Writing and comics by Debbie Tung
I don’t remember much from when I was young. But one thing I remember most is that when I was in kindergarten, whenever my parents spoke to my teachers about me, they all said the same thing: “She’s very quiet”. My parents used to tell me to speak up more in class, and at such a young age I didn’t know what to make of it. I was quiet because I was paying attention and drawing everything in. I simply didn’t have anything to say. I liked observing others and learning that way. I found it so difficult to understand why I had to talk more. Did talking more mean I was smarter? It took me years to realise that keeping quiet didn’t mean I was any less intelligent than the other kids.
Growing up as an introverted kid was both a curse and a blessing. At that age, I didn’t know about introversion and what it was. I thought I was just weird. I was so certain there was something wrong with me because unlike all my peers, I preferred time alone to hanging out with a group of friends. I read books during breaks and in between classes and I was eager to get home after school to work on personal projects. I was prolific on my own; when I didn’t care about what everyone else thought of me. Nonetheless, it was a struggle to find a balance with my social life. I only had a couple of friends whom I felt I could totally be myself with. As I got older, I tried to attend more parties, dress better, watch TV shows and listen to songs that were popular just so I could participate in small talk. I tried so hard to blend in! It wasn’t that I was an outcast or a loner. I had friends and could socialise and crack jokes and look like I was having an amazing time if I wanted to. But it took every ounce of energy I had and I was constantly fighting this growing feeling of exhaustion inside me, which made me yearn to be away from the crowd and away from social obligations. Presenting a more outgoing personality was something I had to learn to do. For so many nights when I was a teenager, I went to bed praying I would be a different person the next day. That I would be more like my friends, that I wouldn’t have that awful feeling of dread when I was around people. I thought that if I could socialise more, the quality of my life would be better. I wanted so badly to be an extrovert.
I learned about the construct of “introversion” towards the later years of my teenage life, but I only recently discovered I was an INFJ personality type using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). INFJ stands for introversion, intuition, feeling, judging; in short, it suggests I am introverted, prefer to interpret and add meaning to information, consider people as opposed to logic when making decisions, and prefer for things to be decided in regards to the outside world. Reading up about MBTI personality types and comparing myself to the descriptions of the alleged small number of INFJs in the world was quite an eye-opener. It helped to put a lot of things into perspective, especially for someone who grew up feeling like the social world was an uphill battle and one that I would struggle with for the rest of my life.
In simple terms, introverts are more stimulated by internal thoughts and feelings than external stimuli. We often feel drained from being around people, particularly those we are unfamiliar with, as opposed to energized by interactions with others like extroverts. However, when it comes to a subject we feel passionately about, we are more than happy to engage in conversation and it is in situations like these where introverts can thrive.
While I may have a better understanding on introversion now than ever before, I still have a lot of experiences in everyday life where I have to present a more extroverted side of myself. The working adult life was yet another obstacle I had to find my way around. It hasn’t been easy, but making sure I have quiet time alone after a long day of work has helped me to cope better. I suppose it’s a matter of finding ways to recharge yourself when you’re not required to be anywhere else. It’s not something one figures out overnight, but a continuous process of learning to blend in with the nature of social environments and take care of your inner self at the same time.
The most important thing I learned about being an INFJ is that we are very passionate and emotionally attached to the things we do and why we do them. We are constantly on a journey of self-fulfilment and we tend to keep to ourselves because not many people will understand us. And why should they? After all, we aren’t like 98% of the rest of the population.
I began drawing comics inspired by my introvert experiences because it was the best way for me to express myself. It helped me to grow as an introverted adult, to understand my flaws and to learn to take things from a more positive (and sometimes humorous) point of view. I found that I was suddenly cracking jokes about myself, saying things like, “That’s the annoying thing about us introverts.” It felt like I was finally learning to accept, and even actually like myself for who I am, rather than hating myself for what I’m not.
For so many years society taught me that I’m not good enough for this extroverted world. And I believed it for far too long. I’m an introvert. And I make no apologies for the way I am.