“Wow! Such a cheery baby, may I hold her for a bit?” a question that never failed to pop up anytime mum brought me out. A small bundle of joy with sparkles in her eyes, she caught everyone’s heart at first sight.
The eldest child of the Choo family was born. A baby princess that had a heart-warming smile plastered on her face as she was being adorned by all the family members and receiving the entire portion of the love and attention that was from her parents. She seemed like a natural, embracing and enjoying every single moment of the limelight that was shone on her.
“Mummy, I want to go to school like the other kids!” I exclaimed excitedly and pointed to the group of children in their school uniforms playing at the playground.
“You are only 3 years old, that’s too young for school.” Mum responded with a tinge of annoyance as she lugged the heavy bags of groceries.
“But I want, can I? I promise to be a good girl and do my homework every day. Please…”
After half a year of pestering and pleading, I was finally enrolled into kindergarten at the age of 4.
“Ringggg……”, an entire group of children stampeded out of school as the bell rang incessantly. I just sat there staring at my friends, unable to comprehend their excitement of leaving school.
Then the gentle voice of Mrs Tan echoed in the empty classroom, “Ashley, shall we leave now? Your dad is waiting for you and I am going to lock the school now.” as I sat in my seat refusing to leave.
Two years of kindergarten soon flew by.
“Well done Ashley, you topped the class again! I would like you to represent all the children and give a thanksgiving speech during the graduation ceremony and present a bouquet to our principal, Mrs Wong.”
Inside me was a starburst of euphoria as it was going to be my first time being on stage and giving a speech.
That’s when the inquisitive me started to grow up!
FITTING INTO THE MOLD, MY PARENTS CARVED
“Ashley, once you are in primary one, you shall cut short your long hair. I do not have the time to plait your hair.” My mum instructed.
Not only she insisted I cut my hair, she forced me to perm it.
Being a young child, I was in no position to voice out my thoughts and feelings, so I did as I was told.
It was a disaster to my long silky hair. The part of me that was thrilled to go to school was gone as with my long and beautiful hair. The exuberant side of me was dead as I started to keep to myself.
“Ashley, do you want to take the bus with us after school?” my little friend asked.
“No, I can’t. My dad is coming to pick me up.” I replied monotonously trying to hide the sorrow within.
This continued until I completed my primary education, having with me only two very close friendships.
SILENCE DURING ADOLESCENCE
During my adolescent years, I became more insistent and started expressing myself more.
Since young, I always wanted my own study table, a bed of my own, a room where I can hide and isolate myself from the world.
But being the eldest among 5 siblings, I slept in the hall, to allow more comfort for my younger siblings who slept in the room. Living with a family of late sleepers, I can only cocoon myself when the TV is off and when the lights are out. No one knew as I gritted my teeth and cried myself to sleep every night, yearning so bad for MY personal space.
Not getting enough solitude caused tension in my relationships with my parents and siblings.
As resentment and anger built up, I was irritable and developed a foul temper.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Why can’t you accompany and play with your brothers and sisters?”
“You are so selfish.”
These were my bread and butter during my teenage years and I resented it.
This term being hot stamped in my heart at a tender age of 14.
To avoid the continuous labelling, I knew I had to go under the radar by burying emotions and giving up my rights to voice my opinion. It was the only solution I had.
“Can I go to my friend’s birthday barbecue party?” I repeatedly pleaded to my mum.
“No. You have to set a good example for your younger siblings. I don’t want them to think that when they grow older they can do the same and what if they get led astray, are you going to be responsible for it?” My heart shattered when my denied permission for me to attend the party, and that was the reply I got every single time I asked. Soon, my friends stopped inviting me entirely. I cooped myself at home, being the “obedient” daughter my parents wanted me to be.
With the responsibility of being the good example upon my shoulders, my parents were very strict with me. I soon became the paradigm of a perfect child, obedient and disciplined. I was raised to care what people thought of me. I knew instinctively that my actions and behaviours were not solely my own. They represented my entire family.
It dawned upon me that I have to live within the boundaries set by my parents and conform to the standards set by society. I then realized that I was not in the pilot seat of my life, I had lost my voice in life. I became nothing but an empty shell fulfilling my parents’ wishes.
Deep inside, a hatred starting building up. I isolated myself. I hated who I was and whatever I was doing. I wanted to break free from these shackles that were holding me back. As a teenager, I did not know what to do, I was desolated and depressed. Inch by inch, I dug deeper the grave in my heart, throwing all thoughts and emotions into it.
During then, I did not know about introversion. Not aware that I need quiet spaces and time of solitude to recalibrate. The one thought that started seeding, is to grow up fast and get away from this congestion that was suffocating me.
That was the only thought recurring in my mind, to leave my safe harbour, to leave the place many call home.
Time was like brutal, cold-blooded killer. Ripping my teenage years straight out from my hands as I resisted it. But no one wins Time, no one was fast enough to hold on to it for “Time waits for no man”. I was no longer a teen.
HIDING IN MY CHRYSALIS
Growing up, I never got the recognition I needed to aid my confidence and self-esteem. It would become an issue that revolves around me even after setting foot in the workforce. I was afraid of rejection, thus I was never one initiating conversations and I absolutely loathed the thought of interaction with others.
One Friday morning, in the office pantry.
“Are you coming to the party tonight?” Jill asked casually as she poured herself a cup of coffee.
“No. Thanks. I have a nice quiet evening planned with my take-out, a movie and a bottle of wine.”, shutting her off before she could continue.
“Okay. But remember, you got to loosen up and have fun sometimes.”
I nodded my head and scurried back to my work desk shrugging off the conversation that just happened.
Most of my colleagues had the impression that I was a boring and dull person often cooped up at home and refusing to interact with the outside world.
Some even had the misconception that I was being snobbish and aloof.
I appreciated the daily greetings and concern, but small talks were the bane of my existence.
I hated myself for being so unfriendly.
I always had this fantasy where I was all alone on a deserted island, taking a mini hiatus from work. Just me and my thoughts, ruminating on our nature of existence, and just about everything else that I wanted.
Then there was the constant battle of thoughts on whether I was born with this misanthropic personality or I just grew up to find being outgoing intolerable. But I knew it had something to do with the environment I was brought up in. Most nights I pondered over the thought that if I had embraced the situations in my life with an open mind, I would probably be in an entirely different predicament right now. But it usually went away as fast as it came.
STRANGERS THINK I AM QUIET
I avoided the spotlight like vampires avoid sunlight. I shunned from any attention and hated to be the focal point of the crowd, and most definitely not trying to impress anyone at all.
I preferred to blend in with the crowd for that made me feel comfortable.
I just wanted to relax and enjoy the company that I had.
“Ashley, what song would you like to sing?”
A question often shot at me at any karaoke session. It will usually be followed by a bashful smile and a shake of the head.
I was happy to sing along without having the microphone and I will be anyone’s best cheerleader.
Beyond that facade I put up, I never fail to question if there was something amiss with myself.
FRIENDS KNOW THAT I AM COMPLETELY INSANE
Often people come up to me asking: “Why are you so quiet?”
Little do they know that I possess the confounding ability to rattle on about my life, my goals and my dreams for hours. However, I only open up to the small group of people who hold a special place in my vulnerable heart.
Neither am I shy nor anti-social, I enjoy going out with friends and have strong social skills. I merely need some downtime after socializing to recharge my soul.
My sharp witty humour reveals itself when I am with friends I trust.
A quiet spirit doesn’t mean boring by any means.
FRIENDSHIP IS A TREASURE
I cherish friendship very much.
Being a great listener and also sensitive enough to be conscious of the contents of your heart, that’s my forte. This level of intimacy and vulnerability cannot afford to be wounded or disturbed.
It definitely takes a plethora of trust and understanding before I am able to bring down my barriers before someone. I will be the best friend that anyone can have, defending them and remaining by their side even when the odds are against them. But a paucity of distrust is enough for me to bring the barriers back up, and the friendship would be nothing more than a memory.
FROM MISS to MRS
Finally, my dream of having a home of my own is fulfilled, happily doing up the little space for 2.
A year later, I found my dream job: a full time mummy.
No boss, no colleagues, no meetings, no socializing. Life was a breeze at that point of time, though I was not entitled to annual leaves and had to work every day all year round. But I still have promotions, from being mother of one to mother of three.
My time to recharge is when all my little bosses go to bed and I have my alone time. I would do my favourite cross stitching and fix up jigsaw puzzles. I also found pleasure in stencil drawing on the kitchen cabinet, refrigerator, bath room tiles etc. I simply enjoy activities which involves just me and the medium I am working with. During these times, then is my mind truly calm and collected, feeling the peace within.
“Huh? You are getting a divorce? What happened? Why?”
“Can’t you endure for the sake of your children?”
“You are so selfish.”
Selfish. The label that I once buried within the depths of my mind has surfaced yet again, bringing along with it the excruciating pain of my teenage years.
My world crashed upon me when I lost the custody of my three children. At that point of time, all I cried out for was words of solace from my mother to alleviate the emotional suffering that I was going through. But I received none of those, instead was words of revilement that cut straight through my heart.
Nothing hurts more than being unable to establish an emotional connection with your own mother at the rock-bottom of your life.
My marriage was a hypnotizing experience for me; it was my form of escapism to my growing up in resentment. Closing a chapter of 15 years in my life was nothing short of grieve and anguish.
RESET TO SINGLEHOOD
After my divorce, I am convinced that my true self was fundamentally flawed. I buried her deep in the abyss of my heart.
“Life is just watching the hands on the clock move and knowing that time is slipping away by the second but not being able to do anything to reverse the fact and to accept it.”
“Life is lost as with every breathe we exhale.”
For my children, I had to grit my teeth and fight on.
Over time, I adopted the life of a “zombie”.
I have learnt to be alone. I no longer needed friends. I have lost the passion to talk to people.
The solitude I sought became an unhealthy reality; I can easily put myself in quarantine for a long time. Being a thinker, I spend much time analysing, and it led to depression.
This depression issue would gradually cause my health to deteriorate for I drown myself with work and keeping myself occupied was the only remedy to the excruciating pain I felt whenever the thought of losing my beloved children popped into my mind.
My condition was never let known to anyone for the fear of losing the access I had to see my children. Day in, day out, I had up a tough front not letting anyone or anything get in touch with the vulnerable side of me. I fended off any words of care and concern always with a smile to hide my pain.
One morning, I woke up and found the ceiling of my room spinning non-stop. I blinked a couple times and nothing changed. I slowly steadied myself up from bed and figured it was probably due to anaemia or hypoglycaemia. The truth struck me like a whirlwind when I found out I was suffering from Vertigo.
Dejected and worn out, I withdrew myself from the world again. Hiding in my shell that is my safe haven and refusing to step out for I did not want to face what has been planned for me. But like a flower sprouting out from the rubble of an earthquake aftermath, my resilience gave me the courage that I desperately needed to surface from the hardship and blossom in the spring of life.
I started serving in a ministry in church to get my life back on track. Given my personality, I was never one who worked for reward, but often for the pure satisfaction of my heart and the sense of accomplishment. Praising God, a live-and-let-live attitude naturally grew into me.
BREAK THY COCOON
“Through joy and despair, through good health and sickness, life goes on regardless.”
It is only now, a decade after the marriage broke up, that I am beginning the process of excavating my true self. I want back some of what I buried. I want the passion, the creativity, the wildness. I want the ultimate feeling of freedom that comes with being one’s self regardless of whether or not others approve. I want these things together with the benefit of life experience minus the teenage drama.
Breaking out from my cosy introvert cocoon to take on life is one of my greatest goals. Fear and anxiety will follow. But, life is a peregrination of challenges. I can only choose to embrace it and brave on. Accepting introversion as my nature, I began looking at life from a whole new point of view. I became aware that understanding myself and my place in this world is a key aspect to the success of my life and this was the moment I truly found the real me.
THE BUTTERFLY – Living Introversion Flaunting Elegance (L.I.F.E)
In 2013, I attended a spiritual retreat. It was through this journey of faith that I dare to unveil myself again. I became more confident socially and meeting new people was a breeze for me.
Introversion is my nature; it is not a problem about me. Though it has always been viewed as a flaw.
I finally comprehend what I could not for years:
When I accept who I am, I attract like-minded people and the right set of circumstances. This is more important than trying to win the approval of people who will never understand or appreciate the real me.
I discovered my generous spirit and I give without the expectation of receiving in return.
But behind all of that is a woman who still feels most safe in her cocoon, D solitary confinement.
I know my values and what I want to get out of life. This strong self-confidence makes me more attractive, sophisticated, and desirable. I just typically do not showcase awesomeness for everyone to see.
Just like that, I grew from the innocence of a child into a desolated teen and what I did not know was during my time in my chrysalis, I was growing and preparing myself to emerge as a strong and beautiful woman, like a butterfly. Today, as I bring light into my story, I a new me. Confident and spirited!
In summary, Introverts are amazing people with rich hidden depths, and if you are one or know one, REJOICE!
Christ in us our cornerstone, we will go forth in Grace alone.
The above article is one of 12 articles featured in Introverts Network Asia’s very own publication, “Because I’m Introvert…“.
Get a copy at our Merchandise Page!