Introvert Meltdown!

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I’ve been working with a consultant or other sort-of-stranger all day, doing my best to learn, to be professional, and to make small talk when needed. Then on the way home I start to think of things that annoy me or worry me or generally make me unhappy, and I almost manage to start crying before I make it home from the office! In fact, if I run into someone in my inner circle, I may want to start an argument – a pointless, circular argument which no one can ever win. What the hell’s wrong with me? I finally found out years ago, before I even knew I was an introvert. It’s a people-overload (introvert) meltdown!

I can’t believe I never figured out about meltdowns on my own; it took someone else to point it out to me. On the day in question, I had to go on a day trip with one of the executives of the company I worked for at the time. He’d told me to meet him at 6:30 am and we’d ride together to a division office 120 miles away, where we’d evaluate their need for his pet software project and talk to them about what was available. This was a nice guy, always friendly, but of course I didn’t really know him. It seemed like a reasonable thing to him; I’m sure he didn’t want to go alone. I mean, who would want to make a two-hour drive alone, when they could have an acquaintance/coworker with them? (ME, that’s who)!

I met him as requested, and we made the drive to the remote office. He was very nice, and he did most of the talking. I really enjoyed talking to him, and I learned that his attitudes toward employees were really great; I was really lucky. Then we spent the entire work day with employees of the remote division, discussing software, having the group lunch, of course, taking a tour of their manufacturing facilities, and finally, finally setting out for home. In fact, on the way home he told me that his wife was an introvert; she’d told him that meant she recharged her energy by being alone. I wasn’t quite sure about what that meant (it’s been about eight years, before I became enlightened), but I was interested to hear it, so we talked for the whole two hours back to our home office.

FINALLY I drove home, and the guy I was dating came over. We were supposed to go grab some dinner, but somehow I started an argument. And in fact, I was so wound up and tense, I really wanted to cry. The astounding thing is, instead of getting angry or arguing back, he said, “You need to be alone. I’m not mad, but I’m leaving and I’ll see you tomorrow. You need some alone time.”

“Noooooooo! Don’t leave!” I protested, but luckily he really left. And the most amazing thing happened. Instantly I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I went into the kitchen and fixed a nice little dinner, grabbed the book I’d been trying to get some time to read, and proceeded to dive in to both. I was happy in no time!

Most of you are probably a lot more self-aware than I was, so maybe you know about meltdowns. But if you didn’t, you might want to start noticing – if you’ve been overloaded with social stuff or other interpersonal time and you’re starting to feel depressed, argumentative, grumpy, mean, or like a spring that has been wound too tightly, please don’t waste another second before you go have a refreshing break alone. You can’t feel the least bit guilty for taking that break, because the meltdown is evidence that you’ve gone ‘way past your normal limits.

It took too many years for me to understand it, but if I push myself to be with people, past the point where I can comfortably deal with them, I may just have to burst into tears at the end of the day. That would be a disaster if done in front of coworkers or really anyone else 🙂 but now that I know the cause I’m a lot better at heading it off. I recognize that pre-meltdown feeling and realize, it’s time to enjoy unwinding, un-tensing, and introverting!

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62 Comments

  1. I understand completely the urge to scream, cry and/or run away after being overloaded with people. But it’s hard to explain this to extroverts.

    I have a 2 day work conference coming up. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and meetings with the same group of 10 people. A half hour has been scheduled for us to ‘check our email’. There is a 2 hour drive each way on one day to visit another office. I am working up my excuses so I don’t have to drive with anyone. I could really use the alone time. I know I’ll be much friendlier when I’m with the group if I can have some down time. Any suggestions?

    • Oh yeah, you HAVE TO make that drive alone! What a refreshing break! Is the conference itself in a remote city – I’m thinking of how many of you will have rental cars or otherwise have cars..? If you all have access to one, then I’d either “lay low” while others are talking about who’ll go with whom..”Oh, I’ll see you there..I have to make a side trip..” Or, “I have to be on a phone call for about an hour..” Then if they say, “It’s OK, I don’t mind..” say, “It’s personal. I’ll see you there!” Or, “I’m eager to get back to my hobby – I want to drive alone and sing loudly for two hours. That’s what I like to do.” 😉
      Good luck!

      • CD,
        Thanks for the suggestions. I like that singing loudly for 2 hours.

        No rental cars. 4 people are flying in from overseas. There are 5 of us that live in the conference area and 4 people from the office 2 hours away. On the first day they drive to us. On the second day we drive to them. Since I live in the area, at least I get to go home to sleep.

        My first reaction is to lay low. Then I thought about the various people coming. I feel bad for the other introverts (there is at least one) who might get stuck with the flaming extroverts (there are at least 2 who drive me nuts just in our monthly phone conference). I thought of offering a 2 hour ‘down time’ ride with no conversation to the out of towners, but the Extroverts would probably explode. I’ll probably end up laying low and feeling guilty for it.

  2. I know, my stomach tightens up, my whole body feels like it is about ready to jump out of a towering building. Whatever it takes to GET AWAY. The physical tension is really overwhelming somedays.

    J

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  4. That pretty much describes much of my vacation with my parents a few months ago. I didn’t realize what was happening until I was already in the cycle, and I find it hard to break out of for some reason. It’s frustrating, because I find conflict really uncomfortable, and I prefer little to no drama, and there I was the cause of it.

    I have a new podmate at work…an extrovert who likes to tell really long involved stories. Interesting, but draining. Luckily he is not interested in talking all of the time, but I can already tell (from one of his long involved stories) that he thinks introverts are ineffective people with no social skills. (Meanwhile his social skills suck.)

    I had to be at work yesterday at 2:30am, so I was up at 12:30am after getting only about 3 hours of fitful sleep. (I tried, but my body was not convinced that 8pm was a good time to go to sleep.) I had to support a production thing, so I was on the phone for about 2 hours, and then trying to stay awake for the next seven until I could go home. Towards the end I actually got into a pointless argument with this podmate about freaking Twitter, of all things. (He kept insisting it was just instant messaging…he is an expert on it, you see, though he’s never used it.) I knew I wasn’t letting it go because I was tired, I didn’t associate it at the time with the introversion too.

    I guess it makes sense. Piss people off so they leave us alone?

    Well, he didn’t talk to me at all today, so I guess it worked. Oops!

    • Isn’t it weird! Once we get into this sort of thing, we won’t rest until we can rip someone’s head off! We’ve just gotten wound up ‘way too tightly or something!

      Oooh that new podmate sounds like an ineffective guy with no social skills! The Twitter argument – I’ve been there! Anything at all would be fair game when we feel like that! LOL I hope you’ve found a middle ground where he’s a little pissed off and stays away yet never enough to make it detrimental to you.

  5. This post is great! I often get this feeling of being about to cry, specially in highly social situations, like going out with your boyfriend’s friends, when you’ve got to do a lot of small talk and introduce yourself to dozens of strangers. I often felt bad about it, because it was not like I had a obvious reason to be sad or angry or anything. But I learned to recognize this feeling, so at least now I don’t have to battle with myself, I can just accept that that’s how I’m feeling and respect my boundaries.
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    • Thanks Erica! Yes, now that we recognize what’s going on, at least we know to kind of block that “signal” where our overstimulated brain is telling us we are sad or angry and should now be crying or yelling. We can at least wait ’til we’re alone to unleash those feelings! 🙂

    • I’ve been watching all the old Seinfelds again lately! People ARE the worst, LOL!

      You’re right! We may start a fight now, feeling the way we do, but once we get the other person all mad too, it could go on forever or at least result in offending someone. Much better to somehow get that blessed alone-time we so desperately need.

  6. I tootally sympathise with you. In fact, I owe you a thanks because you said that it took you years to know why you get irritated at ‘random’ times’, and if I didn’t have the benefit of your experience I might be waiting for years also! So..thanks!

  7. I’ve felt this way myself, but I only recently discovered and realized that introversion was the cause. For a number of years, I forced myself to socialize quite often thinking that it would make me psychologically healthier and a more balanced individual; however, I came away only with extreme exhaustion and a tenseness and anxiety that won’t seem to leave. I’m in the process of learning my lesson, and I’m able to be more aware of when I have reached my limit for stimulation. When I get angry and start wanting the world to go away, that’s my cue to retire for the evening. It’s good that I finally reached this conclusion, because I used to read my instincts incorrectly and think that it was due to me not getting out often enough, which was the exact opposite from the truth! I remember just yesterday feeling extremely depressed, interpreting it as being lonely, and then coming home only to have the emotion fade away like an afternoon summer shower. Maybe it was because I got some socializing time in on-line. Who knows?

    I used to also have problems like this in elementary school where I’d have an anxiety so bad during/about school that I’d feel sick and ask to be sent home. I’m not sure whether it was because I couldn’t find friendships with any of the other children, felt out of place, or what, but the emotion was definitely there, and I felt more secure at home.

    • No one could blame you for thinking that socializing a lot would make you “psychologically healthier and a more balanced individual,” because that’s exactly the words extroverts would use to describe other extroverts. In our case, healthy can be quiet and peaceful. Glad you found out when to stay and when to go. In the past, it was like you were turning up the heat just when your thermostat was too high already, just because the knob was labeled backward. (terrible analogy…LOL)

  8. Great article, Cb!

    Jewels, my stomach knotted up just READING this article! heh heh

    James, I went through the same thing while at school. I used to feign illness so that I could stay home. When my parents finally clued in that I wasn’t really “sick”, they basically told me to get my act together and get to school. It would have been really nice if they’d sat down with me and asked what was wrong, but I was forced to go on suffering silently.
    Ditto re: getting out of the house. It drives me nuts when people say, “You’d feel better if you get out more often.”!! Why do others feel they should project their needs onto others? argh.

    Stay strong, fellow introverts!

    • Thanks! 🙂 Oh that drives me nuts too! Exactly – just because one person’s idea of “well-adjusted” or “good personality” involves a lot of socializing doesn’t mean it’s a fact.

  9. *nods*

    I limit the days i go out and about, and if i spend 3 consecutive days going out(on rare occasions), i will spend the rest of the week in my room. Even if it is just lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, it’s paradise to me.

  10. I find that an ipod is all one needs to avoid ripping at other peoples throats.
    Until one finds the proper time to recharge…

    • Amen to that! My iPod is what got me through my first year of college. I probably would have had a meltdown every week with the dorm arrangements that I had if it were not for the invention of the iPod.

        • I’m moving to an apt. complex off campus that matches people based on compatibility. I was completely honest with my questionnaire so hopefully I won’t have any repeats of last year. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed though)

          • I think you would be better of staying solo in the room.
            Or with a close friend if you have to share. Ideally, the friend should also be an introvert.

            Ideally the whole world should be an introvert…

            • K – couldn’t agree with that statement more!!! Sometimes I have empathy for my boyfriend and say something like “…I wouldn’t want to put up with my quirks…”, but recently I realized that I would love to be with somebody like me — I definitely would NOT ever feel smothered. LOL! 🙂

          • Cool! If you can’t find someone by personality, then I’d try to get someone who has to study all the time. Pre-med, engineering, etc. Unless that would mean they’d be up ’til 4 am talking and studying with a group in there!

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  12. I can totally relate to your meltdown. I think it is more caused by a function of too much complexity in our lives. There is just so much going on at once, it is hard to stay organized and not lose your sanity. I love to have the time to myself to just sit and be at peace with myself. I need the silence to balance out the craziness of daily life.
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    • Yes – there is definitely too much complexity in our lives much of the time these days! We no longer have any time that we’re not expected to respond to emails/calls, and we’re always trying to fit in one more thing. Ahhh..silence does sound great! 🙂

  13. Emily Roberts on

    I know exactly how you all feel! Usually by the time I hit meltdown point, the extraneous noise starts to needle me, and I tend to get irritated and snappish… this may be why my mother often complains of my “bad attitude” whenever we go on vacation! I just need to be left alone more often and I’ll be fine!

  14. Well I may have situation somewhat like yours ..Thank you for you made me realize that being alone and be with my self sometime could mean a lot for my life … I also feel like being depressed everyday and I think I should spend also a time for my self and figure out what I need to fix my emotion..

  15. My best friend is an introvert. In November out of the blue he told me it was time we go our separate ways, that he wanted nothing to do with me and to leave him alone. Understand this is a guy who was around me everyday of the week..he said it was in response to an email i sent him. The subject of the email was about how much we care about each other as friends. He currently has other pressures in his life as well. It is my belief that this was all about the energy level it was taking out of him as an Introvert. I want to find out if this is normal for Introverts to push people away in such a drastic way in order to get”Space” but they really do still want you in their life once they have recharged and can deal with the situation. Please give me some advise.
    Thanks

    • Your friend is soooooooooooo lucky that he has you for a friend.
      My advice would be to tell him that the door is always open for you.
      And after a while. Reach out to him.

      There is another more immediate way. But that is kinda tricky and depends on how close you two are.
      You can push him by saying something like : OUT WITH IT. What is bugging you bro? I’m here! Let me help. Please.

      But this can backfire. 2nd method depends on how close you are. Sometimes, all i need is someone to confide in and share. And i found a great person. Only after the friend pushed me to share whatever i was stewing on the inside!
      IT IS SO AWESOME just to be able to talk freely to someone!
      If the second method works, you two will get closer.

      Note: Don’t you dare talk to someone else about what the two of you talk about. That will not go well.

      Cheers. You are an awesome friend to have. The introvert is missing out!

      • Ooops. Missed a very important word.
        He pushed you away in November.
        Reach out to him. The out with it chance might come again.
        If he starts pushing you away again.

  16. I rarely get all too emotional, but when I do catch it, it’s not just plain crying but an emotional outburst, like my head will explode. Picture this: steam coming out from both ears and blood rushing to your head. -Yes, that is how I am when I have those meltdowns. I want to rip my hair off.

  17. This topic is extremely useful and timely. So many persons fail for want of understanding themselves and simply take the usual judgmental views of their introvertness or ‘shyness’. As an introvert myself, I am aware that used with awareness it can be a source of strenght.

  18. I operate a landscaping company with a lot of clients, which is very difficult being an introvert. People always want to talk to me about stuff and call me on the phone and I would much rather pretend that my phone didn’t exist.

  19. I’m starting to figure out that I’m the same way. I just came back from a wedding and I just feel terrible today. I’m irritable and mad for no reason. After thinking about it, I realized that I had just been around people way too much and was suffering from people overload. That’s really cool that you had a guy who understood you and helped you figure out what the underlying problem was. It really can be tough to figure out.
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  20. OMG, I totally know what you mean. My worst meltdown was attending a friend’s graduation party several years ago. My boyfriend was with me and he just kept jumping from one group to the next, chatting all the while. After a few hours, I could tell my brain was fried so I asked for the car keys to run back to the house and nap, but he insisted “just a few more minutes.” I waited patiently, but after another half an hour, I was nearly hysterical and actually started crying when I asked him again if I could please, PLEASE just have the keys and I would come back whenever he wanted me to pick him up. Not my finest hour…

  21. you are not alone. there are lots of people out there who do not realise that they are introverts. instead they attribute this state of mind to depression and stress.. Funny enough; their therapist are quick to diagnose this innate as stree. I am glad u finally discovered you true self. It’s a start of the journey.. I will hope to blog on this topic soon on my blog

  22. Great story! I’d never really considered being introverted could cause you to have a ‘meltdown’ when you reach your limit of interacting with people but looking back over the years I’ve actually had some similar experiences. Just normal dealing with people at work every day can really take its tole which is quite frustrating as it would be much simpler to find that kind of ‘normal’ interaction less strenuous.

  23. Very nice post. There is nothing wrong being an Introvert. Many people doesn’t even know they are Introvert. talking to friends and sharing experiences can overcome the bad feeling. I believe every one on the planet in some or the other way is an Introvert. otherwise how could they love thyself? thanks for sharing your experience.
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  24. Im so glad to see these posts as it describes me to a t! My extrovert spouse thinks Im nuts and truely thinks there is something wrong with me. He can’t do anything without a group or always being on the phone he completely drains me and makes me feel bad and then I wonder if I am nuts. His family is constantly trying to organize some group thing and I avoid what ever I can and have told them that if we can limit big sosial gatherings to the important ones and do things on a one on one basis i would be happy to but they can’t! I melt down to the point of not even enjoying my day to recharge because by that point Im made to feel selfish for doing it.

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