Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another brain dump! Also, I’ve finally set up a twitter account for this blog, so feel free to follow. A lot of the people whose blogs I used to follow haven’t been active in years (I really hope they’re doing well) so I need to find myself some new mental health blogs to follow – particularly on social anxiety/ depression/ seasonal affective disorder.
SAD and low self-esteem have really been getting the better of me recently. (Two posts on seasonal affective disorder coming soon). When I look back on my life, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a healthy level of self-esteem. Probably the closest I’ve ever been to that was during my last year of primary school, when I had a small group of friends and could talk to my classmates and to teachers. I think that may be the only time in my life when I actually felt good/ okay about myself for an extended period of time. And even then, I was still very quiet and lacked the confidence to raise my hand to answer questions in class. I think that’s perhaps why I find building self-esteem/ self-confidence so difficult – I have extremely limited experience of it. I’m also beginning to wonder if counselling is just a complete waste of time for me. I think I expect too much of it. I want it to help me change my life – to improve my self-esteem to a healthy level, to have close friends, to be assertive, to stop constantly doubting myself and ruminating over everything – but maybe that’s just too big of an ask.
The time on my master’s course has also been a really positive experience for me in terms of confidence/ belief in myself, but sadly classes finished ages ago, in May, and most of my classmates have now graduated. (My classmates really were great with me and it’s the first time I’ve had a sense of belonging in an educational setting since primary school – I can’t thank them enough really. They’re a lovely group of people and even though I will probably never see most of them again, I’m glad to have made some happy memories with them for the year that we were together). I’ve gone back to being fairly socially isolated again over the last couple of months, since my seasonal job came to an end. Between then and a couple of nights ago, I don’t think I actually had a face-to-face conversation with anyone who wasn’t (a) My boyfriend (b) A family member (c) A health professional/ mental health professional (d) My one IRL friend. Needless to say, my social skills (which aren’t great even at the best of times) are EXTREMELY rusty, and the seasonal depression definitely isn’t helping. I feel as if I’ve completely forgotten how to interact with any humans who don’t fit into one of the categories above. A couple of nights ago, my boyfriend and I went to a wildlife event. Two of my classmates and one of my lecturers were there. I did my best to make small talk but I’ve just felt absolutely mortified about the whole thing since then. My boyfriend spoke more than I did, and he probably said more to my lecturer in 10 minutes than I had in about 7 years of being taught by him. I notice that I really struggle to offer my opinions on things in groups, and I was absolutely terrible in class discussions and probably really annoyed my classmates. I just have this huge fear that I’ll say something really stupid and make a complete idiot of myself. And to be honest, I AM an idiot. I always felt like an impostor and that all of my classmates were more knowledgeable and more deserving of being there than I was. So my default strategy is just staying quiet in these situations, and then everyone probably thinks I’m being rude or that I’m not interested. I can’t win. The reasons behind this are clear to me – growing up, my dad never really respected any opinion that didn’t fit with his. For example, if I or one of my siblings liked a band/ TV show/ hobby that he disliked, he could sometimes be quite mocking about it. In high school, on the rare occasion that I dared to express any opinion/ interest that differed from the norm, I was teased mercilessly about it. I actually lied to a high school “friend” about which bands I liked as I knew she would have mocked me for my music taste if I told the truth. I still do this now, actually. I hide my true self and my true opinions from other people and I can’t even fully be myself with my friend because I’m so afraid of her rejecting me too.
While we still had classes on the master’s course, I had two uni friends who I would sit with in class and at lunch and talk to all the time. Even though it was a fairly superficial friendship (I still feel weird even calling it a friendship), this was a huge positive step for me. There was also another group in the class who I occasionally hung out with. But I wasn’t ever able to truly be myself around any of them. I play down my own views and opinions and just try desperately to fit in, but it never works. I suppose because I’m not being real. You need to be real to have real, close friendships.
Break down, only alone I will cry out now
You’ll never see what’s hiding out
Hiding out deep down, yeah, yeah
I know, I’ve heard that to let your feelings show
Is the only way to make friendships grow
But I’m too afraid now
I put my armor on, show you how strong I am
I put my armor on, I’ll show you that I am
– ‘Unstoppable’ by Sia
I often try to work out how I was able to do this with my boyfriend but not really with anyone else who isn’t family. Why was I brave enough to be vulnerable with him but not with anyone else? I think it’s partly that we started communicating online and not face-to-face. It’s a lot easier to be real when you don’t have to deal with face-to-face rejection and you don’t have the added anxieties of putting people off straight away with poor eye contact/ anxious body language. I’m also able to be real with my online friend (who I’ve “known” for over 8 years now) for the same reason, but (even though I value his friendship immensely) it’s just not the same as a face-to-face friendship. I was also able to be completely honest with my boyfriend about my social anxiety from the very start, and he was just completely accepting of it. I probably got very, very lucky, but it would be nice if there was something like online dating for making friends in your local area, so I could meet people in similar situations/ find non-judgmental people. Just being able to explain to someone before meeting them “This is why my body language/ behaviour sometimes seems a bit weird – I’m anxious, not rude, crazy or uninterested” would help immensely. I met my friend at a social anxiety group. I’d consider going along to a group again, or even starting my own at some point when I’m less busy and a bit more stable. I’d be absolutely TERRIFIED running a meet up group though. Membership benefits include watching ME having a panic attack in front of everyone to distract from YOUR panic attack!…
Anyway, I haven’t seen my two uni friends since August. I was quite depressed and suffering from derealisation the last time I saw them. I’ve tried to contact them a few times since but they just don’t seem interested. People who have a healthy level of self-esteem would probably assume that things are just really chaotic for them, or that those people valued their friendship but have now just gone their separate ways after uni. I, of course, take it as evidence that I’m completely unlikable and unworthy of having friends. I worry that I did/ said something wrong and that they never even liked me in the first place. I’m vaguely aware that that might sound ridiculous to some people. Certainly, I’d think it sounded ridiculous if it was anyone but me saying it. Somehow, in my head, I’m special in that everyone else = worthy and Raven = s*** on someone’s shoe.
My boyfriend said after the wildlife event that he thought I’d done really well given how anxious I was, but I just can’t believe him. Even when other people reassure me that I wasn’t a complete disaster in any given social situation, it’s usually impossible for me to believe them. Because the only two possibilities that I can see whenever this happens are either 1. They’re lying to me to try and spare my feelings, or 2. My perception/ interpretation of how I come across in social situations is very different to those of other people. It’s less scary and more plausible for me to believe the former. This happens in a more general sense too. I basically have cognitive dissonance because I have a boyfriend and a friend, and I’ve done well academically, but I still believe I don’t have anything lovable about me, I’m not worthy of having friends, and that I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as my classmates/ any time I’ve done well on an assignment or exam (most of the time), it’s been a complete fluke. I find this all very sad. It’s like mentally, I’m still stuck as that 14-year-old who was being bullied every day and thought she would never have any friends, be in a relationship, or be able to hold down a job. Mentally, I haven’t caught up with changes in external conditions and what those changes might say about me. I worry that I’m destined to be stuck there mentally for the rest of my life.