On Friendship and Solitude

Growing up, making friends was never easy for me. I enjoyed my solitude and doing my own thing in my own way. I found out recently that I’ve always been that way. Even as a baby and toddler I didn’t interact with other children or people and always seemed to be in my own little world.

I made my first friend when I was 7 or 8 years old. The memory I have of that is sitting alone on a low wall during break time, eating my lunch and watching the other kids play. Then Christina came. I didn’t know her, and think it was the first time I saw her. She gave me a sweet, or something like that, and the rest is history. I can’t remember much about our friendship, only that it was short. My family moved and I started at a new school the following year.

It’s still not easy for me to make new friends. I meet someone and we get along. Or so it seems. I automatically think then that we’re friends, only to find out a little while later that that wasn’t the case. I’ve always had the habit of rushing into a friendship (or romantic relationship for that matter) and go all in, only to discover that they had only needed me for something. It’s my own fault though. I would try to be the perfect friend. Always paying for things (even though I couldn’t afford it), giving them compliments and plenty of “feel good” words, and going out of my way for them. But I would get drained, never quite seeming to get anything I needed. Once I slowed down and they discovered they weren’t going to get quite as much as they used to with me, they would disappear.

These days I’m better at setting and maintaining boundaries. Earlier this year, I walked away from a few friends that were only causing me anxiety, anger, and heartache. Since then I’m more careful about who I let into my life, and how much I give to others.

I’ve always tended to make friends with those much older than me. As a child and adolescent I would spend most of my time with my grandmother during the school holidays. Watching something on TV, listening to the radio, baking, watching her knit, etc, while the children were playing outside. Their games didn’t interest me much.

Here’s the thing. I’m more than happy in my own company, doing those things I enjoy. It’s very rare that I actually get bored. I’m a life-long student and enjoy learning about psychology, animals (especially dogs), science and technology. With the internet, TV and library, there’s a never ending amount of study material available. Then there’s of course things like writing, reading, movies, and series. If I don’t get enough time to do all these things I burn out very quickly. So for me balance means 80% of time spent on my own, and only 20% with others.

Solitude is a beautiful thing, so I don’t understand how some people can constantly want to be around others and get bored when they’re alone. But, they probably feel the same way about me. How can I actually enjoy being alone? And that’s the beauty of being human. No two people are perfectly alike. Nor should we be.

What Exactly Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

I’ve often wondered what it truly means to be authentic. The concept confused me. I came across an interesting article the other day, and a particular paragraph described my confusion well.

“One big problem with authenticity is that there is a lack of consensus among both the general public and among psychologists about what it actually means for someone or something to be authentic. Are you being most authentic when you are being congruent with your physiological states, emotions and beliefswhatever they may be? Or are you being most authentic when you are congruent with your consciously chosen beliefs, attitudes and values? How about when you are being congruent across the various situations and social roles of your life? Which form of “being true to yourself” is the real authenticity: was it the time you really gave that waiter a piece of your mind or that time you didn’t tell the waiter how you really felt about their dismal performance because you value kindness and were true to your higher values?”

— Source: Authenticity under Fire (Scott Barry Kaufman)

Throughout my life I’ve had to present myself in ways that didn’t feel true to who I felt I was. I would sometimes change my views, opinions, and preferences to fit in with those around me. This would make me even more confused. Which person was I reallyAs humans we have the tendency to present different parts of ourselves to try to fit in, taking on aspects of the group and people we’re interacting with. It’s normal. But some of us take it to more of an extreme. Does this make us inauthentic during those times? Maybe.

There are certain ways in which I sometimes interact with the world and other people, that aren’t considered “normal” and that have either gotten me into trouble or caused people to view me as “weird”. Which is why I love those friends I’ve had for years that love my “weirdness” and who aren’t bothered or surprised by it. Everyone is different. Everyone has ways of being, of coping. Social anxiety is a big thing for me, and maybe this is one of the reasons I try to blend in so much. To the point where I question who I really am. I was bullied in my primary school years and labeled a “freak”, and was an outcast (along with my merry band of fellow outcasts) in high school. So trying to fit in, trying to just be “normal”, has always been something I felt I had to do in order to stay emotionally safe. And it’s only been the last few years that I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be that way. Not everyone will or should like us. Not everybody will accept or understand us. And that’s really okay.

Society expects us to behave a certain way. Our culture and environment shape us. What’s considered the norm in one culture or place, may be seen as inappropriate in another. There are certain norms that I’ve grown up with that I’m not comfortable with. Things that make me anxious. But I’m expected to fit in anyway. So I did.

I’m finding though that being inauthentic towards myself isn’t worth the price of fitting in. I no longer have the desire to do so. Sure, I still care what others think, and a part of me probably always will, but not to the extent to which I’ve always done.

I’ve come to believe that there is no single, congruent, true self that exists in all situations and environments. We are a complex mix of values, beliefs, biases, desires, etc. Both conscious and unconscious. These can get activated around different people and situations. It doesn’t mean we’re being inauthentic though. All of these are aspects of ourselves. Striving to always be authentic can sometimes backfire. Cause us to constantly question ourselves. So my goal is to not judge myself, and just try to be my best true self in that moment, for that situation. I think that’s good enough.

But I’m Not Like You

Two Thursday’s ago I went out for dinner with my best friends’ Megan and Ethan. We had a lovely time. Ethan invited me to a pizza evening that Saturday, and Megan, knowing me really well by now, told him that it might be too much for me. There were going to be 4 other people there. People I’ve never met. But I told them I’d let them know, and decided on the Saturday morning that I was going to be brave and go for it. After all, I don’t see them very often as they live quite far away.

I don’t like driving that way. The area they live in is scary, and the last 15 minutes of that road is anxiety-inducing, especially with the traffic lights every 500m or so. I always make sure I have my taser within easy reach and ready to go. Thankfully I got there safely, relieved but still on high alert. I made sure to get there an hour before everyone else was due to arrive so I could prepare mentally and relax a little with my friends. I had to sleep over as Ethan wouldn’t let me drive that road at night.

It was an insane evening, and the instant I met Megan’s cousin, I didn’t like her one bit. The rest of the evening only intensified that dislike. Megan doesn’t like having her around either (she saw her last 2 years ago). This girl was out of control, over-the-top, obnoxious and vulgar, and way too loud. Throughout the evening I disappeared for 20-30 minutes to the room with my noise-cancelling headphones. I had come prepared, although in hindsight I should have followed my instincts that morning and not gone at all. But the thing with me is I’m never sure what’s instinct and what’s just plain fear or anxiety.

By 1:30am I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go to bed. All I actually wanted to do was go home. Megan had also had enough by then and we sat in the room chatting. She was regretting the whole evening and also wanted it to be over. We both went to bed. But the music and people continued on. I would just doze off and then wake with a start.

The party was still going on by 5am. I realized I wasn’t going to get any sleep and went to make coffee. Megan came out of her room as well, and told a very drunk Ethan that it’s time to end the party and go to sleep. Ethan is a teddy bear even when drunk out of his mind (which is something he’s only been twice before – we’ve known him for over 20 years now).

With total silence now, but my body still buzzing on the inside (I hate this feeling), I sat in bed reading for about 30 minutes and then figured it was safe to try to sleep again. As I was dozing off, my room door opened, and in walked Ethan, with a “it’s okay Meg, go back to sleep” and stumbled over to the bed. He crashed down next to me, proceeding to pull all the blankets away from me. I lay there in shock for a few seconds. Then came the snoring. That was me. Done. I jumped up and decided that it was time for me to go. There was no way I would be getting any sleep with a snoring guy next to me, thinking I’m Megan. I wasn’t irritated, but more amused at what had just happened. Ethan was very embarrassed and apologetic when I told him this, but now we can laugh about it.

When I got home I only managed a 3 hour nap. But it was something at least. Since then, I’ve still been trying to recover. Yes, it’s taking a long time. The biggest reason for this is that I haven’t given myself the rest I need. Sure, I’ve slept 8+ hours for most nights, with a few exceptions thanks to nightmares, but the problem is during the day. My way of recuperating from social, sensory, physical and emotional/mental overload and tiredness is to hide from the world for a while.

That’s something a lot of people don’t understand. I’ve been struggling with depression for a while now, and it only seemed to get worse the days after the party. M (the lady I stay with) knows how I’ve been feeling, and encourages me to go out and do things. For example, wants to take me out for coffee or says I should go to the library or bookstores (both places I like). She believes that spending too much time at home makes depression worse. And it does. For her. But not for me. Not when I feel overwhelmed. When I feel overwhelmed and I leave the house, things don’t go well for me. When I’m already overwhelmed, it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge. In other words, panic attacks/meltdowns/breakdowns. I need quiet, and as little sensory stimuli and socializing as possible, or my depression gets worse.

There have been so many times in my life where I didn’t leave the house for days, and emerged feeling refreshed and so much better. That’s how I cope with life and the world. When I was still living with my dad, I would sometimes take an entire week “away from the world”. They would often argue with me that it’s not healthy. Well, it’s not healthy for me to always be going out and doing things. It’s the same with M. Her friend came over the one day, it was almost 12pm and I was still in bed (reading). She told me “up, up, you can’t stay in bed all day, that’s why you’re not feeling well”. Just for the record, I don’t stay in bed all day. I still do things like washing my dishes, cleaning my room (if I’m up to the task that day), having a cup of coffee in the morning with M, but I just don’t want to go anywhere.

I understand that for a lot of people going out with friends and doing things help them fight their depression. And I know those telling me to do these things have good intentions, but it doesn’t help me. I feel like yelling “but I’m not like you!” I feel this pressure to conform, scared to upset anyone. But much more than that, scared to be seen as “lazy”.

I’ve told M how I recover and start feeling better, and she says she understands, but I don’t think she truly gets it. After all, we’re individuals with different experiences and views of the world. Can we ever truly understand someone else?

Is This Who I Am Now?

Since the post I wrote on meeting up with Elizabeth again earlier this year, I’ve seen her a few more times. We always end up staying together for hours. But I’ve realized something. I don’t have feelings for her at all anymore. The times we meet up, I’ve initiated it. It’s on my terms. We exchange voice notes often, but it sometimes takes me days to reply. Just because I don’t feel the desire to talk to her. Well, it’s not just her… I’ve become terrible at replying to my messages from anyone.

I’ve been going through a challenging period in my life the past couple of weeks and I’m not sure about anything anymore. I had a therapy session today and when my therapist asked what had suddenly made me emotional at some point, I wasn’t really sure how to answer that. Because I’m not sure myself. I did mention some stuff, but I couldn’t seem to find all the words for everything that was going through my mind and to verbally express how I was feeling.

One of those things is about Elizabeth. I feel like I’m just using her. I never thought I’d be one of those people. But here I am. And I don’t even feel guilty about it, like I would have in the past. I call her when I get lonely. Not because I want to see her, but because I want to experience that intimacy she provides when we’re together. When we’re sitting having drinks and she has her arm around me, or holds my hand. There are no feelings involved, other than the physical sensations of her soft skin, the warmth of that. Relishing in that. But no emotional feelings. I feel emotionally empty. Especially with regards to her. I don’t trust her either. We discuss how we’re both enjoying being single, but intimacy is missed sometimes. Even though neither one of us wants to be in a relationship at this point in time, I find our moments together satisfying. But once we part ways, I’m glad to be without her again.

The evenings never go further than that. Although she slept over at my place on Sunday evening, it was more a case of convenience. We slept in separate rooms. I have no interest in sexual intimacy with her. Not with anyone. In that, I feel broken. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to share those parts of my story.

I feel like I’ll never be able to love anyone again, not in the romantic sense of the word at least. I’m feeling disconnected from life. From myself. From love in general. And I’m not sure how to break through this glass wall. I see those people I care about through it, but I can’t reach them. They, along with my more “human” emotions, are out of reach most of the time these days. That little crack in the glass during my session was quickly mended and now I’m just empty again.