people may believe is normal.

Shyness is to be afraid of being judged negatively by those around you. It’s akin to anxiety, to be uncomfortable when you’re meeting new people . To be an introvert means that you prefer to be in a quiet environment, especially if it’s a mentally stimulating one. Many people get these two traits mixed up with each other. I’m often perceived to be awkward or standoffish because of my introvert nature. I do like to meet people but sometimes I simply don’t feel like I have the energy to do so. The most important thing to me is my own mental health, so sometimes I’ll make up excuses for my absence at events. I could be invited to something as simple as a catch-up session over coffee, but when the time comes I’ll fabricate a doctors appointment to get out of the plans.

I think it’s important for us to start being truthful when we can’t make it to an event due to any kind of a personal mental strain or issue. I understand that some people don’t want to come outright and say, “oh not today, my anxiety disorder is weighing me down”. Not everyone is comfortable enough to be so honest about themselves, and that’s okay. What we should be doing is starting the conversation so that others can be more accepting of themselves. I’m still trying to be comfortable in my own skin. I’m trying to stop making excuses for why I sometimes don’t want to hang out and just honestly say that I’m feeling too exhausted to leave my room. It’s time that we understood each other and are okay with our individual needs.

So to all my friends who I’ve cancelled on because of a doctor’s appointment or a random last minute thing my parents needed me to do, I really am sorry. I was probably just needing some alone time that day.

My Story

I grew up hating myself. I always thought that I would be the quiet awkward kid for the rest of my life. I thought that I would be alone, and that no one would love me because I didn’t love myself. I’m ashamed of the destructive thoughts that used to fill my mind, they were not pleasant. I felt ugly, fat, dumb, and like I wasn’t good enough to reach the standards of the people around me. Sometimes I think back to my childhood and wonder why I felt these things. I wasn’t bullied, I had plenty of great friends, but I realize that what I was missing was confidence and reassurance that I was okay the way I was.

My parents aren’t the sentimental type. I get it, they didn’t grow up in a self-obsessed generation like ours, so they didn’t really teach me how to love myself. When I was a kid I never really gave too much thought to how I looked or what I was doing, it was more until I hit puberty and became a teenager that I became more self-conscious, just like every other kid at that age. It’s normal to doubt yourself and to wonder why you look a certain way or why you don’t look a certain way. Maybe for some it’s worse than others.

If you knew me in high school, then you’d know that I had a ton of acne on my face. It was disgusting, to say the least. I cringe every time I think back to those days. There is nothing anyone can say to me now that will make me feel better about my face from that part of my life, and I’ve come to terms with it. It made me feel incredibly self conscious about myself, and I started to find other things about myself that I didn’t like. I hated how my front teeth were slightly larger than normal, it made me stop smiling wide. I hated my big thighs, they rub against each other and made holes in the thigh areas of my favorite jeans. I hated my small eyes, I always got huge framed glasses to make them seem bigger. I hated my hair, it used to be puffy and flat. There were many, many things that I wished I could change about myself. Like any other girl my age I wanted to be skinnier, to be smarter, to be cool, interesting, funny, social. I wanted to be happy, and I wasn’t happy with the way that I was.

Sometimes I would stand in front of my mirror and just stare at myself. Years ago, all I saw were imperfections. All the curves that I wanted to flatten out, all the scars that I wanted to hide. It was at some point in my post secondary career that I finally committed to clearing the acne off my face, I refused to be discouraged by things that I can’t control. Someone taught me that my odd teeth are endearing. Someone showed me how to dress to my body type. Someone showed me how to use makeup to my advantage. Someone helped me realize I didn’t even need makeup to feel pretty. Someone tells me I’m beautiful every single day. These people in my life have taught me to love myself, all of my curves and imperfections included. When I look in the mirror now, I see a young woman who’s on the way to loving herself in all her glory. I adore my love handles, I love my smiles, my wild curly hair, my slender fingers. I love my body, the way my tattoo wraps me in a hug and my curves that make me feel fantastic in a dress.

It’s important for people to start being confident in themselves. By loving yourself, you gain control over your life. Sometimes I still feel like I’m a bore, a bland wallflower in the background. That’s something I’m working on, it’s not shameful to admit your insecurities. I think that I’m a creative, beautiful person. I think that I’m a smart and caring person. I think I’m pretty awesome, and I’m proud of myself for coming such a long way from an insecure teenager to a confident young woman. I’m so grateful for the people in my life who’ve gifted me with pieces of confidence that have built up my self-esteem, and I hope that I can do the same for my friends who need a little extra boost. Just keep doing you, and along the way you’ll love who you are.

My Grandmother, The Queen

I’m envious of the people who have the good fortune of being able to live with their grandparents and grow up with that influence in their lives. I’ve only met my own grandparents a handful of times, my grandfathers I’ve seen twice, and my grandmothers three times.

My mom told me about how her parents were supposed to come live with us in Canada. They had all their papers and passports ready for them to immigrate here back when I was a little girl. Unfortunately, they decided last minute to stay in Sri Lanka because they didn’t want to be dependent on us and they were afraid to take the leap and fly across the world. When I think about the decision that they made to stay in Sri Lanka, I wonder how my life would have changed had they been a bigger part of my upbringing.

Out of my grandparents, only my maternal grandmother is still alive. She lives by herself in Jaffna and sometimes a housekeeper or friends and family would stop by to make sure she’s doing okay. She refuses to see a doctor, but we all know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I remember when we went to visit her two summers ago, my sister and I would sit with her in the kitchen and she would cut up vegetables and tell us stories of how she migrated to Sri Lanka from Malaysia when she was a girl and how she raised my mom and her siblings. I remember her stories well, she would say them several times in one sitting because she didn’t remember that she already told us the story a few minutes ago. My sister and I would exchange a quick, sad glance and pretend we were hearing her stories for the first time with each telling, our reactions as genuine as we can make them the fifth time around.

In my eyes, my grandmother is a noble woman. She has back problems that causes her to walk hunched over, her body almost at a right angle because she can’t hold herself up straight. My most vivid memory of her from that trip was when I saw her stand up straight for the first time. She held a cane in front of her and slowly stretched out until she was standing at her full height. I was striken by how regal she looked, she was like a queen. I still see her as a queen, the queen of my family. I wish I could see her again, I know that I won’t have many more chances to before she leaves this world to join my grandfather in the next life.

When we left her house to continue our travels, my grandmother’s tears were heartbreaking. I still get emotional sometimes when I think about it. I think deep down she knew that she likely wouldn’t see us again. On some level she knows that she is sick, and when my grandfather passed away a few years ago, she was left to live on her own for the first time in decades. That mental strain is too much for someone who’s never been alone in her life. I wish I could bring my grandmother to Canada and show her all the luxuries that we have here, but her body can’t handle the strain and stress of travelling to a country thats so far and so cold.

People don’t know what they have until it’s gone. In the few moments that I’ve had with my grandparents I’ve noticed how their smiles are always so pure with the joy of seeing the family that they don’t get to see often, but always with a hint of sadness when they realize we have to leave. I adore their eyes, so crinkled with love and dewey with happiness. Their faces aged and wizened by the years under the sun, each wrinkle forming a map that portrays the long life they’ve lived and the trials and tribulations they’ve faced. Grandparents are truly the guardian angels of mankind, I only wish I got to know mine.

Work & Mental Health

If you know me personally then you know that for a couple months last year I worked at a collection agency (who would have thought that peaceful ol’ me would go to THAT line of work right?). You may also know that I’m now working in a very different place than in collections. What I’ve come to realize is that there is a very stark difference between these two jobs and that the place you go to spend 40-something hours every week will have an effect on your mental health and stability.

Working at a collections agency was a crazy, yet interesting experience. I got to work alongside some great people who taught me a lot about stuff not even related to collections. I feel like the general public just assumes that collection agents are skeevy creeps who call you ten times a day. I’ll admit, yes we do call multiple times in a day (within the legal limit of course) but I can assure you that the employees are fantastic people. We often had potluck lunches at work, showed each other pictures of our kids/pets/vacations, you know, typical co-worker stuff. The job itself, however, was the single thing that I dreaded going in everyday. I really disliked talking to people who were miles and miles in debt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been verbally abused and harassed on the phone. We get called every swear word in the English language, the women get asked what color underwear they’re wearing, I know one of my female co-workers even had a debtor ask her for some explicit phone services. This kind of behavior was normal for us, especially for the women. We also got a lot of prank callers who would call in to yell profusely into the phone and then hang up on us. The most extreme is probably the bomb threats and threats of violent behavior that we’ve gotten from angry debtors who call in. As you can see, it wasn’t the most pleasant of jobs.

Things eventually got to the point where I dreaded logging into my phone to begin making calls. I counted down the minutes to each of my breaks, then to the end of the day to make the time pass by faster. I’d get the newspaper every morning to keep myself busy and distracted between each call. I sometimes even brought a book with me to work to ensure I had a way to de-stress and wind down between the really bad calls. I often went home in a bad mood and climbed straight into bed with a book or my laptop. I still remember my breaking point at that job, it was the day when the volume of calls that needed to be made was close to 600-something as the month was ending and I needed to reach my target. The stress and anxiety had really piled on that day as it was just one bad call after another for hours and hours. I actually had to stop working for a bit to stop crying when my anxiety escalated and had to bring myself down from an impending panic attack.

Flash forward a few months, a friend tells me about an exciting opportunity to work a contract job at a bank in IT support. It’s something totally different from my university degree and from past job experiences, but I jumped at the chance and immediately gave in my resume to be considered for the job. A couple more days of anxiously waiting and I had managed to secure an interview, and later on was offered the job at the bank. The minute I was hired, I gave in my resignation at the collections agency – there was no way I was staying there any longer than I had to. I couldn’t deal with the bad calls anymore, no matter how much my co-workers distracted me with their stories of what they were up to on the weekends.

Now, at my current job here in IT support, I find that I am happy to come in to work and excited at what new things I learn here. My co-workers are great people and I’ve created relationships that I know will last a long time. My mental health is a lot better, I no longer dread my work, and I’m happy to come in even on the craziest snow days (as much as I may complain about having to drive through the blizzards). I’m challenged in a healthy way here, and on average I make a lot less phone calls than I used to when I was in collections. It’s actually kind of funny, I really disliked talking on the phone and used to get major cold sweats when I needed to call someone, whether it was a friend or a pizza shop to place an order. My decision to even try working in collections was supposed to help me get over my fear of the phone, but it only made things worse. Now I’ve become a lot more confident and I don’t hate phone calls as much as I used to. I’ve even made some acquaintances over the phone with the technicians that I speak to on a daily basis.

In a nutshell, the moral of the story is that you need to find something that you enjoy doing so that you don’t go to work feeling like you want to shoot yourself. The work that you’re doing for 40 hours of the week is definitely going to have an impact on your emotional health, as will the people around you. I’m no longer going home grumpy, instead I’m going home excited for the next day. Despite my shifts being at odd hours, I still find myself relaxed and praying to all the Gods above that my contract here keeps getting extended. I feel like I really have a future in what I’m doing now, but I’m still young so who knows what the universe will throw at me in another few months!