Just to give a little bit of context; I've always been quiet. In school I'd never raise my hand even if I knew the answer, teachers would comment that I was a daydreamer although they didn't phrase it in such a nice way. Dozy, that's what they used to say to me. It's a memory that still hurts. I'd pretend to write so that I wasn't asked a question in front of the class. Despite appearances I was paying attention, I just never let on; because if I looked like I knew the answer I might be asked about it or singled out. Being singled out in front of the class was the worst.
Quiet, shy with anxiety induced blushing. That last part is a wordy way of saying 'I go red all the time'. Not only if I'm embarrassed but if I see a friend in the street I'm not expecting to see or if more than a couple of people have their attention on me. Public speaking is a no-go and I find it very tough even joining a conversation at a party. Being kind of quiet is one thing but the fear of going red when I speak makes things so much harder.
There are lots of people I wish I had the courage to talk to more; when I was at university I had a network of my closest friends but struggled widening the net, I couldn't just walk up to someone and have a chat even if we were on the same course. The blushing would stop me, if it was someone I was intimidated by in any way or someone I admired then I knew I would embarrass myself so it was easier to not say anything. On my Fine Art degree I think I only had one critique with the whole class in three years, on my Fine Art Masters degree I didn't have any.
Now, being a shy introvert while travelling is hard. I'm lucky in that I have an outgoing other half who is able to chat to people freely. He can engage with strangers easily, enjoys socialising and doesn't fret about saying the wrong thing. He asks the questions and starts the conversations. I sit there listening, sometimes I try to chime in but a lot of the time I don't. If there's a social gathering going on in the hostel I usually won't take part. I find crowds or more than a few people overwhelming and small talk very tiring. The other day in Bogotá for example; Craig joined in with cocktails and chat with a large group of backpackers while I retreated to a quiet table to write in my journal and pet the hostels German shepherd. Like that wonderful Gemma Correll illustration I'm the one on the floor stroking the pets at a party. I worry that I'm perceived as grumpy or unfriendly sometimes because I'm not joining in. I'm sure my other half wishes I was more outgoing too; it would make things easier. It's always up to him to ask the bus driver if we're going the right way or to get directions from a stranger in the street.
This is a very personal thing for me to write. Because being introverted, shy and awkward induces anxiety and makes me a very emotional person. On this trip I've cried a lot, when things haven't gone as planned or when I've found being away too overwhelming. I'll sometimes think about my quiet place at home, visions of surrounding myself in the cosy duvet that's thousands of miles away.
Only in recent years have I learned why I am the way I am and by learning a little about myself I've also learned to accept myself a little more too. I read Quiet by Susan Cain recommended to me by an online friend. It radically changed the way I thought of myself and helped me to understand what being an introvert means. I've learned that I'm an INFJ personality type, apparently the rarest. It means that I'm a person that needs time to recharge often, that I can also be highly sensitive too. It also means that I'm a great listener to those that I feel connected with and that I have a great deal of compassion for others. It's what makes me a creative person, I see the world in a different way and I think (and overthink) a lot.
I find it so challenging to travel, even with a partner because it goes against that voice in my head that says stay at home, you don't want to interact today. But, travelling is what I do and it is a big part of who I am. I've learned that I can be adventurous and quiet. I carve time out to be by myself which is a hard thing to do in a backpacker community but it's necessary for me. And I'm learning not to apologise for it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's ok, I'm realising that I don't have to be an outgoing person to be a traveller. It's not all Full Moon Party's and bar crawls. It's whatever I want it to be, slow days at a hostel, peaceful walks through national parks and plenty of time for contemplation.
Over the course of this trip I've worried somewhat about the way I'm perceived by others but by being away and out of my comfort zone I'm slowly learning not to care and to instead think about the positives of being an introvert. I take time to listen; to birds singing and to people chatting. I look more closely at details and thoughtfully leave myself notes to remember how I felt at that moment. I let my imagination run wild and ponder the big questions. I'm grateful to be able to see the world through my own special lens, one that transforms landscapes into paintings and flora into poetry. Being the quiet girl allows me the time to contemplate and when all is said and done I wouldn't change that for anything.
Are you a quiet person, a traveller or both? Does it feel like being introverted stands in your way at all or that it defines you in a negative or a positive way? I'd love to know your thoughts.