Saturday, February 28, 2009

Interstitial Cystitis: Are You An Extrovert or an Introvert? Are You Sure?

introvert or extrovert
IC patients often wonder about personality changes they experience when diagnosed with a chronic illness. Most people think that being an introvert means being shy and reserved while being an extrovert means a person is charismatic, a great communicator, in short, terrific with people. There are many people who would classify me as an extrovert based on those definitions, when in reality, I am an introvert. Yep, even I had a hard time understanding that one at first.

You see, being an introvert or extrovert is all about how you regenerate your energy stores and whether you gain or lose energy around other people. Introverts are energized by spending time alone and are drained very quickly by large gatherings and when they are exposed to massive amounts of stimuli (think action movies or amusement parks).

On the other hand, an extrovert thrives on these high energy events and may even become depressed and anxious when alone with only themselves as company for any length of time. These personality characteristics are actually thought to be hardwired, reflecting a person's individual reactions to the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine.

What does this mean to you? As someone with a chronic illness like interstitial cystitis, it is important for you to know what nourishes you and what depletes you.

If you are an introvert: Parties, high energy situations, and overstimulation will create great challenges for you and may even send you into an IC flare. It is important for you to discuss this with your family and friends so that they understand when you step away from the action it is not a reflection of them, but rather a deep seated need of yours for some quiet time. For example, you may actually feel increased anxiety when thinking about family gatherings. In these cases it is important to plan ahead. If these events are to last all day--for example a family wedding--arrange for small periodic breaks. Even if you never take advantage of the opportunity to escape, just knowing you have an exit strategy can be a relief. Stress management strategies can also help. Guided imagery, yoga, meditation, prayer, even three deep breaths can do wonders for an introvert's energy level.

If you are an extrovert: Having a chronic illness like interstitial cystitis can be isolating at times, which can really drain an extrovert's energy level. As an extrovert you crave a party atmosphere, high energy situations, and frequent interactions with people, but your physical condition may become a barrier at times. Talk to your family and friends and let them know your need to be with people even if you are not feeling well. Inviting other gregarious people into your world can refresh and renew your spirits. Other ways to boost your energy if you are not able to participate in social events include watching action movies or sporting events, and playing high action video games. Consider attending in-person support groups rather than spending a lot of time online trying to recreate the "fuel" of a social network.

Finally, no one is 100% introvert or extrovert. Although you will primarily identify with one or the other, in different circumstances you may be drawn more in the other direction. Just remember that spending too much time "stretching" how you are naturally wired can itself be a huge energy drain, so the best use of your talents and energy is to simply be who you are!

Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate

Helping Yourself Is the First Step to Getting Well

For step by step guidance for creating your own personal interstitial cystitis meal plan, see: Confident Choices®: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet.

For some basic, family-style, IC bladder-friendly recipes, see: Confident Choices®: A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder


  1. Hmmm . . . that's an interesting perspective.

    As an FYI, I have both your workbook and your cookbook -- and I love them both!

  2. I am extremely introverted, however I'm also what is known as a "working extrovert", which means people who meet me in a work scenario usually have no idea!

    Certainly an interesting take on how chronic illness affects us. Good read!

  3. I am an R.N. in Massachusetts and I have interstitial cystitis. I would like to do the course and get CEUs but i am unclear how that would work.

  4. Hi Amy, Glad to know you want to do the continuing education for interstitial cystitis and diet. If you go to Helm Publishing, you will be able to buy the course. :-)