I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, mostly because of all the therapy and meetings with my doctor that I have had over the past couple of months. At some point, they always ask me about my friends and I always say the same thing, “I don’t really have any close friends.”. I have some acquaintances, sure, but there is no one other than my husband whom I am truly close with. This always gets a sympathetic look and a suggestion of a 1001 different ways that I can get out and meet people. I know they are doing it to be kind but, in some ways, I don’t think they understand how hard it is for me, and all the others like me, to do the things that they are suggesting.
I was a very shy kid. I could barely even talk to other people in my family when I was little. As I got older, this turned into a nearly debilitating social anxiety. I would just freeze up when people would try to talk to me, which made it seem like I was unfriendly but, in point of fact, I was terrified. I was so concerned with what people would think about anything that came out of my mouth that I couldn’t actually form a train of thought, which just reinforced the fear I had of talking to people. I could barely manage the niceties without embarrassment. Most of the time, I would just stare at the floor and try to walk away like I didn’t see someone in order to avoid painfully awkward conversations. I’m still pretty bad, though not as bad as I used to be. It’s still very hard for me to talk to people (especially online on Facebook and Google+) I have to force myself to talk to people or make a comment online (a lot of the time I start to do it but then delete it out of fear of what other people will think). I always said the best thing that ever happened to me (for so many reasons) is having my son because it forced me to learn to interact with other people at least on a superficial level. I had to be able to greet people and ask questions, if only to make sure my son was properly cared for during the day when I couldn’t be with him. It’s helped me to be able to have, at least, a casual conversation with people.
My depression also started to get a true hold on me when I was a teenager (17 or 18 years old). Not only was I dealing with the normal hormonal fluctuations that all adolescents go through, I was dealing with a hormonal imbalance that left me despondent most of the time. I withdrew from just about everyone I knew. It made it even harder to talk to people because it took an inordinate amount of energy to put together a conversation in my head. I still had some friends at that point, but many of them weren’t the “right kind” of friends. I was drinking a lot to alleviate the pain and help myself to relax around other people. It allowed me brief respites from my depression but I decided pretty quickly that that was no way to get through life (and besides that fact, my father was a horrible alcoholic and I had absolutely no interest in ending up like him). I was so obsessed with everything that was wrong with my life (and by extension wrong with myself) that it was just too hard for me to step out of my own head and deal with someone else. The isolation actually reinforced the depression but, at the time, I felt powerless to do anything about it.
Aside from the anxiety and depression preventing me from interacting with others, my obsessive nature sometimes interferes with my relations with other people. Sometimes I am just too distracted by what’s going on in my head, to notice what is going on around me. Once I grab a hold of something, I go over it time and time again and I find it very hard to share with someone else because I can’t really hear what they are saying. I’m too busy going over whatever my obsession of the moment is. I come across as distracted or distant. Sometimes I’m pretty sure people think I’m ignoring them or not listening but I really am trying. It’s just hard to hear them above all the noise in my head.
I’m also extremely sensitive to other people’s emotions and energy. This may actually be the hardest thing for me to handle. I can talk myself into getting around the depression, anxiety and obsessiveness but this one I can’t seem to get around. I’ve had people tell me that I should develop a “thicker skin” and, I wish that it was that easy, but I just can’t seem to do that. Part of me doesn’t want to because that allows for my compassionate side to be available to those that need it and helping others is very important to me. But it’s also very draining. I can pick up on the energy in a room without even talking to anyone. I’m told this is because of having an alcoholic (and very probably bipolar) parent. I never knew what to expect with him so I had to always be on alert to whatever others were feeling and emoting around me. I always pick up on whatever emotion or feeling the person I’m dealing with is having. If they’re in a good mood, that’s great, but if they aren’t, or if, God forbid, they are in pain, I get exhausted very quickly. I can really only handle it for a short period of time and then I just become overwhelmed by it. The stronger the energy or emotion I’m dealing with, the shorter the amount of time I can actually handle dealing with it. Sometimes I have to just get away and be alone for a while to recharge, which can sometimes come across as being uncaring but, otherwise, I just don’t have the energy to deal with what is going on at the time.
Do I get lonely living this way? I would be lying if I said I didn’t. It can be very hard for me sometimes and I know it can be really hard on my husband as well because he is my sole source of social interaction. Thankfully, we are also really close, but sometimes it would be nice to have a girlfriend to commiserate with about things. And it would be great to give him a break to do things that he is interested in. I’m willing to try new things to meet people (but not the Meetup groups that keep getting suggested to me – that is way too many people to deal with at one time). I just have to do this slowly so that I don’t get overwhelmed and give up. In the meantime, I will keep doing the small things that I can do to provide some semblance of social interaction for myself. I’ll keep saying “hello” to everyone I come across and smile. I’ll keep trying to participate in groups online. And slowly, over time, hopefully I’ll be able to pick up some great people to call my friends.