Is It Introversion or Depression?

An introvert with depression

When I’m introverted, I feel light, hopeful, and satisfied. When I’m depressed, I unintentionally stay away from people.

As an introvert, I love being alone. Yet as someone who deals with depression, being alone can also be problematic.

Solitude is both a love and a need for me. It’s my time to leave my body and my people, to venture into my head. It’s wonderfully grounding and invigorating. But sometimes it’s a slippery slope. I have to stay alert to my mind and mood. In one moment, I’m lazing around in the ocean; the next, I’m drowning beneath the crashing waves.

I feel like it should be easy to tell the difference between my introversion and my depression, but it’s not. Both are quiet, but my depression is a master of camouflage. If I’m not paying attention, I’ll go from bliss to lonesome faster than a rip tide. If I’m lucky, it takes only weeks, and not months, for me to realize I’m suffocating beneath the surface.

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Introversion: Blissful Solitude

When I’m on my own, I get all the time and space to flit between hobbies, following the whims of my moods and thoughts. Whether it’s a night after work or an entire Saturday by myself, I’ll read, then journal or work on my writing. I’ll play some Sims, or work on a puzzle, or dive into my spirituality. The opportunities to engage my mind are never-ending. This is how I recharge.

Eventually, my body will cry from all the sitting and my brain becomes fuzzy. I’ll refresh by throwing in some yoga, dancing, or maybe a walk (should I want to emerge from the peacefulness of my cave). 

Days could pass before I feel restless or bored, and the weeknights are much too short. However short, though, this break away from people is how I survive my day-to-day. With each moment alone, my energy is resetting, clearing, and building. During this time, to put it simply, I feel good

Depression: Lonely Isolation 

When I’m depressed, however, my alone becomes lonely. My solitude becomes isolation. I’m no longer actively choosing and enjoying being on my own. Instead, being alone is all I can handle, all I think I deserve.

From a clinical perspective, depression is a mood disorder and affects how someone feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. Someone is “depressed” when they experience signs and symptoms nearly every day, and most of the day, for at least two weeks. Some of these include persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, having trouble sleeping (or sleeping too much), and changes in appetite.

In my case, at some point, I stopped reading. At some point, I put down my journal and pen, hiding them away. I closed my current work-in-progress on Google Docs (and haven’t thought about it since). I went from playing my game for an hour or two to nonstop, not actually enjoying it, only playing to get lost. My energy is gone for anything mentally stimulating, physically invigorating, or emotionally fulfilling. Without realizing it, I’ve caved in on myself and shut out the world, except for the absolute necessities. At some point, I became hollow. 

Just like my introversion, my depression thrives on being alone. Except being alone is such an integral part of my life, so I don’t immediately recognize the shift. At some point, I went from enjoying my hobbies and passions to craving an endless rabbit hole to daze myself into surviving. 

So Which Is It, Introversion or Depression?

In order to tell the difference, I have to get out of my head and get into my body. 

When I’m simply introverted, I feel light, hopeful, excited, and satisfied. I can put down whatever it is I’m enjoying, but I don’t want to. I easily recognize my stressed shoulders and tight heartspace. I move to release the tension. I crave it, both mentally and physically. Then, when my body feels free, I can flow back into my mind. Once my battery is recharged and filled, I’m excited to text, talk, and see my people.

When I’m depressed, however, I feel heavy, apathetic, and afraid. It’s not a fear I’m aware of, but a quiet coward doing just enough to remind me it’s there without ever actually making its presence known. It never allows me to feel satisfied. I need just one more hour playing my game or one more episode or one more puzzle piece… It’s distracting me just enough from becoming aware of the void, sucking me deeper into nothingness. 

Unintentionally, I stay away from people. Something inside me knows to continue with the perfunctory conversations so no one realizes, but this coward is doing everything it can to keep me alone and lonely.

At some point, I’ll jolt out of the void. I’ll realize my rejuvenating hobbies that once helped me breathe have become dangerous escapes, slowly suffocating me. I finally see the waves crashing on top of me, one right after the other. But I can’t move. Now I know I’m in a low, but the world still feels too overwhelming. The unworthiness and helplessness seep in, weighing me down even further.

How? When? Why? These are questions I ask, for which I never get answers.

As someone who is so mentally focused, this is hard. As an introvert, I’ve always lived in my head, and I’ve always used it as a safe way to feel my emotions and to experience the world. I’d know when my body needed a breather, when I wanted a friend, and when it was safe to dive into my passions. 

But when I’m depressed, I’m in such a deep hole that I forget everything except this void. Once I’ve recognized the presence of my depression, no logic or positive thinking is going to help me shift out of it. In order to get out of the mental hell hole I’ve fallen into, I have to do

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Getting Out of the Mind and into the Body

Without thinking, I push myself up from the bottom and break the surface to steal a breath. Immediately, I sink back under the water — but it was just enough. 

I force myself to do something, anything, that requires physical work, little-to-no thought, and will give me a sense of accomplishment. This movement is different, though. I’m not moving to simply regain focus, but to come back to life. It hurts from stiffness, and that coward, that fear, is trying to convince me to stop. 

But now, I’m in my body and I’m determined. Soon, it starts to awaken. Without thinking, I find myself breaking the surface again and again to flood my body with the oxygen it’s been desperately needing. 

With an easier breath, I find my people. I can only handle small chunks at first, since I still don’t believe that I am worthy of them. But right now, I know I need to stop leaving. Right now, being on my own is harmful. Right now, getting back to them gets me out of myself. As an introvert, people exhaust me. But right now, my people keep me breathing.

With more balance, I slowly tiptoe back into my introversion. I gingerly pick up the book or the pen. The coward is near, and I feel a bit fraudulent and afraid. But soon, the solitude settles me and I’m so pleasantly lost that I have all of its oxygen. Instead of dazing out, I move from one joy to the next. Finally, my peace has returned. 

Having dealt with depression long enough, I know it’s like the tides. Some of my lows will be longer and harder, while others, I can easily escape. At some point, I learned that it’s not about stopping the lows. Times of drowning are inevitable. In the end, it’s about knowing the difference, noticing the shift as early as possible, and taking the steps to move out of my depression and into my introversion.

So tell me, how do you know when the coin has flipped? And what do you do to find your way back to your bliss? I would love to hear in the comments below.

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