Sometimes I feel I’ve never done anything fun where I didn’t simultaneously wish I was home in bed. No matter how much I’m looking forward to something, when I put it on my calendar, I end up dreading it as the day approaches. It doesn’t matter if it’s a party, a vacation, or any other special occasion. About 24 to 48 hours in advance, my anxiety kicks in, and I find myself wishing I was doing pretty much anything besides attending a social event.
I’m an introvert, and I’m also a highly sensitive person (HSP). Loud parties and raucous bars hold no appeal for me. My usual happy place is curled up in my apartment with my music at just the right decibel level, the heat at the perfect temperature, and the lighting dimmed to a low glow. Sounds peaceful, right?
Now imagine a crowd of 100,000 people on a Saturday night in Munich, attending Oktoberfest, one of the craziest, most-world renowned parties in existence. That image is very unlike my usual happy place, yet it was where I found myself on a recent trip to Europe. If you think this sounds like a bad idea, you’d be correct.
What Happened When I Tried to Party at Oktoberfest
My experience at Oktoberfest was part of a tour of Europe with a group of about two dozen other 20-somethings. For 10 days I lived with, ate with, shared a bus with, and walked the streets with a group of complete strangers. Not only did I embark on this trip willingly, but I forked over quite a large chunk of my hard-earned savings to go. Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time I had taken a trip like this.
Just because I am an HSP and an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t crave adventure and excitement. It just means this need is also at odds with my desire to control my surroundings and, therefore, my anxiety. It’s a struggle I live with every day, and neither part of my nature ever feels completely satisfied.
When I tell people I’m an introvert, or when people observe my quiet nature, they have a tendency to assume all I like to do is stay home and read books. That’s a fair assessment, especially since I talk about my homebody nature quite a bit.
Yet while I consider being alone my natural state, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy doing other things as well, such as traveling to foreign countries and meeting new people. It just means that before I start enjoying these things, I’m often filled with an overwhelming sense of anxiety at all the unknowns. This feeling sometimes subsides enough for me to start having fun, but sometimes it doesn’t.
As I left the hotel the night of Oktoberfest, I was filled with more than my fair share of trepidation. However, I told myself that I was just overreacting. I was 24, young, and currently experiencing the trip of a lifetime. If I was ever going to go out and get crazy, it was definitely tonight.
Except that I knew deep down this wasn’t going to be something I would enjoy. I rarely get anything more than tipsy even at home, and that’s where I’m familiar with my surroundings and know the language the bartender is speaking.
As I joined the crushing crowd of Oktoberfest partiers, I felt myself kicking into sensory overload. The noise was deafening, and I had to nearly scream into the ear of my friend next to me to be heard. I clung to the sleeve of her shirt so we wouldn’t be separated in the throng of people, but I found it nearly impossible to keep my grip as I was jostled on all sides.
It took what felt like hours to make it several hundred feet to the closest beer tent. Even after shoving our way inside where the throng was slightly less dense, I felt agitated, shaky, and a little bit dizzy.
These were not happy adrenaline-fueled responses, but something closer to a panic attack, and I knew this feeling would only grow worse as the evening progressed. My gut was telling me to leave. One other introvert in our group was not having a good time either, and despite not even knowing her name before that night, we managed to communicate that we both wanted to get out and made our way to the nearest exit.
Don’t Judge Me for Maintaining My Mental Health
I would like to tell you I felt empowered by my decision, got a full eight hours of sleep, and had no regrets about my choice for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, that’s not wholly the truth.
The next morning my friends were full of stories about dancing on tables and meeting cute guys from foreign countries. Once again I felt an inner war between the part of me that wishes to be spontaneous and the part that knows just being in another country was already far beyond my usual comfort zone.
Controlling my energy level, and the anxiety that is often directly tied to it, is a balancing act. Many compare being an introvert with having an internal battery that is easily depleted and needs to be recharged after exposure to other people. When I go on a big vacation, especially with people I don’t know, I want to use this battery, but I need to do so sparingly so that it lasts the whole trip.
For me, it’s a big deal to make it through a trip without giving in to exhaustion. In order to make it, I need to say no to certain activities to conserve my mental health, even if part of me wants to say yes just for the experience.
The struggle might be mental rather than physical, but for me it’s no different than refusing a piece of cake that might give me a stomachache, or a liter of Oktoberfest beer that might induce a hangover. No one would judge a person for making decisions based on their physical health, so please don’t judge me for attempting to maintain my mental health.
Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for mental health like there are for healthy eating. Everyone needs to figure out what works for them based on their own level of introversion or extroversion. One person’s party might be another person’s worst nightmare. The key is not trying to be wild and spontaneous as someone else sees it, but being wild and spontaneous for who you are as an individual.
I’m still finding that balance, but the more I test my comfort zone, the closer I come to finding where my boundaries lie. Perhaps next time I might consider dancing on a few tables. Or maybe I’ll just dance at home by myself, where the lighting is perfect and the music is at just the right level.
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