I’ve always been, well, moody, even as a child. I was very particular about my daily routines, and if something upset those routines, like cramming too many activities into a day, I would lose it and become, as my mom describes, “sour.” This earned me many nicknames among my family, such as “Sunshine” or “Happiness.” When I started school, I became even more overwhelmed. There were so many other kids and way too many things to do! I was swept away from my comfy house where I played Barbies with my mom or grandma to a room filled with people and jam-packed days. While other children played board games in groups, I preferred to be off by myself playing pretend.
My tendencies didn’t change when I came to college, either. I felt so uncomfortable at large social gatherings. I noticed I was much, much happier when I was by myself listening to music or hanging out with close friends. Whenever I scrolled through social media, I saw pictures of girls out and about, striking silly poses. I thought there was something wrong with me. Why wasn’t I like everyone else? Why did I shut off as soon as I was in a crowd? These were the best years of my life, and I preferred to lock myself in my room instead of going out and meeting people. More importantly, would my social habits affect my ability to be a good occupational therapist?
It wasn’t until last summer that I realized the error in my thinking. I worked as a day camp counselor, typically taking the early morning shift. I worked with another counselor. Because the morning shift wasn’t the busiest of times, she and I spent a lot of time talking and getting to know one another. I noticed she had always seemed so quiet and reserved when we were in groups of other counselors. When I talked to her one-on-one, she was so bubbly and excited. We had a lot in common, including our introverted tendencies. She made me realize that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. She told me that while she was very introverted, she still loved people, especially kids, which guided her to decide to become a teacher. She just needed time to herself after being in a big group of people.
Talking to her really opened my eyes. I wasn’t an antisocial weirdo just because I valued alone time. I was just wired a little differently than some people. I still go out and hang with friends, I just need to recharge a little afterwards. Lastly, I realized I would be a perfectly fine occupational therapist someday, since most of the career is built on one-to-one patient interactions.
My advice to fellow introverts would be this: don’t shut yourself out completely. There’s a difference between being alone and loneliness. Connect with a small handful of people who understand you, and try new things with them. You never know what you’ll discover about yourself in the process!