Loneliness And Social Anxiety

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 functionaland 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.

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167 thoughts on “Loneliness And Social Anxiety

  1. I have always been somewhat of a loner, and your post has intrigued me to read…somehow I would suggest finding time, maybe even once a week, to do some activity that you think you would enjoy, maybe a dance or yoga class, maybe even a walk on the beach….I believe that when we do that which inspires us, something we love, we become more open, and happy and then conversation with a stranger may flow more easily…another thought…would it be possible to approach one of those co-workers that you think you like, and just see if you could have lunch together…? yes, even if it’s beyond your comfort zone…

  2. I find your stories really touching. Although I cannot consider myself to suffer from severe social anxiety by any means, I am naturally very shy and introverted and have had to really push myself over the years to come out of my shell. I can now approach strangers and strike conversations easily, but my struggle nowadays is with being my natural self and not putting on a mask. I have many friends, but have a hard time sometimes being the person I truly am around them, mostly because I underestimate myself all the time. This has caused some people to accuse me of being “stuck-up”, a big hazard of being socially anxious/introverted. Thank you for reminding us that psychological problems are not something that you can just get out of. I grew up with a schizophrenic father, and even I sometimes can be too impatient with people who have a hard time working through their problems. Life is so hard already, and becomes even more painfully hard if you are self-conscious and more sensitive than others. Good luck in your journey :) .

  3. Sometimes I ask myself whether surviving day to day is worth it. Of course, I then commit in self destructive behaviors such as telling people I just met way too much about myself getting drained and then running away. There doesn’t seem to be a way to a place where I can feel calm…

    Thanks for your post

  4. Beautiful post. Please know that, while your story is uniquely yours, you are not alone. Just by sharing your story, you have given encouragement to others that they are not alone, either.
    –JW

  5. Thank you for your post. I have been there, Lord, how I have been there. Don’t give up! Writing this entry shows you haven’t and I applaud your courage. The fact that so many people commented proves that your special tribe of friends is out there waiting for you. Count me as one of them. I will follow your blog. God bless!

  6. You are courageous to bring your situation out into the open. There are many, many people who are in the same boat. You have not made a mess of your life; where you are is simply a product of what you were taught and encouraged to believe about yourself, and have told yourself over all these years. You are right; all of our issues like these you’ve mentioned are due to lack of a sense of self-worth. In regard to that, I am learning from a great teacher, Louise Hay, how to change my thinking. I can’t guarantee it’ll help you, but I’ll suggest that you get on YouTube and search for her video, “You can Heal your Life”. It is a study course. I wish you luck in your efforts; don’t give up hope.

  7. Thank you for your openness and honesty – for being brave enough to share with anyone who wanders by. You are not alone. <3 <3 I have this problem as well and it can be utterly crippling.

  8. Exactly. When I was young, I was always exposed to all these so-called “inspirational stories” of success, of people overcoming this or that, and all I could feel was that I was being called weak for not being able to change myself when all these examples could. People would always tell me that I was in control of my emotions, that I had to learn to be thick-skinned, etc, as if I were capable of just bending my mind to some esoteric will. This was despite their knowledge of my psychological condition.

    Now that my overall anxiety has been brought under control — and it was not my own doing or another person’s intervention, perhaps not even supernatural; just an unexplainable event that changed the chemistry of my mind — I firmly believe that people like us cannot just “get over it” like others tell us to, no matter how we try to trick our brains. You are not alone, and you need not feel ashamed of where your life is now. Someday, there will come an opportunity for you, and you’ll take it.

    Stay strong out there.

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