About two years ago, I jumped on an eleven-hour plane from London to South Africa by myself; and for some reason, I feel like writing about it now.
People are always very surprised to hear this story, and the first thing I usually get asked is: “Who did you go with?” This is where the real shock comes, with people telling me how brave I must have been to go alone, how they could never do something like that themselves. A three-week stay at a wildlife sanctuary, between thirty minutes and an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth? Sounds amazing, they’ll say, but I could never do anything like that.
Five or so years ago, as a (more) spotty, nervous teenager, I wouldn’t have believed it myself – I was too busy trying to survive the school day and create the illusion of boobs to think about accepting who I was. Now the only thing that stands between me and surviving an average day is whether or not I get to stuff my face regularly. And even then, that’s more about whether the people around me survive the day.
I’m pretty sure that I’m an introvert: I love spending time with people, but when I’m close to powering down I need a good dose of isolation to get me up and running again, not a round of cocktails with my gurls or even a chilled-out film session. In my experience, this can be difficult for people to understand, which leads to problems – I would get invited out by a group, say no because I needed that time to de-stress and get my head together, and then never be invited out by that group again. People can take it personally that you don’t always want to spend time with them, and finding a way to explain that it’s not about them can be pretty difficult. I was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, so you can imagine that combination being a recipe for self-esteem disaster.
I suppose that I’m writing this in case anyone else like me happens to be looking, anyone else who feels like they’re just wrong for not having ‘sociable’ as their default mode, or like their anxiety is going to stop them from being adventurous. You might feel in the minority, and I’m not saying that any kind of person is perfect; coming to uni has meant that I’ve really had to leave my comfort zone behind, but to my surprise I’m still getting that time I need to relax and be alone, just with extra depth to my relationships and time with other people.
But I just wanted to draw some attention to something good about being an introvert: for example, taking an eleven-hour journey by yourself, without going stir-crazy.It helped me to understand myself better as a person – although of course, this isn’t just about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. As I’ve grown out of being a teenager, my stubbornness has pushed me to just do amazing things for myself, before I get the chance to hear that doubting voice in my head.
I really wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a patronizing post, because while I was growing up, this kind of thing used to really piss me off – it was never as easy as just deciding to be confident and spend time with people, and I think that moving away for university has acted as a trigger for the change I’ve gone through. So what am I actually trying to say? That travelling is amazing and can do wonders for your sense of self, your sense of confidence? Yes, and that being introverted or anxious doesn’t mean that certain routes will always be shut off to you – sometimes it just takes the right change or environment, and who knows what that might be. I’m still incredibly anxious, and I’m still an introvert, but now I see those things as occasional strengths that push me towards hard work and self-reflection.
Taking that leap out of your comfort zone for the first time feels like falling – or rather, being hurled over the top of a cliff, desperately trying to deduce whether it’s a one or a one-hundred foot drop. But every time you do it, it gets a little easier, and that sensation that clenches your stomach becomes one of flying, instead of sinking.