Thanks to mental health struggles, the awkwardness that is the teenage years (and beyond), and taking a long time to face myself – I’ve spent a good portion of my life lonely. Never alone, always surrounded by family, love, and for the most part friends, but often lonely.
Anxiety and social anxiety love to lie to the people who struggle with it.
I’m not good enough.
No one loves me.
Everyone thinks I’m annoying.
I’m a horrible person.
It makes people believe things that aren’t true. Someone not calling me back? They hate me. People not taking the initiative to make plans with me? It’s because they don’t really like me. Family getting annoyed over my dramatic self or my lashing out? I’m a burden and make everything worse, and they probably don’t like me either.
My story is not unique nor is it as bad as so many kids had it but I did have a challenging time from fifth through eighth grades. I wanted nothing more than to be popular, it was my holy grail. Sadly I had zero fashion sense, I was painfully insecure and reeked of desperation to belong. The boys I liked didn’t like me. The popular girls were in my orbit but I was never one of them. I’d get close to someone only to have them later turn on me. I would end up making a fool of myself in my desperation to fit in.
During that time, as I made friends, lost friends, was made fun of, and got rejected, my family that had always been super tight, went through a falling out and ensuing estrangement. An aunt and uncle moved out west, my cousin who was more like an older sister to me quit coming around. People were angry and hurt and didn’t talk for years.
I internalized part of it though to reinforce the narrative I had started that I was unlovable and easily forgettable. That Nat King Cole song, ‘Unforgettable,” was clearly not about me, I’d tell myself
Take all these ingredients, mix them together, bake with teenage angst and how cruel kids can be and what do you get? Someone with major trust issues well into their early 20’s. Then it downgraded to just trust issues, without the major as time went on.
High school was better, probably because it was a fresh start. My parents sent me to a small, private high school where I knew one person going in. While it was surely hell for some kids, it wasn’t as cliquish as middle school had been for me. Or maybe because I was no longer with the kids I had known since I was five and all the preconceived notions were gone.
I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t trusting. I approached each new friendship with trepidation, waiting for the day someone would turn on me. It didn’t happen though and it was kind of nice to make friends. A few of them I still talk to today.
After high school, my anxiety continued to get worse. I was so lost and confused by how I felt inside. I couldn’t shut off my brain. I couldn’t function like a normal human being. I was miserable. The only places I could go and be comfortable were relatives’ homes, work, and my college classes.
Needless to say, I didn’t have much of a social life and I still was very distrustful of new people, despite how friendly and chatty I was. My misery had to come out somehow, and come out it did with an intense rage directed at my family, mainly my parents. My mother tried time and again to convince me to go to a therapist but I refused. I didn’t think I could be helped. I wasn’t crazy, just broken, was my logic.
Eventually, drug commercials became a thing, I self-diagnosed my anxiety issues and made an appointment with my doctor who agreed with me. I started medication and got my life back. As time went on, I made real, genuine, bare your soul to friends. I was still distrusting and always waited for people to leave me. I still clung to the belief that I was unlovable and forgettable. In my darker times, my anxiety would whisper to me, “even your own family could leave you so what does that say?”
I would have been in a much better place, a lot sooner, had I sought out therapy earlier. I think part of me knew my thought processes were not healthy but it didn’t occur to me that a therapist could help with that. I just saw it as a personality flaw or something.
I wanted to go to therapy for years before I went. Then when I finally did, the person I found was not a good fit for me and I quit after a couple of sessions. It wasn’t until I hit another really low spot with my mental health, after losing several family members in close succession, having some health issues of my own, and knowing that I could be living a much happier life, that I decided to look into therapy again.
I found my current therapist and I have seen him off and on for several years now. He’s really helped me to see how messed up my thought processes were without ever coming out and saying that. He asks the right questions to help me figure out my issues and how I get in my own way.
I’ve realized that I was never abandoned. Kids are shitty and I chose to make some bad experiences into a story about how no one stuck around for me. Families have their issues and go way too long without talking because of ego or miscommunication or because each person has their shit they need to work out. Kids, unfortunately, are casualties in the crossfire. I was never unloved or forgotten though.
Once I started dissecting the story I had believed about myself, I learned I could let it go. I realized how much I screwed myself over by not getting help sooner, by devoting myself so wholly to the idea I was unlovable and could be left at any time. I held so much bitterness in my heart for so long. As open as I am, I kept people at a distance. It was tiring, sad, and very lonely.
It feels amazing to know how much I have grown, year by year, letting go of the old, mostly self-inflicted hurts. It’s powerful to realize I created much of my misery which means I can also create a new, happier reality, where I love wholly and don’t hold my breath waiting for the people I love to disappear from my life.
Working on ourselves is difficult. It takes deep diving into our issues and facing our shit. It means realizing that no matter what happened in the past, we’re the only ones responsible for our present and future. It is hard work at times, gathering the courage to do it, but in the end? It’s so worth it. Life is much less lonely now that I don’t keep the world at a safe distance.