Introverts don't all appear the same but it certainly affects the way they navigate their cancer journey in the way that they communicate, interact with others, and see themselves. Read more below.
I have said more than once that having cancer is like playing the lead role in a play you never auditioned for. However, being an introvert, this is one of many things I have said to myself in my head, rather than out loud to someone else. And as an introvert, most of the time the centre of attention is the last place I want to be.
Everyone deals with cancer differently, so it stands to reason that our different personality types can have some effect on how we talk to other people about our cancer and how we process it internally. I’m an introvert, which I think has shaped my cancer experience to a certain extent. Introversion isn’t a one size fits all title and neither is extroversion. But there are a few traits that many people identify with that make them think "yes, that’s me – I’m an introvert." For example introverts are typically self-reliant, private, reserved around unfamiliar people or large groups, thoughtful, self-aware, and would rather have deep conversations than make small talk. Here’s how being an introvert as affected my experience of cancer:
1. The Loss of Independence Can Be Terrifying
When I first got my diagnosis, I went from being totally independent and happy in my own company to not wanting to be left alone at all. I dreaded the night because when everyone else had gone to sleep I was left with my own thoughts, and I was scared. I didn’t like seeing this change in myself. Luckily this did wear off and after I had recovered from my surgery I went back to being happy spending time alone.
2. Just Because We Don't Talk About Cancer Doesn't Mean We Don't Want To
It's difficult for anyone to tell friends and family that they have cancer, so communication definitely isn’t something only introverts have trouble with. I remember having conversations with some friends, but I still don’t know if I ever told some people the whole story. I’m a writer but sometimes the words just don’t come out. I consider myself a very open person when people take an interest, but I’m often surprised when I’m given the spotlight to talk about myself, and usually rush through what I have to say as quickly as possible to give someone else the floor.
Now as a survivor I still find it difficult to talk about my feelings to anyone except my partner. Sometimes all I want to do is open up to someone but I fear being dismissed and don't know how to bring it up in conversation (which is why I blog so much instead!). Cancer is a difficult subject for lots of people, but sometimes I would rather talk about that – something that’s important to me and affects me a lot – than to make awkward small talk.
Being pretty quiet most of the time regardless of whether I feel content or anxious, means most acquaintances and work colleagues have no clue when I'm actually feeling down because I'm no different to how I appear normally. Sometimes when I feel down or worried I just want someone to realise and ask if I’m okay because that’s easier than me approaching someone else.
Close work colleagues and friends do notice when I’m not myself, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their understanding. As an introvert I have a small group of close friends, but it can still be difficult to open up to them sometimes. Funnily enough, it’s a lot easier to write everything down and open up to strangers on the internet instead!
3. It Teaches Us A New Appreciation of Being Self-Aware
However, one positive thing about being an introvert is that I’m very self-aware. I love to analyse myself, to think deeply about things, and I'm really in touch with my feelings. I have a strong sense of self and that is helping me in survivorship because I am learning to avoid things that trigger painful memories, to stop looking at cancer-related things on the internet if they are upsetting me that day, and to try to curb any anxiety I might have about screening or recurrence. Expressing myself creatively through writing is a big part of my personality too and that has helped me so much. Survivorship can be tricky and introversion shapes that, too, even after cancer has gone away.
There are many feelings and experiences during cancer that most people will share, regardless of their personality. For example, I don’t think anyone wants to be the centre of attention when surrounded by medical students who watch while your consultant sticks his finger up your butt! While introverts aren't the only ones who experience these feelings, simply asking about and listening to their stories is more valuable than you may think.
Has your personality type affected your experience of cancer and how you reach out to people? Share in the comments below!