I have a people problem, always have for as long as I can remember. People were certainly part of my traumatic history, and that set me up for building walls around people without even realizing it. I can walk by people without even acknowledging them, even if I know them. My instinct is to not be noticed. It doesn’t always occur to me to say “good morning” or “good night” to folks. I grew up trying to get by without being noticed because being noticed often meant trouble.
It’s taken me years of observation to figure out that my natural way of being does not serve me well. A few years ago I was visiting with a Mexican family that had young children. When company would visit the kids knew they were expected to say hello and greet their guests. One day I was there when one of their young sons just was not in the mood for it, and his mother told him, “Saludale! (Greet them). And later I heard her privately explain to him that it’s considered rude not to greet guests. And in that moment I realized this child and I were learning something important, that you greet guests! So simple, yet not always present in my awareness that I need to do this.
Many of the friends I have made in my life have come from other more outgoing friends making introductions. Meeting my future wife came out of an outgoing friend introducing us with no preamble before she did it, and I often wonder if it’s because she knew I would have foolishly fled the scene if I knew an introduction to a stranger was on the horizon. When I ask my would be cupid friend if she introduced us this way on purpose she just gets coy and smiles, never giving me a straight answer, which just adds to the joy of the story.
I instinctively run from people, yet I need people in this life. And I often disadvantage myself all on my own in this realm. I have to make myself say hello and good night to folks. I have a colleague who can be very effusive when she speaks with folks, and I thought to myself that cannot possibly work. I thought surely people would find it a bit much. But I tried it on during interviews I facilitate in my job, and oh my, it works. Tell a person that you are so thankful they set time aside to meet with you, and you are happy to have a chance to speak with them just works wonders with getting folks comfortable. You would think I promised them the universe. Much to my surprise, as I express gratitude more and more during these interviews I’ve found myself truly feeling gracious for their time.
I have learned that I need to continue to watch and observe those that are more successful with people than me because I do not know crap about how to interact with others. I like to think I do, but I do not. I only know how to speak clearly, calmly and directly. It’s became painfully clear to me that I cannot trust my assessment of how to interact with others. My instinct is to stay home all day and speak to no one, that is my default mode that I fight every day.
Tonight I feel alone on an island with no connection to any human. I am in a tunnel that is growing narrower and narrower. The view is nil and the ride is solo. My body feels broken from the inevitable tension throughout. My breath feels caught in my throat, and my mouth goes dry. There seems to be no place for relief.
Then I remembered my friend, with whom I watched Parks and Recreation episodes when we both got freaked out and anxious, reached out to me this week. I have a tendency to forget I have friends. Sometimes, I have to make myself sit and write down names of my friends to remind myself I do indeed have friends. Even so, I still forget! I emailed my dear friend and fellow Parks and Recreation fan a bit ago to say I needed to reach out because I was feeling alone in the world. And, even in the midst of her own difficulties, she emailed back to say she was thinking of me. I cried just reading her succinct email back to me. So short, yet so everything to me in that moment. She wanted me to know she was thinking of me, of us, all of us. Sometimes that’s all you need to get through the night.
The fear in my head can tell me all sorts of stories, many of these stories are not the present truth. Though once in a blue moon, the fear warns me a of a true danger. Unfortunately, these rare moments of true danger live forever in my head, and they return with a vengeance with the slightest sliver of a reminder.
And when that fear starts raining down on me it’s hard to get out of that spiral. I start to make doomsday predictions: I will lose everything. I will be homeless. Everything good is going to disappear. I won’t be able to feed myself. And then it further disintegrates into thoughts of disappearing because my head can’t conceive of going through the danger and the pain again.
Deep down inside me there is a belief that good things are not for me. When I get those slivers of fear I let them into my head because goodness feels fleeting to me. Anything positive feels transient, and borrowed, but with a quick return date like a new release at the library. The bad news and awful things feel familiar and known.
When people tell me they miss me, I’m stunned. Authentic happiness from people upon seeing me still confuses me. It’s not the self-perception of myself that I want, but it’s the one I have at the moment. Believe it or not, this is an improvement from just two years ago. Back then, and for as long as I can remember in my life, I would live with suicidal ideation most days. I would wake up in the morning and my first thought was that I shouldn’t be on this earth, and I would work against that desire sometimes on an hourly basis, depending on the day. Thankfully, my dark self possesses a sliver of hope within that propelled me to fight this desire my entire life.
And it’s that sliver of hope that I hold on to in moments like this when the fear has overtaken me, and I feel like the universe is raining on me. I try to keep perspective. I check my perceptions with friends. Sometimes I have to repeatedly check because I have a hard time believing I’m really okay. It’s hard for me to hold the belief that if I do lose everything in my life, in a worst case scenario, I am still worthy as a human being, still someone that people will want to know.