Personality, Introversion, and Recovery - My Personal Take

Patient Expert

It's a crazy world we live in where I get mistaken for an extrovert. Introversion is my true personality, and, trust me, back in the old days no one - and I mean no one - would have mistaken me for anything else.

In fact, people didn't even know who I was, as most of the time I stuck to myself. It would have been nice feeling comfortable in the company of others, but the fact is I was rarely at ease. Home alone, in my own thoughts, was where I drew nourishment.

I am bringing this up in relation to a sharepost I wrote last week, Investigating Personality Issues - My Real Road to Recovery. My point was that our bipolar is only part of what we have to deal with. After our moods have been stabilized, then what?

Or maybe our moods don't stabilize. As I observed:

For one, getting depressed with not a friend in the world to turn to is not such a terribly bright idea.

First, let me state that I regard my introversion as an asset. My inner world is a rich one, in my own mind highly preferable to the banality I witness playing out all around me. On the Myers-Briggs, I am an INFP (introvert, intuitive, feeling, perceiver), which translates to "Dreamer," meaning I could happily shut myself in a cave for ten years, emerging only to get my toenails clipped, lost in my own thoughts.

I do the next best thing: I write from home.

But isolation has its severe downside. No man is truly an island. We are social animals. New neural connections are formed and old ones strengthened by the challenge of contact with others. In other words, left alone, our brains go stale.

Yes, there are times when hibernating may be healing, but we need the wisdom to know when our isolation is turning against us. Introverts are far more prone to depression than others, as are the socially anxious. Too often, a destructive cycle develops: We get concerned, we don't reach out. Then we get depressed, and still we don't reach out. Finally, we get dangerously depressed, and even still we don't pick up the phone.

My turning point came in early 2003, four years into my diagnosis, when, on a whim, I emailed my Newsletter readers, asking them to take an online Myers-Briggs test and report back. Eighty-three percent (as opposed to about 25 percent of the general population) told me they were introverts.

Okay, my little survey was hardly scientific, but it had one of those Newton under the apple tree effects on me. Call it coincidence, but by January 2004 I was married. A month later, I was facilitating a DBSA support group and making other efforts. At the end of 2006, I ventured into public speaking.

Gradually, with practice, I found myself more at ease around people, actually enjoying their company. When I get out, people actually mistake me for an extrovert, which I find extremely gratifying.

But personality is inherited, much like curly hair. I am still - indubitably - an introvert, through and through. Yes, I perk up around people. Yes, I become animated, even exuberant, but I crash once I get home. It's as if my batteries have been drained flat.

Interacting with others uses up lots of my personal energy, lots of it. When I'm done, I need time to myself, lots of time.

Such is but one aspect of my personality I have to deal with, day in, day out.

If it were only the bipolar we had to contend with. It's personality, too. We're not perfect. We all have personality issues that are holding us back. Likewise, we all have personal strengths we can draw on. Our diagnosis may explain a lot about our behavior and the state of affairs our lives are in, but it only tells part of the story.

Know thyself. This is where recovery begins ...