Introversion, social anxiety, and conferences

Just a warning that this is gonna get pretty honest and open about my introversion and depression. I’ve touched a bit on my social anxiety before, but not like this.

I’m an introvert. To some of you who’s only experience with me is on Twitter, this may come as a surprise. According to Meyers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ. Even if you think Meyers-Briggs is bullshit, some of it still applies.
Yes, I’ve been trying to work on myself more lately by speaking at conferences and running a user group. But that doesn’t change how much social situations give me anxiety and sometimes depression.

As an introvert, I find it terribly draining to be at a conference. Just attending the sessions, walking the halls in between, makes me feel brain dead and useless at the end of the day. And if I’m attending alone, any of the social stuff I’ll usually skip – I just can’t deal with it. Lately I’ve been attending with my fiance, so with him as my social crutch I’ll attend these social events. Yeah, I know plenty of people at the conference but I always feel so awkward and alone, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people that seem to be doing just fine.
If alone, and someone reaches out to a group I belong to asking if anyone wants to hang out, I’ll usually ignore it – surely they can’t mean me, too. If I am asked directly to hang out etc., I’ll reluctantly accept unless I’m too overwhelmed with social interactions already. I have once or twice initiated these kinds of social sessions at conferences or when I’m hanging out in someone else’s city. Not usually, though – that introduces a lot of stress.
Usually if I have a drink or two in me, I’ll loosen up a bit. But it’s the getting to the bar and getting that drink that’s often the problem.

Recently, I attended CodeMash. I was the Testing track chair for the conference, and was excited to see what I had helped happen in that track. There were some great, and not-so-great, talks, lots of social situations, and generally hanging out with folks I know. All seemed great to the outside world, I’m sure. I did some hiding…

On the way home, I started to feel the dragging pull of depression. Not sadness that the conference was over and I’d miss my friends. Actual depression. My social anxiety was so overactive during the 4 days of the conference that it turned directly to depression.
I’m just now, a week later, feeling back to normal. I have depressive cycles once in a while, and this one had a definitive cause. I haven’t had such a lasting issue from a conference before… After each of the user group meetings I host, I have a day or so of feeling terribly drained and unable to function after; the time leading up to the meeting, especially the day of, is full of anxiety.

This won’t keep me from attending conferences in the future, of course, or hosting my user group. I just hope folks understand if I sit out the social meetups or just want to be alone in between sessions.

Are you an introvert or have social anxiety? How do you deal with conferences? User groups?

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Posted on January 18, 2015, in Conferences and UG Meetings, Personal Stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Yay for introverts (Hi, my name is Aaron, and I’m an introvert. ‘Hi Aaron’). A few years ago I wrote about this on my blog specifically how it relates to going to large conferences: http://aaronhockley.com/introvert-conferences/

    For me, I don’t end up in depression, but I definitely need the downtime away from large groups.

  2. I’m more of an extrovert and I have the same problem. Thanks for writing about this.

  1. Pingback: uTest Takes: Best Testing Blogs From the Week of Jan. 23

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