Edit: I’d like to thank everyone who has commented so far, and apologize for the fact that it took me this long to respond. I had no idea I was Freshly Pressed, and as I’d only received about 5 page views, 2 likes, and no comments in the several days I checked my stats, I never expected so many comments to get jammed up in the moderation queue.
It occurred to me the other day that it’s been about 7 years since I’ve had someone in my life that I could hang out with, and 9 years since I’ve had a close friend. How does time get away from you like that? I can’t quite explain it, except that in my depression I’ve learned to ignore the big picture in order to survive day to day life. I tell myself Tuesday was ok because my manager talked to me for a few minutes about Star Wars, and I got to read a book I like on my lunch break, and then someone favorited one of my tweets that night.
On the day to day scale, it seems ok (well, it probably seems pretty bad to people who have friends, but for me that’s an example of a really good day). But when I think about how long I’ve subsisted on such tiny scraps of positive human interaction, it’s kind of amazing in a way that I haven’t completely lost my mind. 99% of my social interactions come from either customers or managers telling me what I’m supposed to do. That’s not an exaggeration meant to inspire sympathy. It’s simple math. I have no friends, I only see my family maybe one day out of every four months. I work 40 hours a week in retail. Almost every conversation I have in any given week is either with customers or bosses (of which I have 5). When I’m really lucky, I get to exchange a few sentences with coworkers I like. Simple things, like, “How are you today? Busy, isn’t it?” That’s what passes for an exemplary conversation for me these days; we don’t have common interests or anything, so simple pleasantries suffice for me as a meaningful conversation. I haven’t talked about anything major, like what I want to accomplish in life, or what I want in a romantic relationship, in close to a decade.
Part of me wonders if I even know how to have that sort of conversation anymore, or if it somehow withered away and died in the intervening years. Sometimes I wonder if this is it, if I’ll never have a heart to heart chat with anyone again before I die. It seems dramatic, but if you asked me when I was in my late teens if I thought I’d go almost 10 years without friends or actual conversations, I would have said you were crazy.
I suppose at this point any normal readers who don’t suffer from crippling social anxiety are wondering why the hell I don’t just go out and meet some people. Excellent question, normal readers. Why don’t I just go out and do the thing I’ve been longing to do daily for years on end? Because the thought makes me want to curl into a ball and die.
People, by and large, think psychological ailments are just plain made up. I mean, they don’t really phrase it that way, because denying such a large scientific field outright makes you sound like some sort of conspiracy theorist, but deep down most people who don’t have a mental health problem think it’s all rather silly. They think mental diseases are just excuses agreed upon by groups of people who can’t take responsibility for themselves.
All you have to do to confirm this is listen to the way people try to offer advice to someone who has a mental disease, like our problem is that we’ve just never looked at it logically, because if you have a broken leg, all you need to do to fix it is to look at the leg logically, determine that you really need your leg to be functional, and it’ll heal itself.
I know logically that nothing really bad would happen to me if I tried to introduce myself to people. I know logically that it would be better to try and fail a few times until I find some friends than it is to live such a lonely existence. I can convince myself of these things for brief spans of time; the problem is sustaining that belief for more than a few minutes. Twice I’ve gone out to geek girl meetups, psyching myself up the whole way there, only to have a panic attack at the doorway and turn around to leave without going in. A third time I managed to at least go inside, but I stayed for about two hours without talking to anyone, because at an event for shy nerds to meet friends, pretty much everyone had split off into small groups by the time I got there. If walking up to a stranger looking for friends was hard, walking up to a group who’d already bonded was pretty much impossible.
I’ve written and rewritten an open invitation for geek girls in my area to meet up countless times for the past year or so, thinking it would be easier to talk to people if I was the one organizing the event. But whenever the moment comes to post it, I just can’t, and I feel completely powerless to explain this to people who don’t have social anxiety. I can’t explain how I know I’m not going to be struck dead if I make an effort to meet people, but that I still feel a wave of dread wash over me that obliterates EVERYTHING but the overwhelming need to run, to hide, to get out of the situation and find somewhere safe to hunker down. I can’t logic my way through it, and it just about kills me, because I still feel like I’m at fault for something I can’t control, and that the almost-decade of crushing loneliness and despair is my rightful punishment.
I fantasize about having a best friend the way most people fantasize about meeting their future spouse. But there’s no socially approved way to really discuss such a longing. People understand dating sites and singles bars and wanting to meet that special someone. It just comes across as creepy and sad when you talk about being so utterly desperate to meet a platonic friend instead of a romantic one. And after being abused by my first serious long-term boyfriend, my issues with finding a romantic partner make my issues with platonic friends look sane and normal by comparison. Digest that for a moment.
All I want from life is a few good friends to grab a bite of lunch with, to go see a movie with, to play a board game while squealing over Benedict Cumberbatch and Misha Collins together. It hurts so much to feel like it’s all so close at hand, yet impossible to actually reach out and touch. And always, abreast of that thought, the guilt and shame that I feel knowing it’s something I’m doing to myself, that if I could just be stronger it would all get better.
Half the time I feel like the only way I’ll ever work through my depression and social anxiety is if I figure out how to stop the cycle of self hate and forgive myself, to accept that I’m just trying to survive and deal with everything one day at a time. The other half I feel like the last thing I should do is forgive myself for any part of the mess I have made of my life.