If you’re anything like me, you might be familiar with this – you go out with friends, and before the end of the night, you’re wiped out. You’re exhausted, your head is killing you, you can’t eat, and you feel like you’re hungover despite not drinking. You could be having the time of your life with people you love, but if you’re an introvert, your social battery will run out eventually. This sensation is known as an “introvert hangover”.
It’s worse when you have chronic pain. I’ve always had a problem staying energetic in social situations longer than a few hours. But after my fibromyalgia diagnosis, it became harder to function. I often get exhausted because I need to put effort into smiling and making eye contact. That drains a lot of energy. I thought it was because I wasn’t enjoying the event, or wasn’t in the right mood, but it happened no matter the circumstances.
My Experience with Introvert Hangovers
Speaking for myself here, the self-inflicted pressure to “mask” and appear engaged puts a lot of stress on my body. My facial muscles are strained, jaws clenched, mind constantly “on” so I don’t rudely miss out on a conversation. The worst part about an introvert hangover is that it happens when I’m with the people I love the most.
I’ve spoken about D&D before and how much it’s helped me. It’s also been incredible for my social life. My D&D group are my closest friends. I can truly be myself around them. With all of the stressors of adulthood, we spend as much time together as we can before life gets in the way. So I’ll set aside most of a weekend to be with the people I love. We’ll play D&D for a while, then just talk for a while because we don’t want the day to end. But without fail, I get a bad introvert hangover well before the day is out.
It starts with a faint headache. This isn’t unusual for me; I get headaches all the time. But it worsens as time goes on, until I can’t move my head without splitting pain. I feel nauseous and bloated, and I know eating would probably help but I can’t bring myself to do it.
How to Treat an Introvert Hangover?
I’ve tried everything I can think of. I thought it was basic self-care, like eating enough in the morning, drinking enough water, etc. But none of that helps. I take painkillers when I can, but by then it’s usually too late. If a tension headache is my main problem, sometimes laying a wheat pack over my face and eyes helps. But the only thing that really seems to work is a good night’s rest (and not just a nap, either – that tends to make things worse).
If you can control the amount of time you spend socialising, that’s the best way to keep an introvert hangover at bay. But it can be disheartening not being able to spend as much time with people as you’d like.
How Does an Introvert Hangover Effect Your Life?
To people who haven’t experienced them, they might seem like a minor inconvenience. But it’s had a very negative impact on my social and mental health. My friends and partner do everything they can to accommodate this, but I feel so bad that I can’t engage for as long as they can. I feel like I’m bringing the mood down, or wasting the time we do have together. My friends love board games and strategy, and so am I, but I just can’t process anything that’s going on when we’re playing. I desperately want to be present but I feel like I’m fading into the distance. I want to be there for my friends and I don’t want to end things early just because of me.
As someone with chronic pain, I have a very complicated relationship with my body. I want to love the body that I’m in, but it constantly feels like my body hates me; I don’t want to always be on the outside, and I don’t want to be punished for enjoying myself.
So What Now?
I’m sorry if you came here for advice – I don’t really have any. The most important thing as a chronic pain sufferer is to take care of your body’s needs, and I have not been good at doing that. I am lucky to have an excellent support system, but I still have to make the choice between caring for myself and having fun.
The best advice that I can offer is know your limits. Even if you break them every now and then (which I completely understand), if you’re aware of them then you can prepare for the worst. Chronic pain can feel hopeless and miserable, but you’re not alone. There’s someone out there who knows what you’re going through.