What is an “Introvert Hangover”?

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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.

Things Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Sufferers Can Relate To

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Chronic pain is a lifestyle, not just a list of symptoms. It’s hard to see the bright side of pain conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis, but it’s also not healthy to get bogged down in the negatives. There’s more to chronic pain than just pain, and it can help to look at it in a humorous way. When you’re dealing with a chronic condition, you need to be able to laugh at it sometimes or you’ll never get anything done. Here are a few things that bring me amusement, whether other people find them funny or not.

Blood Tests Are No Worry

Since I started my fibromyalgia diagnosis journey in 2015, I’ve had more blood tests than I can count. I used to be terrible with needles, but they’re not a problem anymore! I know the process by now. Pathologists are often surprised by how quickly I get in the chair and roll up my sleeve. There’s a strange point of pride in getting blood drawn without flinching – it’s a kind of pain that I can tolerate. 

Creaky Joints

Anyone who thinks arthritis is just something you get when you’re old is wrong. I’ve had it since I was seventeen, and it makes me sound like popping candy whenever I stretch. My ankles, wrists and neck are particularly bad. I’ve gotten into the habit of rolling those joints just to feel them crackle. Every person I’ve met with chronic pain is used to standing up with a big sigh because their knees or back wanted to complain; it’s not fun, but it is sometimes funny.

OTC Pain Medicine Isn’t Helpful

I can’t count the number of times someone has good-naturedly offered me some panadol for my pain, and I politely turn them down. While I appreciate the gesture, basic paracetamol doesn’t have much of an effect on me anymore. Unless I take it before the fibromyalgia symptoms kick in, it’s usually too late. I take a lot of panadol anyway because at least I’m doing something to combat the pain even if it’s a placebo. 

Always A New Symptom

Chronic pain and mental health have a heavy overlap. Personally, my chronic pain stems from stress and anxiety, which present in many physical symptoms. I think I know all there is to know about my conditions, but every few months I’ll notice something off and wonder if I need to see a doctor. I do a quick search online (taken with a grain of salt, of course), and see that the strange new sensation I’m experiencing could be linked to fibromyalgia. Do I see my doctor anyway and potentially waste my time and theirs? Or do I just let it be, if it seems relatively benign? In some ironic way, I can always look forward to discovering something new about my illness.

So Many Layers

Like many chronically ill people, I have trouble regulating my temperature. I have bad circulation in my hands and feet, so I tend to run cold. I love heavy jackets and woollen jumpers and I find it hard to change out of my pyjamas during winter. On the flip side, my fibromyalgia medication makes me sensitive to heat and easily dehydrated. Being in a heated room on a freezing cold day, or a cooled room during a burning summer, makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll be taking layers on and off as my internal temperature changes, and it won’t settle. It makes planning my outfits very difficult because the actual temperature tells me nothing about how I’ll feel.

Tossing And Turning

So many chronic pain symptoms lead to terrible sleep. Now, I think I have a pretty consistent sleep schedule in terms of when I go to bed and wake up, but the quality of my sleep is … not great. I need a lot of comfort items to easily fall asleep: I have a pillow under my knees to help my hips, a weighted blanket, and a wheat pack for cold nights. I can’t find a pillow that doesn’t give me neck pain, and my aches make it hard to get comfortable. It turns out that being in pain all of the time makes it hard to sleep. Who would have thought? 

Community

Like I said before, it’s hard to see anything positive about chronic pain. But if there’s one upside that I’ve found, it’s other people who share my experiences. When I was diagnosed I felt so alone. None of my friends understood what I was going through. I was constantly gaslighting myself into believing I was making it up. But when I left high school and my world grew wider, I’ve met so many wonderful people who also have chronic pain. It makes a world of difference to share advice and complaints with similar people; just being able to share your stories with people who truly get it is a wonderful thing. And since I’ve started this blog, I’ve spoken to so many people with the same stories. 

Chronic pain is never easy, but having a community makes it go down sweeter.

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