Home is different than being “in public.” You can be yourself. It is, or should be, a safe place. A place where you can act crazy and no one judges. No one criticizes. Yes, that’s the way it should be.
Most of the time Julia felt she could be herself at home. A little silly, she’d break out into song at the drop of a hat. Or at the mere mention of a word that reminded her of a song. And she liked to perform the song. Full on Barbra Streisand on Broadway. Funny Girl. Julia knew all the words. At times she even acted out the part, raising her arms to the sky as if she were playing to the upper tier at the Kennedy Center.
So when Julia’s mom, Carol, suggested she audition for the school play, Julia was taken by surprise. “Why are you always locked up in your room, alone? Turn off the TV,” she shouted through Julia’s door. “Do something! Join something at school!”
“I can’t.” Julia yelled back. “Leave me alone!”
Julia’s mom didn’t get it. Didn’t get her at all. She thought that since Julia sang at home, and even joked on occasion with a biting, sarcastic sense of humor, that this was the way she acted all the time. This was the farthest from the truth. At home, just with her mom, Julia was free to be herself. School was different. At school, she made her way from class to class, quiet, head down, never making eye contact, secretly envying those other girls, the ones smiling, giggling, practically skipping through the halls, chatting about their upcoming parties, their boyfriends. Why were they always so happy? Julia wondered why she wasn’t happy at school. Why she couldn’t talk to these people.
Julia tried. Many times. Sometimes at her mom’s insistence. Other times, well, she just tried for herself. Wanted to give it a shot. But the words weren’t there. She couldn’t think of anything to say to these people. Only at home would conversational words pop into her head. At school, Julia put in her time, did her homework, studied hard, got good grades, and when the bell rang, she got the hell out of that building and went home. To her room. In her room she felt comfortable, safe. No more pretending.
Even though Julia’s mom didn’t understand her daughter, for the most part, she let her be. She knew that forcing the issue wasn’t helping. She figured that Julia would grow out of whatever was bothering her. She’d come into her own personality. In her own time. She’d flourish, one day.
Holidays were especially difficult. When other family members came into the house, Julia wasn’t allowed to just hang out in her room. She needed to make an appearance, be social. Yea, right. Social. Mom didn’t know that this was killer for her. Mom didn’t realize that these people were the enemies. The cousins. Along with the aunts and uncles, the cousins, very close to Julia’s age, were forced to visit. First came the comparisons. Abby and Danny are in band. What are you participating in this year? Nothing, leave me alone.
Then the suggestions. Your mom says you have a great voice. You should try out for the school choir. Or the school play. Leave me alone.
Julia counts the minutes until they leave. She can’t wait to get back to her room. It’s no one’s business if she chooses to stay home or join groups. She bites her tongue wanting to say, I don’t tell Abby and Danny what to do. She wants to tell them that she enjoys being home studying because she plans on going to college, perhaps to law school. She wants to tell them that while Abby and Danny are hanging out with friends, she is preparing for life. For the real world. She will be successful. Julia wants to stand up for herself and to tell everyone that she is shy. Introverted. That she prefers to be alone. She is happy by herself. Studying, reading, watching TV. But she can’t. She stays quiet. She tells herself that things will get better. Things have to get better. They have to.
What can introverts say to people to make them understand? Or should we bother?