Alone In A Crowded Room

My close friends would all tell you that I am a bit of an introvert. Sure, I like hanging out with people and doing stuff in public, but in order to do that I usually need time to recharge. This recharge period consists of me, by myself, in my room, doing something that involves no social contact with other human beings whatsoever. As long as I can make time to do that every so often throughout the day, I can continue being my friendly, talkative self. But when I don’t have time to do that, things tend to go downhill. It sounds cliched, but social interactions really do drain me, so when I’ve reached my limit with them, my instinct is to retreat into myself mentally and isolate myself to try and recharge. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve used since high school, and it almost always backfires. It usually leads to what is most commonly referred to as feeling “alone in a crowded room.”This feeling doesn’t just suck. It really sucks. It’s probably one of my least favorite feelings in the world. But in my recent experiences with making some new friends this semester, I realized that not everybody goes through this or feels this way. As a result, if you don’t know me, or what’s going on in my brain in those moments, I come off as shy or standoffish at best. At the worst, I’ll come off as giving absolutely no fucks about anyone or anything ever (and I give a lot of fucks, people, believe me…). The truth is, I’m trying to take care of myself mentally, while at the same time becoming increasingly anxious about being left out or being judged. I am anxious enough in social situations when I’m fully rested and prepared for social interaction, so being worn out only makes it worse. Thus I am caught in a never-ending mental cycle which usually results in me sitting alone in a corner on my phone desperately trying not to look alone because I don’t want to be judged for it, when in fact I wish I was alone. I isolate myself and shut down, creating a little protective barrier between me and the rest of the world.

However, there is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. I love being alone. I hate feeling lonely. This feeling usually creeps up in these social situations as I look outside of my protective barrier at all the “normal” people interacting around me. I’m jealous of them and the ease at which they talk to people, the fact that socializing gives them energy instead of taking it away. “People are going to think you’re a loser with no friends,” I would think to myself. “Why can’t you be like everyone else and just talk?” But I’m tired from talking in the first place, and my negative thoughts only make my anxiety worse. So I continue to sit in the corner, counting down the seconds until I can be alone and breath again.This happens especially when I’m in large groups of people that I don’t know very well. With my close friends, there is trust and understanding, and I don’t feel that same pressure to impress or make conversation. The more comfortable I feel around people, the less likely I am to retreat and mentally isolate myself. But when I don’t really know people, my social interactions become a little more tense and guarded, and it takes a lot more effort on my part to connect with them.

This has happened to me countless times here at Kenyon, whether it was during orientation or just last week at a sorority mixer. I desperately wanted to connect with those girls, but after a certain period of time, my anxiety levels started to rise and I retreated within myself. I would make up all sorts of scenarios in my head, thinking that they probably didn’t like me or they thought I was weird or antisocial. I would build these things up in my head so much that most of the time I would just leave without saying good bye! Sometimes, just the fear of this whole thing happening keeps me from going to events in the first place! This makes it worse because then it looks like I don’t care enough to go, when in fact I care a lot.

The point of this article is two-fold. First, I wanted to talk about my experience so that anyone else that feels this way knows that it isn’t just them. I’ve been there, I get it, and no, you aren’t crazy. This is a thing that happens and it sucks, but you are not alone. Secondly, I wanted to shed some light on my experience for anyone who doesn’t go through this sort of thing, so that next time they see a girl at the end of the lunch table on her phone, they don’t automatically assume she’s shy or she doesn’t care. Maybe she is anxious and a little bit mentally drained, and she doesn’t feel totally comfortable in this environment. Don’t let her demeanor throw you off. Smile at her. Maybe try to get to know her. She could be a pretty kick-ass person when she isn’t paralyzed with anxiety and shut up in her own head, and it’s the little things that can make a world of difference.

 

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2