Alone in a Crowd

I’ve slept about 10 hours total in the last couple of nights.

Two friends of mine were getting married yesterday, which meant waking up early, going to get my hair and makeup done, then riding a bus aaaall the way to my parents house (which was much closer to the venue than my apartment) to drop off my things and change into my dress.

I was hugely excited for the wedding. Mostly, of course, I was looking forward to seeing two people I’ve known for a surprisingly long time declare their love for each other with their loved ones. On that, the wedding delivered rather excellently. There was a moving ceremony, heartfelt speeches, a groom looking the most nervous I’ve ever seen anyone look, and a bride look positively gorgeous. Oh, and kissing. They showed some top, top drawer kissing.

I was also looking forward to the wedding because, well, one of the most persistent fantasies younger me had as they tried not to fall apart was of us getting all dolled up, doing our hair and makeup, and wearing a beautiful dress to a special occasion. I’d gotten to live that at another wedding last year, but that was just after coming out. My makeup was a touch too heavy, my dress awkward and very “teenager struggling to figure out clothes,” and my hair barely long enough to attempt to style it in any way.

This time, I got to do a lot more. A good friend let me borrow a frankly spectacular dress, my makeup was perfect, and my hair was as fancy as hair gets. What felt particularly satisfying was how natural it all felt. It’s taken a while for it to start sinking in, but my brain is slowly starting to get it: this is our life now. We actually get to be happy!


With all that said, you might think I had the time of my life yesterday. Well… yes and no.

Of course I was overjoyed for my friends, and yeah naturally I was happy to look how I did, but the wedding lasted over eight hours. There’s plenty of time there to feel many different ways. It all started wonderfully, of course. I got to say hi to people I hadn’t seen in years, watch my friends get married… but near the end of the night, when we were sitting having dinner, a familiar feeling started to creep up on me.

I was sitting next to a couple of girls I knew in school, and with a bunch of Danish people I had never met before. They were all very kind, of course. I made small talk with the girls, and tried to start conversations with the Danes. However, it didn’t take too long before a horrible and familiar feeling crept up on me, as the people at the table made conversation with each other while I just stared at my plate and uselessly struggled to figure out how to join the conversation.

That sensation of utter helplessness is one of the few things I felt nearly as often as my gender dysphoria while growing up. If you’re introverted, I’m sure you’ve felt it too. Perhaps like me, you’ve felt it so many times you’ve grown from hating it, to almost thinking of it as an old friend. A sucky, emotionally draining friend, but comfortable after so many years.

I had to step outside because I just couldn’t bear it anymore. I took in some fresh air, looked at the clouds and stars above, and tried to gather as much of the empty evening into me as I could.


Here’s a quick explanation of how this works, for my more extroverted readers.

As the name suggests, introverts are more comfortable with ourselves than the outside world. This doesn’t mean we’re asocial, or hate other people. I LOVE being with friends, and an evening playing board games with people I care for sounds like heaven to me. However, I spend most of my nights at home, writing my blog, reading, or playing music. Not because I don’t want to be with other people, but because I just need to be by myself.

As much fun as going to a party, hanging out with a crowd, and socialising are, all of those things start chipping away at me. If I exert myself too far, I end up feeling absolutely empty until I get away from everyone else and spend time with my thoughts.

The most common phrase I’ve heard to explain it is that we recharge through alone time, and it’s an apt analogy. Being with other people in any context, whether working in a team at work, or going out for a fun dinner, can give us joy and satisfaction, but it invariably starts to use up emotional energy we’ve built up through afternoons drinking tea in an empty house, or going for a two-hour bike ride alone.

Different things use up our energy in their own way. Grabbing pizza with someone close to me barely uses up anything, while going to, say, a wedding with a hundred people talking and walking around is the equivalent of playing Pokemon GO; before I even realise it, I’ve just completely run out of the ability to interact with other people.


So, we go back to me in the chill night air, trying to gather myself.

After years of wanting to cry at a hundred social events, I’ve developed emergency strategies to gather up a small supply of the ability to interact with other people.

Meditation is best, but it’s difficult to enter when wearing a short dress in a damp lawn on a cold evening. Second best is drinking in all the melancholy of the moment, letting my eyes wander on random objects outside, and letting the music in the background fade as my thoughts start rambling.

I did that for maybe five or ten minutes, and felt well enough to go back in. I lasted about an hour longer, and then the dancing started.

Sigh.


Colombian parties are great, as they invariably end in music. It’s really fun. You have friends around you, good music, and people enjoying one of the simplest joys in life: dancing.

Unfortunately for me, if parties with huge crowds and conversation to keep up for hours drain me, dancing empties me almost instantaneously. After just a few seconds, I found myself staring at frustration at people enjoying themselves while I tried, and failed, to just… enjoy myself. To try dancing, to go out and have fun.

Nope.

It’s such a terrible feeling; wanting with all your heart to do something, but not being able to force your body to do it. Once again, the feeling of being utterly alone in a crowd started to fill me up, and I couldn’t bear it.

I went outside, took deep breaths, and tried to calm down again.

It didn’t work.

I stood in the dark staring at some bushes and I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I just felt so useless. I felt broken, and flawed, and worthless.
I thought some terrible things. I wondered at how utterly defective I was at being a human being. There were my friends enjoying themselves immensely, and here was I, feeling like I was starting to drown because… because what? Because I had to talk to other people? Oh, poor, poor me.

Who the fuck even feels like that?

I kept trying to calm down, but nothing helped. It felt like there was something fundamentally broken deep inside me, as if someone had dropped me while I was being assembled. No person of any value could feel how I did at that moment.
Seriously, how messed up do you have to be in the head to feel drained from being around people having fun?

I thought of how nice it would be if I could be normal.
I desperately wished to be able to just be a functional human being.
I felt myself slipping into the water, and losing my breath.

Then I was gone.

I don’t know how long I sat out there, feeling completely devoid of joy, and like I was of less value than the grass and dirt under my feet. After some time, I was finally able to grab the reins of my self-pity and control myself. I let the anger I felt at myself and the utter solitude wash through me. Yes, I was a lonely island in an empty sea. Yes, it WOULD be quite nice if we could just be outgoing. And it would be nice if we had wings and could make money appear from thin air. That was just not reality, and crying over it wouldn’t help.

It took me a few more minutes, but I was finally able to slip back inside and dance a little. (It helped that a more extroverted person invited me out to dance; I felt kind of like a leech using up their energy to motivate myself.)
I smiled as I saw the beautiful bride and the kind, wonderful groom walk around enjoying their party and talking with others. By the time the party ended and I was saying my goodbyes to them, I felt all right again.


I wanted to write this post because I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. That horrible feeling that creeps up on you at parties is something millions of others feel, and I think it’s important for us to remember that.

As I cried last night, overwhelmed by how damaged I felt I was, I wished I could have someone next to me giving me a hug, and reassuring me I am fine as I am.

We are not made to be in huge parties, we find it difficult to interact with others for a prolonged amount of time, and we don’t always feel at ease in a crowd. That’s okay. That’s valid. You are not broken, just as I am not broken. You are fine just the way you are, and while it’s good to work on improving yourself and maybe trying to be more outgoing, it’s also all right to crash and spend a whole weekend alone without speaking a word to anyone else.

You are worthy of love and respect and joy just the way you are. You don’t need to change yourself to fit into society. Take care of yourself, and be alone when you need to. It’s all right.

You’re all right.

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4 thoughts on “Alone in a Crowd

  1. Milo says:

    Yup. Accepting that you are an introvert in an extrovert society and that playing their games can drain you completely is an important step to being a functional introvert. Only then can you stop holding yourself to the extrovert standard and develop your own way of doing social events. You’ll find me in the kitchen with the dog, in a corner with the cat, outside by myself or talking to a random smoker. And then somebody sucks you back in and you have another go. It’s not ‘normal’ socialising but it’s the best I can do.

    Liked by 1 person

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