Never Alone

It’s hard being alone. A lot of us struggle with it throughout life. Maybe we weren’t the popular kids in high school, or even before that. Maybe we were the nerds who got picked on, or the outcasts who were shunned. The way we dressed, or thought, or acted meant that other people didn’t spend a lot of time with us. Since this is my blog, I’ll use my own examples – from the time I was 7 until 13, my family moved every year or two. Not just small moves, either – first we moved from Ohio to England, then England to Spain, Spain to Germany, and Germany to Michigan; finally we moved from Michigan to Nebraska.

I didn’t make a lot of friends in those years. I made some friends, sure, but most of us never kept in touch, since we either had to write using snail mail or short calls with murderously expensive long-distance fees (no e-mail or cellular long distance plans, sadly). I was really introverted, and pretty smart, which made me a nerd, and being a nerd and the new kid was a bad combo. In 8th grade, I was bullied a lot, enough so that I moved from public school to a Jesuit high school

High school was actually good to me, oddly. It was all guys, so there was no trying to impress the girls, and so as a nerd I was actually valued for my brains. The thing that screwed with me in high school was my thyroid; I fell asleep in classes in the middle of the day because my metabolism just ran out of steam, and I got detention (quite a bit). Combine that with my preference for dressing in black – including combat boots and a black leather trenchcoat – and I was the rebel in my family. I pushed a lot of people away, and that didn’t get better in college.

I was so insular in college that my only friend for my first tow years was my roommate. I got to know some great people my junior and senior years, but I was also spiraling into depression, so I drove some older friends away while that was going on. And as depression got worse, I drove my school friends away, too. After college, I moved back in with my parents, who had moved to St. Louis, and I got worse; I didn’t know anyone in the area, and I rarely got to see people from college or from Omaha.

That feeling of isolation was part of what eventually drove me to my first suicide attempt. Even though, in some part of my brain, I knew I had friends and family who cared about me, I felt alone in my misery. I didn’t know anyone else who felt the way I did; my therapist at the time, while nice, was also not helping me to feel connected. I didn’t feel like there was anyone around me who understood what I was going through, and as things got worse, I didn’t have the energy to go out and look for help or company myself. Eventually I decided that I was so unworthy of any kind of company that the world would be better off without me.

But the thing I realized, after I survived, was that I was not alone, and had never been alone. When I got out of the hospital, my friends traveled from across the country to come visit me. It was something that some of them could barely afford, but they did it because I was their friend. And I knew that even though they weren’t near me physically, I wasn’t alone. It took a couple years and another suicide attempt to really hammer that home, though, and finding a community of people at Menninger and the step-down who had gone through similar experiences.

I guess the point of this is that, in this age of social media, text messaging, and VOIP, it is hard to actually be alone. I know that some people feel that way, and believe me, I understand. but there are people you can talk with. There’s Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, suicide hotlines, Skype calls from people around the world. They may not be right next door, but there are always people available to talk. Hey, I’m one of them. I’m not a licensed counselor of any kind, but I am always willing to talk; my Twitter and Facebook links are right below my bio. 

You may be lonely, but I promise you that you are not alone.

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Work In The Field

So today I was talking with my therapist, and he asked me why I wanted to be in the mental health field, and what I thought I would like to do if I had my choice. It was kind of an awkward situation, but I managed to put together an answer, and I thought I would try to replicate it here.

Mostly, I wanted to be able to interact people who are going through a tough time with mental illness. I know that my own story isn’t the worst or most terrifying, but it does involve 14 years of depression and two suicide attempts, and being able to talk to other people who had similar issues was extremely helpful. I think one of the worst parts of suffering from mental illness is the nagging sensation that I was doing it all on my own. That’s part of the reason that group psychology was the group I felt was most helpful at Menninger – because people were telling their stories, and trusting the others in the room, and that made others felt like they could tell theirs too – and letting that burden go, and sharing that loneliness, helped to lessen it.

I think it’s the stigma of mental illness that makes that happen, because I knew, rationally, that I wasn’t the only person suffering. But I was the only person I really knew who had been through serious treatment, and so it always felt like somehow I was alone in my treatment. It wasn’t until coming to Menninger that the groups we had there made me feel a connection wit other people who had similar issues, and realize that if they could manage their issues, I could manage mine, as well.

I want to be able to share my story, and as well as my story, I want to be able to share my experience with the recovery process. I want to be able to help others realize that not being alone is a powerful thing, and that the social network, the sense of community, that creates can be very helpful. Just because I can work to get where I am doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone with mental issues can, or that they can use the same methods, but it is being able to show people who are suffering that they can direct their own recovery and take charge of things in their lives, and possibly show others at least one or two ways to work towards that recovery, seems important.

Really, though, I think it’s just important to let people suffering know that there is strength in numbers, and they are not alone, 

On My Own

So just recently I moved into my own apartment. This may not seem like a big deal, but it has to be seen in context. Despite being 33, I have never lived on my own; I have always lived with either friends, roommates, or family. It isn’t something I have spent a lot of time thinking about in the past; I always just accepted the presence of others. No, it’s more than that, I always wanted other people around.

Isolation has, for essentially the entire time I have suffered from depression, been one of the biggest triggers for my depression. When I spend too long away from other people, especially friends or family or other people I care about, depression rears its ugly head. But it almost never does so in a big, showy way. My depression takes its time – it works slowly and subtly, taking months to set in, so that I don’t notice what is happening to me. 

By the time I do notice my depression has been slowly taking control, most of the time I am too far gone to do much about it – or even care. One thing I do know is that, while I may not know what is going on with my slow downward spiral, the people around me tend to. My friends and family notice long before I do that I am getting depressed – at least, when I am not making an effort to hide it. So being around them has been a sort of safety net for me – I don’t have to watch myself if they do it for me.

But, as much as I love my friends and family, it isn’t their job to watch me for signs. It is my life, and I can’t rely on them for my well-being. That’s a lot of pressure to put on my friends, and it isn’t pressure they need. I would like them to watch and see, but it shouldn’t be because I am not bothering to look at myself, which is what I have done in the past – it should only happen as a last resort, when I am simply too oblivious to see what is happening to me.

I’ll be honest, this living alone scares me. Yes, I can, in theory, have women over without worrying about my parents walking in. I don’t have to check with anyone else about any company I have over, I can watch what I want, decorate how I want. But I also have to rely on other people being willing to come over and visit me. I don’t have anyone who is guaranteed to be spending time here with me; I have to be the person to go out and invite others over, and I have to be the one who deals with it when some of them inevitably say no. I don’t deal with rejection well, historically, so that is intimidating. 

I’m generally a pretty passive person. I don’t have the energy or the personality to be constantly asking people if they want to come over. Like at least one other former client in the ste-down program I left last week, I essentially just issued an open invitation to all the people I know around here to come over and hang out whenever I’m around, because the door is always open. It hasn’t really caught on yet. I don’t know if it will. I would love for someone to just come over and walk in and hang out, like I have done with the other former client, but I don’t know if that will happen.

It’s a little disappointing to have virtually nobody respond to invitations like that. It’s something I find hard to do, because I don’t want to seem needy or pathetic; I just want to hang out with people, and have other people feel comfortable enough with me to just come over. But it’s only been about two weeks, and I have no idea how long it took for that idea to catch on with others, so maybe it will start soon. Maybe I just have to keep reminding people that it’s a cool, safe place to hang out.

Maybe I’m just afraid to spend too much time alone. Maybe the reason my apartment seems empty is because, apart from me, there is almost never anyone else here. I don’t know, and I don’t know when I’ll find out. But until then, for those of you who know me and are reading this – you are always welcome at my place. If I have a book you want to read, a movie you want to watch, a game you want to play, feel free to borrow it. What’s mine is yours; what good is stuff if I can’t share it with friends?

Loneliness

I didn’t have a particularly snappy entry title for this one, sorry. As you might expect, this one is about loneliness. I know most people feel it, though some people are more comfortable with it than others. It’s an unpleasant feeling, and unfortunately one of the main problems with depression – that it causes you to withdraw from those around you, or those who want to be around you, and spend too much time inside your own head. 

This is a problem with depression that has been with me for a long time, and probably one of the worst parts. I’ve mentioned before that, on some level, I need to be around people, and not just anyone – I need to be around people I like, and hopefully who like me in return. But a lot of my preferred activities tend to be somewhat lonely ones; it’s difficult to read with other people, for instance, and a lot of my favorite video games are single player. So I have to struggle to find things to do that include other people, and sometimes I’m not very good at that. Roleplaying games help, because they tend to be group activities, but I find myself not up to the task of teaching a whole group of people how to play them – the right words just don’t seem to come.

Even around people I know and like, though, I can quite easily find myself alone. I’ve become pretty good at being alone even in a crowded room; I’ve been told before that I seem to essentially radiate a ‘get the hell away from me’ vibe. It isn’t intentional, but it still happens; I become lost in my own thoughts, especially when not being engaged by others, and then withdraw. I stop participating, if I was even participating before, and just avoid contact with others. This tends to happen in places where I feel uncomfortable, and I’m sorry to say that this keeps happening here, through no fault of the residents of said place – I don’t know how to engage them, and so I feel uncomfortable being in their place. 

I find it tends to happen often late at night, which is problematic for me. I like to stay up late; I am a night person, not a morning person. But most other people go to sleep before I do, leaving me with periods of time where I have nobody to talk to or share my thoughts with. Sometimes this is good, because it gives me time to catch up on things for the day – writing my posts here, reading, watching an episode or two of something I’m interested in. There are times, though, when I am just lost, trying to find some way to occupy myself until I feel like going to sleep. I just feel like my own thoughts are attacking me, telling me that I really haven’t gotten as far as I think, that I’ll never get better.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this; I don’t feel particularly lonely as I write this, though I do wish I had some friends around. These are the times I miss being at Menninger, because we could sit around and talk about these kinds of thoughts and our problems without getting distracted by who won which sporting event or what new movies are out. It’s hard to initiate conversations about thoughts and feeling, because I have such difficulty expressing them and opening up. I want to improve at this, but I keep feeling like something I say will go horribly wrong and I’ll be persona non grata. Then I would be truly lonely, and I don’t know how long I could take that.

While I’m here, I’d like to thank my friends and family who have taken the time to read this, or any other part, of my blog. I know I’ve kept up a pretty steady posting stream, and some of it can be long and rambling and hard to digest. It is great that you cared enough to take the time to read these, and I appreciate everything that has been left as a comment. It is weird for me to have all this out in a public place, but it is also much easier to express here in words than verbally in person. I’m grateful for all the support, and I hope that some of this can show others they aren’t alone, and that things can get better.