Maybe you would call me an introvert. I stay in the house for weeks at a time, never sticking my nose out into the fresh air. Most days I wear pajamas all day. My husband does the grocery shopping, picks up my prescriptions, and does most of the other errands. I go out when I have a doctor’s appointment or when Dan entices me out with the promise of a restaurant meal.
I don’t consider myself an introvert, and I do consider myself a social person. So why do I stay indoors?
My bipolar disorder makes me sensitive to noise and crowds. Technically, I think this is more agoraphobia than introversion. I can handle being in small groups of people or audiences, but hundreds milling around, (like at a mall) make me panicky. And forget places that are both noisy and full of people, like Chuck E. Cheese or other family-intensive restaurants.
That said, I like to be social – on my own terms. That largely means Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, various online bipolar support groups, IM, email, Skype, and the good old-fashioned telephone. In the years since I’ve been on Facebook, for example, I’ve connected more deeply with old friends and coworkers, reconnected with old schoolmates and Girl Scout troop members, gained new relationships with friends-of-friends, and discovered things I never knew about my acquaintances. I keep up with birthdays, look at baby, travel, and pet pictures; and cheer on accomplishments, as I would in person. (Except for the hugs. Virtual hugs are just not the same. But my husband takes up the slack there)
Most of all, I stay inside because I can. My husband enables me in this, as when he does the grocery shopping. We tried splitting the shopping, but even with the little runabout scooter-with-a-basket (mobility issues), I was overwhelmed and exhausted after shopping just one-half of the store.
The work I do is conducive to telecommuting. I can sit in front of my keyboard and monitor, in my pajamas, and still be a useful, productive member of society. I have clients and interact with them in the aforementioned ways. I haven’t had an assignment that involves leaving the house in years – not even to do research. I used to have to visit libraries occasionally, and while they’re not known for being noisy and crowded, Google and the internet put virtually any information I need right on my screen or hard drive.
Admittedly, getting out into the fresh air would be good for me. We live in a nice secluded area that would be good for walking, and there are any number of parks nearby, if I want variety. I know that going out and getting at least a small amount of exercise would be good for my bipolar depression, but I haven’t been able to force myself to do it yet. Going outside to walk involves getting out of my jammies into real clothes, and possibly taking a shower, either before I leave or when I get back. And many of you know what a challenge showers are for people with depression, bipolar or otherwise.
But again, this is a symptom of my bipolar disorder and the immobility it causes, rather than introversion. I’m not afraid of meeting people while out walking, or even having conversations with them. Usually “hi” is all that’s needed in these situations, and I have the ability to make a limited amount of small talk appropriate to the occasion. (“Sure is windy today.” “Are those shoes comfortable?”) Since I seem to be riding a hypomanic swing these days, perhaps I’ll be able to get out and walk occasionally. I know my husband would heartily endorse the idea and most likely go with me to offer me encouragement.
But the bottom line is that I can go out amongst people if I want to. I just usually don’t want to.
A version of this story was published January 2017.
Before you go, check out our favorite affordable mental health apps: