I’ve always been shy. I get nervous about being in new places with new people, about being outside of my comfort zone, and as a result I tend to go inside myself in those spaces. Growing up, it almost always manifested when I started at a new school or when I had to go to some summer camp without one of my siblings (usually my brother). I would freak out and be extremely quiet (there was an entire year in the 5th grade when I almost never spoke). Once I am used to the place I’m in, and once I am familiar and comfortable with the people there, I open up. People who were my classmates during my freshman year of high school were surprised when we had classes senior year and I was cracking jokes and talking in class.
When I am in comfortable spaces, I am an introvert. Being shy and being introverted aren’t the same thing and don’t always go hand-in-hand, but for me they do. Most of the time, I love being alone. It’s how I recharge; I can be out and hang with my friends, but not all the time. I rarely go out now because I know how much energy I’ll have to expend and the amount of time I’ll need to recuperate. This isn’t to say I don’t have fun when I go out—I do. It’s just that after all that fun I’m mentally exhausted and tend to need at least a day away from people before I can be my normal self again.
While I like to think that I’ve been able to manage my shyness more and more as I get older, it’s not as if it has totally gone away. When I was in high school, I tended to use “shy” and “introvert” interchangeably, but mostly because I think I was ashamed of being shy. I had convinced myself that I had totally gotten over my shyness until very recently when I was thrust completely out of my comfort zone (again, not to say it wasn’t fun) and I could feel the anxieties I hadn’t really admitted to feeling in four years creep up on me again. Still, as I get older I am much more able to pinpoint what my problems are and then figure out how to address or get around them. It will never go away—it’s a part of who I am—but at this point I am able to accept it and still get on with the things I need to get on with.
Being shy hasn’t been all anxiety and frustrations though. While there is a long list of things that have contributed to my being a nerd, I believe that my shyness is pretty high on that list. Because I wasn’t as comfortable around people growing up, I tended to find solace in books. After a long day of school, I wouldn’t want to run around outside; I’d run to my room, climb into bed and read Harry Potter until dinner time. I felt much more at home in the books I read than in the world around me and so I always had a book on me, or just finished reading some book, or had just started a new one. As a child, my enthusiasm was more for books in general than a specific genre or a specific series. Of course, as I grew up I began to drift more towards the sci-fi/fantasy of Harry Potter and was even pulled into the dystopic fad that arrived towards the end of high school (a la The Hunger Games). Now, I’m more into fantasy (A Song of Ice and Fire) and sci-fi/fantasy written by black people (women in particular). However, my interest all stemmed from my being a shy little girl who found solace in books and a connection to the characters within them.
Ironically, always reading books and being obsessed with the characters in them also made me feel isolated at times. As a kid, there were plenty of people my age who read Harry Potter and similar stories, but as I grew up the number felt lower and none of the people I knew who were as obsessed about it as I was looked like me. It was a different isolation, one that was around even when I was with my friends. I was/am the nerdy black girl in the group who occasionally ranted about the Wizarding World or got really excited about some other science fiction story and my friends would just smile and nod along, not truly feeling the same way I did. Of course I noticed it, but we both accepted that this was just a part of who I was. Still, there is nothing better than being able to have Harry Potter discussions with people who have just as many feelings as you.
In the past couple of years, I have discovered and have become a part of a community of black nerds who have a lot of feelings about different things. It was amazing to me to discover a community like this because for so long I’d always felt alone in my fangirling, especially as a black girl. Of course, I still have to deal with the fact that I’m shy—like I said before, that doesn’t go away. Therefore, I still have problems joining in on Twitter conversations and sometimes think way too much before I reply or jump in on a hashtag like #IfHogwartsWasAnHBCU from a while ago. It’s an interesting contradiction, how being shy both helped me become a nerd but also makes me nervous to communicate with other nerds.
While being shy is still something I am learning to really deal with, I do acknowledge that it has also played a positive role in my life, allowing me to fully explore the realm of books that began my journey as a nerd.