Something you might not know about me is that by nature, I am incredibly shy. When I was a child, I would sometimes hide in my room and refuse to come out when my parents had guests over. I hate making eye contact with people. I become incredibly anxious if I don’t have something in my hands to play with whilst making conversation. I hate being in crowds because I find the crush of bodies suffocating, almost claustrophobia-inducing. When I’m not hypomanic, I find making conversation incredibly difficult. I can monologue, but I’m not great at dialogue. Personal discussions make me nervous. I am terrible at confrontation at a one-on-one level. Give me an empty room, a computer loaded up with distractions and a source of food that doesn’t require me having to leave the house, and I’d consider myself in heaven.
We learn to cope. See, the thing is, the world won’t accommodate my shyness. I am forced to interact with people every day. I have to make small talk with shop assistants. I’d probably be very lonely without my friends. Like most people, I require social contact. Humans are not solitary mammals – we need interpersonal connections in order to feel complete. Shy introverts are, unfortunately, no exception – while I sometimes dread seeing people, I also feel depressed when I’m cut off from them. So I’ve learned to give the world what it wants so that I can be happy.
I first took up public speaking when I started high school. Either I have a natural talent for talking until my throat is dry or I had a really great teacher (or both), because I went on to win a great number of certificates (still sitting somewhere in a box at my dad’s place) and even a trophy or two. The funny thing, though, is that to this day, when I get up to make a speech, my knees won’t stop trembling. I have to physically lock them into place to stop them from shaking. It doesn’t affect the quality of my performances, but it’s a physical tic I’ve never been able to shake.
I look like an extrovert because I taught myself how to be one in order to survive. I joined every extra-curricular program that would put me up in front of a crowd and leave me there until I made them applaud. I threw myself into writing and learning the art of persuasive speech. I made myself play several instruments (very badly) in front of crowds of bored-out-of-their-minds parents who clapped politely at the end. I started to see everything I did as just another performance.
That’s my shield, you see. It’s how I protect myself from the rest of the world. I perform. I get up on my soapbox and start to speak knowing that you won’t focus so much on the person speaking as you will on the words she’s saying. You don’t care about me – you care about the image of me that you’ve created in your mind. And frankly, I prefer it that way. The buffer between my inner self and the outer world that I’ve created with all my words and speeches is what helps me survive in a world that would drain all my energy and life if I didn’t have a way of protecting myself. I am still painfully shy; ask me to have a regular conversation with a regular person and it will feel like torture. But I can slap on a smile and some fake charm and treat it like just another performance, and that’ll get me through until I can be alone and have some time to recharge.
The me you see is a creation. Maybe that’s why some people are quick to accuse me of having built up some kind of cult of personality – because when this me speaks, people pay attention. I designed it that way. I want you to listen to what I’m saying so that you won’t look any closer at the person talking. I want you to focus on the performance. It’s how I get through my day. It’s how I’m getting through this blog post. I need you not to pay attention to the woman behind the curtain. I need you to love the act enough that you won’t ask me to drop it. I need you to enjoy watching me perform so you won’t ever want me to stop.
Because when I have to stop – well, that’s when things get ugly. On the inside, I am still a little girl who hides in her room when strangers come over. My persona is great at dealing with conflict, as anyone who’s seen me dive head-on into a flamewar can attest, but the person behind that mask hates it. My public self is charming, witty, charismatic, attractive – all things that I myself am not. And that’s okay! I don’t mind being like this. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted, and it’s not like I absolutely despise all social contact. I love and cherish the time I spend with my friends. I love my partner, my mother, the wonderful people in my life who are here for me when the mask starts to crack a little. I am not ashamed of who I really am, not at all. That’s why I’m writing this blog post – because I know that it’s okay to be a shy girl who isn’t great at making eye contact. There’s nothing wrong with me.
This is just how I survive. What you see is an act I’ve spent my life polishing. I still get things a little wrong sometimes, but hey, no improv performance is perfect. And hey – I don’t need you to like me, I just need you to keep watching so that you won’t notice that the girl behind the curtain has slipped off for a quiet cup of tea and a book.
I am called a lot of things – a troll, a provocateur, a bully, an attention-seeker. It’s funny that nobody’s ever thought to call me an actress, because that’s really what I am. And I’m a pretty damn good one, if I do say so myself. I’m someone who can step into a character who is entirely fictitious – Jay, intersectionalist attack dog for hire and some-time activist – and play her so convincingly that she seems real. I’ve played her so well that I’ve almost convinced myself that it’s who I really am. Playing this character hasn’t just helped me survive – it’s helped me enjoy life in ways that I didn’t think I was capable of. I am now an incredibly shy introvert…who is able to shed her fears, her doubts, her insecurities, just by putting on a pair of high heels and a pretty dress and being maddeningly glib about her haters. I can go out and enjoy the company of people – actually enjoy it! – and then go home and recharge and be ready to face another day.
I may not be real, but I am a very comforting fiction – mostly to myself, but partly, I suppose, to others. I’m glad of that, I truly am. I’m happy that in playing this character, I’ve been able to do good things that I might not have been able to do if I’d been forced to interact with the world as myself. If there’s a point to all this rambling, it’s this – I am the creation of a very talented and imaginative introvert, and by sharing this with you, I hope that some of you who are also the creations of talented and imaginative introverts might feel a little less alone. That’s what I do, you see – I step into this false face so that I can reach out and do the things I could never have done alone. So here I am, introverts, reaching out to you to tell you that it’s okay to be a shy child who hides in their room when strangers come calling. We can all be in hiding together! If we act well enough, they’ll never even realise we’re missing.