Sunday, January 23, 2011

I want to hide in a corner and disappear....parties are not for me.

I've never been good at making friends. Never. In my life. I've never found it easy to meet people. When you meet people, they ask the usual questions. What do you do??? Where do you go to school??? Have any kids???

I have no husband, no significant other of any kind, no kids, no full-time job, no career, no Bachelor's Degree, or Master's or PhD. And this bothers me.

"I have a part time job and I go to school part time and I'm 35 but I just got my AA degree last month, because I suffer from a serious mental illness that has greatly impeded my success in life, and I also have chronic illnesses that affect me in many negative ways".

I could say that. Obviously, I wouldn't say that. That would chase people away faster than if I sneezed in their face.

I know I am not supposed to compare myself. But there is one thing that has always mattered to me. College. Academics. I grew up believing I would go to graduate school. I grew up knowing I would go to some school, a difficult, good school. And I went to a community college instead.

During my 1990's years at the community college, I met an awesome professor who has since become a friend. He and his wife are very kind to me, and he has been my email pal now since 1997. He has even fixed my car for me and given me automobile mechanics advice. He has been unbelievably understanding about my illness, when NOBODY else I was friends with ever was. I have talked to him a million times about things because I had a need to trust somebody, and I trusted him because he was trustworthy. He always has treated me with respect, and encouraged me to keep going with school, and told me I'm intelligent and I write well. I would have given up on college a long time ago if it were not for this professor.

So tonight, there was a party at this professor's house. He got a Fulbright Scholarship and they wanted to celebrate that, and I was invited. I am not comfortable meeting socially with people who I feel are "better" than me. I am really not comfortable in groups of people who all know each other and where I am the odd one who knows only the hosts. I really did not want to go to this party. I dreaded it. I was worried about what I would wear, what I would say. I was thinking so many negative messages, "I'm fat, I'm ugly, I'm stupid, I'm uneducated, they will think I'm weird, they won't like me, they won't want to talk to a student, and I will feel like a freak". And I pretty much did feel like a freak. But I went, anyway. I stayed for about an hour and a half, until I could take my anxiety no longer and I left quickly. While I was there, I was standing and staring at people who were talking to each other. I was marveling at the ease with which they simply conversed with one another. I was marveling at how relaxed they seemed, in their own skin. I was marveling at how these bright, highly educated people were in the same room with me, and I wasn't being asked to leave.

I stood, staring at people, and I tried to join conversations, humbly mumbling a word or two to act as if I was a participant. It was an incredibly awkward and painful experience that really highlighted my severe deficit in the social skills arena. One of the people there was a former professor of mine, and I felt so weird standing next to him thinking he wouldn't want to talk to me or even want me there, at a social event for his colleagues, so I said not a word to the man, and this made it very obvious that I am abnormal.

The one highlight of the party was that my professor's wife spoke with me. She just became a therapist and she knows about my illness. She took the time to sit with me on a couch and chat a bit, because I think she could tell how nervous I was and how I felt so out of place. My former professor friend also gave me a hug and said congratulations about my graduation last month. They made me feel better, a little bit, but I still couldn't bare the whole situation. So I left.

I wish I liked myself more. I wish I didn't feel like a total failure. I wish I didn't feel so overwhelmed by life. I wish I could keep my apartment clean, keep my dishes done, and manage my schoolwork, my job, and a social life. I am not managing well right now. I am a person who doesn't function like normal people function and this fact is etched into my skin. I don't know how to live like normal people live. I know, we're not supposed to use the word "normal". But this is how I feel. I am not normal. I never was. I never will be.

I'm tired of it.

I'm tired of being alone all the time because alone is the only way I know how to be. My therapist claims that this is because I am intelligent and "gifted people" have a hard time socializing with others. I know that's not correct because, as has been made painstakingly obvious tonight, I can't make friends with intelligent people either.

Of course it's elitist to think you need a college degree to be an okay person. I just want to feel like my life has meaning; like I have accomplished something; like I'm not a failure. I feel so much like a failure. And it really hurts.


  1. I can understand not being able to function in large groups. I get incredibly shy and I just don't talk at all in groups of people I don't know. I also get the feelings that I am not good enough, haven't done enough, don't know enough. I have a profound deafness in my left ear, so I miss stuff in conversations and then have to ask it to be repeated or I only hear half of something and think they are talking about something else. I found it easier to just shut up and not say anything. It's easier. I want you to know that I think you are incredibly brave to even go. I don't go out to things like that at all anymore. I hate things like that, even if my husband is going, I will stay home or say I'm not feeling well or something. I hope you are feeling a little better. Be gentle with yourself :)

  2. Hi Jen,
    I'm sorry to hear about your experience at the party - I have had many similar experiences at parties over my life. We are what we are, and while the mentally ill don't get chained up in shed these days, it isn't a thing that is exactly celebrated.

    As you say, we could come out and just say the truth, that I've done the best I can with the situation I found myself in, and here I am. But as you say, people tend to run for the hills when they hear that kind of talk. So we are forced to self-censor, which makes us more uncomfortable.

    It appears to me the only thing we can really do is to appreciate the few people we find who are decent and with whom we can really share ourselves. It sucks, but it appears to be the way things are.

  3. You are so incredibly brave to have bit the bullet and gone to the party! I am so proud of you girl!

    I wish you had more confidence in your intelligence because you are very smart and a gifted writer. I am more of a social person but I have intense anxiety about it. I often do not go to events because of anxiety.

    I am trailing off here. The point I want to make is that you are so worth talking to. It is good that you showed your support to your friend by sacrificing your comfort level and going. I bet he will was very touched by your presence. I bet you did better than you think. Anyhow, I am just so proud of you for attending the party.

  4. I don't live with the same challenges as you, but I think I can understand how you're feeling here. While reading your post, a million thoughts came to mind but these are the most important ones I want to share with you:
    *You contribute to society. You probably do it in a million ways you wouldn't ever notice. But you do it in big ways to, like this blog. Maybe try to find ONE thing you feel good about and develop your 'intro' about that. For example, you could say what you do is activism for mental health patients. Boy, not only does that say it in a nutshell (and honestly, doesn't really reveal your own diagnoses unless you want), but it sure sounds important and makes it obvious you are no dummy!
    *Don't EVER let yourself think that because you weren't comfortable or "fit in" with a group of educated people that you are not intelligent. I'm sure you don't need me to remind you there is a difference between intelligent and educated. Also, a person may be educated and/or intelligent, but still hard to talk to. I probably meet dozens of people I have something in common with but it doesn't mean we all hit it off - so you could be talking to someone intelligent like you without it being some instant connection.
    *Cut yourself some slack. You're life's not unfolding the way you'd imagined, but it still has value. When someone says something that makes you feel good (such as, maybe leaves a comment praising your blog or a positive note a teacher wrote on a paper, maybe some of the letters you and your former teacher exchanged), print it out and hang onto it. Make a display (I used to do this on the back of my closet door) or put in a binder or a box - but keep them where you can get to them. Look at them every once in a while (maybe once a week, or a few times a month)...and anytime you doubt your value. Because you obviously love yourself enough to fight the battles you do to make your life better and happier, but it seems you sometimes forget WHY you love you. These comments from others are reflections of your own self-love.
    I hope you begin to find yourself the interesting, smart person we already see!

  5. I also have a real struggle and feel overwhelmed with self-doubt and anxiety when it comes to social situations and making friends. I think those of us who have a mood disorder/mental illness are socially placed in a box where everything is stigmatized. So, no wonder we shrink from making new friends. And then some of us are natural introverts, which it sounds like you are. And that doesn't mean that we don't want intimate connections, but we have a harder time trusting at first until we feel emotionally safe with others. I also have no S.O. and I have a Masters, which I feel like a failure about because, I'm not using it. It would be wonderful if we were supported and loved for what we have to offer which doesn't rely on the externals. I find solace in the few friends I DO have that love me unconditionally, my cats and also I've found such wonderful friends in the blogging world. I once read, which has always stuck with me, that people with really low self-esteem wouldn't even know they have low-self esteem because they'd be too fragmented to realize it. What do you think? Part of me agrees with it, because it's all about consciousness and part of me says it's b.s. because being conscious about how we feel so alone doesn't help at all. I don't think there's any easy answer other than to keep on being honest and open in avenues that feel right and fulfilling to you, like blogging.

  6. Sairs, it must be difficult to have that hearing problem; I feel for you. Thank you for saying I was brave to go to the party and understanding.

    D.R., I agree, unfortunately we do need to search out those who are understanding, and they are sometimes hard to find. I'm grateful for the few people like that I do know and for the NAMI organization for connecting me with understanding people although I am not close friends with them.

    In the Pink, thank you for the kinds words! I understand about the anxiety.

    Jenny, thank you so much for the kind words and the excellent suggestions! I do keep cards people send me, but I never thought of printing out emails with positive messags on them to remember them. That's a great idea. Also, I really like your blog and do share some of the same physical illnesses.

    Wendy, I also find comfort in my cats and other bloggers. About the self-esteem thing, I think it is possible to have very low self-esteem while you are aware of it at the same time. I have been that way most of my life. They say the same thing about psychosis. If you have insight into the fact that you are psychotic, then supposedly you are not psychotic anymore. That makes no sense to me, if I know I'm hearing voices that doesn't mean I am not really hearing them.

  7. Social anxiety can be crippling, and good for you for getting out there and going to your friends' party. I'm sure it meant a lot to them that you attended. They sound like great friends. As for the other people at the party, they were probably caught up in their own little conversations and dramas and didn't think of saying hi to a new person. And a lot of people, even those who seem to be relaxed and enjoying themselves, may be thinking similar thoughts to you. I went to a party on Saturday and felt very insecure and often left out even though everyone would have considered me the life and soul of the party (probably). I usually tell people I only work part-time because I suffer from anxiety and depression, which can make people freak out a bit, but a lot of people will share that they or someone they know also have these issues. I'm starting to realise that not many people are naturally extroverted and love to party...

  8. You have been an inspiration to so many people living with health challenges that this far outweighs your anxiety and fears. While it may see like you are just getting by, know that many of us are in the same boat (whether we have degrees or not). Here is hoping for a better tomorrow.

  9. Thank you Lil and Will,
    I appreciate your comments a lot. It's nice to know that I am not alone, although I'm sorry that other people also experience social anxiety. Luckily, I don't have a problem being "social" on the internet!

  10. I am certainly in the same boat you are in when it comes to making friends, which is why I do spend so much of my time alone. In my view, you are a brave and accomplished woman. You may feel uncomfortable, but you went to that party and you go to your job and you got your first degree and you commit to being a mental health activist and feminist. The main thing that holds you back is this persistent low self-esteem, but if people could see what you've been through and what you've survived, they would appreciate just how much you have accomplished and in a short time. And that's why this blog is important and these comments are important. People are hearing you Jen. The things you write about are meaningful and so are you.

    Kate : )

  11. Thank you, Kate. You are right about "this persistently low self-esteem". I need to work on that. I'm not completely sure how. It has probably lessened a bit through therapy, and through trying new things, but in the end, I always feel less than, not enough, and somewhat worthless. Not sure what to do about that. It certainly gets worse when I am depressed, which I seem to be right now.

  12. I SO feel your pain. I am CHRONICALLY shy and of course my depression and life circrimstances really don't help either. My sister moves in some pretty elite circles with the modelling crowd and every time I happen to join her(that doesn't happen often now days because I think I embaress her) I have to knock back a sedative just to get through the evening.

    The pressure of what we have done with our lives is really on when we meet new people. I feel like apologising that I am STILL studying and don't have a job (yet).

    If there is another social thing you attend, beat the "what-do-you-do?" q's by asking, "Blackberry or iphone"'s worth a try :)


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