Being an introvert has assumed a large part of my social identity. I preach about its positives to anyone who will listen, whether it’s on Introvert, Dear or in my real life. There are so many great things about being an introvert that I’m thankful for.
However, there is another aspect of my identity that isn’t all that glorifying: Professional Sick Person. PSP is a term people of the medical world use for those who live their lives with the shroud of illness looming over them. There are those who have held this title their whole lives, and others, like me, who assumed it later in life.
Introversion and chronic illness are characteristically misunderstood by the world at large, despite the many efforts of those in each camp to increase awareness and understanding (such as our guide to introversion). When someone is both introverted and chronically ill, it can seem twice as hard for an outsider to comprehend, as well as for the individual to explain.
As an introverted PSP, I have struggled to reconcile both of these parts of me. So, from an introvert with some health problems, here are five things you should know about us.
What Introverts With Chronic Illness Want You to Know
1. Quiet doesn’t always mean we’re introverting.
Sometimes I’m being quiet because it is my true, introverted nature. Sometimes I’m being quiet because I’m feeling miserable and don’t know how to, or can’t, verbalize what I’m feeling. It’s hard to tell which is which for the inexperienced observer, and it’s also hard for me to explain when the moment comes that someone asks: “Is everything alright?”
When I’m introverting and this question is directed at me, it’s easy to get annoyed. (More than once I’ve been told I can be prone to “resting sad face,” which doesn’t help the situation.) But often when I’m not feeling well, I shrink back into my own world for reasons other than an introvert daydream: Sometimes it’s the best way to distract myself from the pain I’m feeling.
However, this isn’t always the best practice. As an introvert, I often avoid seeking help from other people, instead turning to other methods like my faith, my own head, or my internet access. As a PSP, I’m forced to rely on others and their aid.
I’m a walking contradiction.
2. At some point, we will cancel plans, but it’s nothing personal.
When I have to break a promise, I feel pretty terrible. I don’t like to let people down. From time to time, I also find myself battling the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO); I think it’s something that’s essentially part of the human experience, and that experience isn’t always fun.
When I cancel plans due to my introverted need to have a social cleanse, I sometimes feel guilty for prioritizing my needs over someone else’s. When I cancel because of my illness, it’s easier to explain, but it doesn’t feel much better. Chronic illness isn’t always something healthy people understand.
3. Our ‘alone time’ isn’t always restful.
On a bad health day, I might spend many hours alone. Usually, that’s the type of thing that would re-energize me, but when it’s due to a health flare up, it’s not always an enjoyable experience. Some of the activities I would normally do when spending time alone — reading, writing, baking, etc. — are downright impossible when I’m feeling sick. As a result, the solitary hours seem painful. There are also times when I sleep for an exorbitant number of hours and still feel completely wiped when I wake up.
On a positive note, if you happen to be both an introvert and a chronically ill person, you may be better able to endure all that time spent alone. I have heard of extroverts who fall into depression when they are ill because they don’t get to spend enough time with other people. When you’re an introvert, you’ve already come to love spending time with yourself, and you know all the best ways to make yourself happy.
4. We need people in our lives who we can rely on.
When you only have so much energy to give, you quickly learn to be intentional with your energy and who you choose to spend it on. Whether you’ve been chronically ill your whole life, or you developed chronic illness later in life, you learn quickly who you can rely on. There will always be people who flit in and out of your life, but when you find the steady ones, you hang on tight to them.
Even for introverts who prefer their own company, it’s important to have an inner circle of people who they can count on. This is even more imperative for the chronically ill.
5. One of the greatest gifts you can give us is patience.
As an introvert and a PSP, it’s easy to feel like a mess, maybe even a burden to those around us. Even if you have trouble comprehending what life through our eyes might look like, one thing you can do is show us grace. We might be prone to baffling silence, plan-cancelling, absurd amounts of solitary confinement, and neediness, but that doesn’t make us inferior. And if you can endure some of our more difficult qualities, we will be eternally grateful and show it to you any way we can.
It can seem like a lot of difficulties come with being an introvert, a Professional Sick Person, or a combo of both. But being both an introvert in an extroverted world and a sick person in a world made for healthy people have shaped me into the person I am today: Someone familiar with adversity but resilient all the same.
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman