Shame on me

I know that the majority of people have a bad experience with shared housing/odd landlords at some point in their lives, but I have never managed to live comfortably alongside other people. More specifically, when I move into a place full of people I don’t know, I never get to know them. This happened in Cardiff, York and here. I have great intentions, but I am always paralysed by the same dilemma. I want to make friends, so I don’t want to tell everyone about my mental health problems too soon in case people judge me. But in trying to hide my problems, I have to gloss over such a huge part of my life that virtually any subject of conversation becomes a complete minefield. I usually go down the “I was ill for a few years” route when asked why I haven’t been in work or education for so long, but then they want to know what the illness was, and even if I go so far as to admit to an eating disorder that still leaves out so much.

I tried to be a bit more open when I moved in here, so I shortened the story to “I was at university, I got sick, I came home, I got better” – but that still leaves out around five years of my life, and gives the impression that I am totally fine now. I didn’t wear short sleeves during the four months I lived in halls in York, and I haven’t worn short sleeves here yet either. I tried my best to go out to a pub with my landlady and the other tenant a few weeks ago, but I hated every second of it and felt so intimidated and anxious. I had to bite my lip when the other tenant here started talking about a graphic rape scene in a programme we both watched recently. I don’t want to talk about such personal experiences when I’ve only known someone for a few weeks. But trying to pretend that nothing is wrong leaves me stilted and visibly uncomfortable, and people see straight through me, and eventually give up trying to be my friend.

I don’t know how to make friends anymore. I am slightly more comfortable meeting other people who have had mental health problems themselves. With the rest of the general public I feel horribly inferior. Even if when I am trying to make friends with a new person, they ask me a question about the last decade of my life, I answer honestly and they respond well, I still find it very hard to go any further than the bare minimum, because I wonder how much craziness they could take before they decided I wasn’t worth getting to know. Anorexia, bulimia, self harm, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, agoraphobia, emetophobia, three stints in hospital as an inpatient and one as a daypatient, bad reactions to medication, eight years of unemployment, surviving on benefits, dropping out of university four times, and the list goes on.

For all my sticking up for my friends with mental health problems when they have bad experiences with judgmental people, for all my beliefs about mental illnesses being just as real as physical illnesses, for all my support of advocacy and awareness raising campaigns, for all my desire to help other people in the future, I do not treat myself the way I wish other people to be treated. But isn’t that true for most people with mental health problems? So many people I know have one set of rules for themselves and another for others, whether they think that other people have faster metabolisms (whereas I need far fewer calories than most people), would be sick at “that weight” (but I have a small bone structure/would be huge at that weight), don’t deserve punishment (but I am bad and should be hurt), are depressed (I’m just lazy and self pitying), are suffering from anxiety (whereas I’m chickenshit and useless), are ill and have problems and have reasons for those problems (but I am stupid, melodramatic, there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just pathetic). I have levelled all of those accusations against myself at some point in my life, and although I have worked through most of my false beliefs about myself, I still can’t shake the shame over having had mental health problems. I even imagine that other people with a similar history to myself are looking down on me – thinking that I was not THAT sick, that I shouldn’t have needed to drop out of university, that they sorted themselves out much younger than I did, that they still have friends and a job/degree so why don’t I, and so on and so forth. Shame on me, I am a failure.

I have a bad habit of losing contact with people. It usually goes something like this: a friend of mine goes through a busy patch, isn’t around as often. I don’t want to bug them because I think they only bother staying in contact with me through pity anyway, and would be annoyed if I chased them up. The longer it goes on the less likely I am to poke them and ask if they want to meet up sometime. This has happened again and again and again and again. My attitude is that anyone who talks to me is doing me a huge favour, and I’m so sorry to impose on them like this. It’s pathetic, it really is. But thinking like that just makes me want to inflict myself on other people even less (because what if I’m irritating them with my lack of self confidence?).

I am able to be assertive about practical matters. I happen to think that I’m an okay person sometimes. But I don’t think that other people think that, or at least I don’t think other people would think that if they really knew me. So if I worry that being open would drive people away, but being closed isolates me, how the hell do I find the middle ground? I have tried again and again, and there doesn’t seem to be one. Giving out small bits of information in a bid to help people get to know me doesn’t stop me worrying about and hiding the less socially acceptable parts of my history.

I am not good at this. Some people seem to be born with great social skills; other people are born loners; still others – myself included – have no idea how they would be naturally, because they were bullied or missed important parts of growing up through illness. I am great at faking confidence. But I don’t want people to become friends with fake-me, because it’s so bloody hard to keep that up.

And so far, all my attempts to wander out into the big wide world and find some new people to talk to have ended in the same way – with me sitting in my bedroom, using the internet as a substitute friend, feeling lonely as hell and wondering if there is some fundamental flaw in me that means I am just unable to make friends.

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9 responses to “Shame on me

  1. I feel lucky to have you as a friend. I feel that I know you pretty well and I think you are an amazing person. I can completely relate to the feelings you have about social complexities, I have experienced those my whole life too. What i have learned and am still learning is that as long as you can like and believe in yourself, then others will too. I believe that the best way forward is to be open and honest about yourself, you be you, and if they dont think you are fantastic, then its thier loss.( and usually thier own issues getting in the way ) at least you can feel true to yourself. be proud to be who you are. who you are is definately good enough. more than good enough!!
    I may be an online friend now, but i was a ‘real life’ friend first!
    xxx stay strong hun xxx

  2. ~Jessica Zara~

    Until recently, I did the same thing: hiding my problems from everyone and feeling a strong sense of shame. I still have trouble with accepting that I am not ‘normal’ and have to ask for concessions in terms of physical and mental health problems…and I’m always terrified that someone will point me out as a ‘fraud’ because I am not sick enough and unless I bring an x-ray with me no-one can SEE any of my disabilities/issues. But I kept melting down at Uni so often that it eventually became obvious, and everyone I have opened up to has been surprisingly understanding. I do get paranoid that they think I’m making it all up, or snickering behind my back, and that element of mistrust has prevented me from forming any actual friendships as opposed to ‘working acquaintances.’ I don’t think I’ll ever be a person that invests much faith or trust in other people, but at least being up-front more has meant that my behaviours are better understood.

    The business of others, the sense that someone is doing you a favour, the worry that they’re only with you out of pity…I know that self-doubt because I apply the same logic to everyone, mental health problems or otherwise. I don’t know why we value ourselves so little as social creatures or entities, but I can assure you that from my perspective you are nothing but an engaging and amiable person who anyone would be privileged to be friends with.

    *hugs*

    ~Jess~
    xxxxxxxx

  3. I read the post about your living situation (sorry, I feel like I’ve invaded for some reason :S), and my reaction is a bit like: “Erp! No wonder you’re having a tough time!!” Not that I’m saying that your current struggles are only caused by this, but from what I gather you can’t even relax in your home-space. Especially with the confusion of personal boundaries. I’d feel weird doing someone elses washing – not out of laziness, just out of…well…I wouldn’t want someone else (other than my family) doing mine. I always felt weird taking people’s washing out of the machines when living in halls…like I was invading (but if I didn’t then I’d never get a machine to wash my clothes). Ok, I don’t where I’m going with this.

    Onto this post: I know I’ve only met you once, and I was probably rather awkward (because I am awkward the first time I meet people. Shyness and figuring them out, I guess), but from who I met, and from what I’ve read, I see someone who is a bit of a gem. And I’m not just saying that. I don’t see you as inferior at all. If I’m honest (and I say this in a nice way) I feel slightly inferior to you. I don’t view you as having ‘mental health’ problems. Even after reading your blog and then meeting you, it wasn’t something that crossed my mind. I just met this rather lovely person who I wish I hadn’t been so awkward in front of, so that I could’ve spoken a wee bit more.

    I can relate on the ‘not wanting to bug’ people thing. Since moving back north I find myself isolating myself from my friends up here. I mean, I left to bugger off to Devon, and when I have been around here during the past five years I wasn’t ‘here’, in a sense (because my brain was probably falling out my eyeballs, or the outside world would give me panic attacks), and now I feel like I don’t want to disrupt their busy lives. Plus if I’m honest I’ve been struggling a bit lately, which makes me even more hermetic because…du duh DUH!!…I don’t want to bug people 😉

    I’m wondering if part of this stems from being too independant? From trying to solve problems ourselves, so we forget that we’re allowed to reach out??

    Hehe, my mum bought me that mug, for my last birthday!!! Strange! I found out about his blog recently, but I haven’t been yet….must go!!! I was in the children’s section in the York Waterstones a couple of weeks back *ahem* reading his books.

    I realise you’re on a budget at the minute, but if you ever find yourself in York I’d be happy to camp out in El Piano with a pot of tea. 🙂

    xxx

    • ps. Oh my. I went…and is it wrong that I sort of want to marry Eric Carle??? Look at him!! So happy at his kitchen table with his knife and fork 🙂

      • I know, me too! That photo made me all happy in a tearful sort of way. I will blame hormones if anyone sees me getting misty-eyed over an elderly children’s author 😛

  4. I just don’t believe that you can’t make friends. It simply doesn’t make sense or compute in any way, shape or form. May I let you into something I rarely tell people? I went to university in Happyville and stayed here because I didn’t have the guts to start life afresh in a new place. I wish I could articulate how much admiration I have for you upping sticks and moving far away and waaay out of your comfort zone.

    At times life can seem to damn slow. Making friends and developing good relationships takes time but when moving to a new place they’re the things you need the most. I don’t have answers or solutions but I know that you have them within you. Your counselling course, voluntary work and the other opportunities you’ve spoken of are going to be able to afford some of what you need in terms of relationships. The only thing I can continue to do is to root for you. Do you see that crazy woman screaming and cheering on the sidelines? That’s me! I know that you can continue to kick butt and demonstrate just how totally fab you are and how far you’ve come.

  5. First of all , I’m sending big hugs and positive, friendly vibes your way (though I know it’s through the internet and feels less ‘real’, the fact it’s in communication and relation to other human beings). Loneliness, alienation and the feeling that you are doomed to wander on as some kind of inferior reject unworthy of human company sucks.

    You’ve been through and suffered so much and it’s horrible to think that you’ve got to carry it around and feel like you’ve got to struggle to hide it or reveal everything and deal with potentially hurtful consequences.

    Remember this though: for a start, you have a strong relationship with Jonathan. Also, friendships are two-way things and if other people aren’t being fair, reasonable, empathetic or caring then they aren’t holding up their side of the bond and aren’t good friends.

    There is so much in your writing that resonates with my own shames, stigma, struggle getting on with people and self-loathing. What I’m finding is that I am a sociable person and if you put yourself out there you reap the benefits and bring good things to other people.

    You aren’t alone and you’re not meant to be alone. Katie, you’re a lovely, inspiring and interesting person and anyone who has you as a friend is fortunate indeed. 🙂

  6. I’ve just read about your housing situation, and eek it sounds difficult. Sending many hugs your way! I would find it difficult, and, personally, I prefer having my own space, which is why I opted for my own bedsit rather than sharing. The friends thing will come, it’s just a case of meeting the right people, and I’ve found college to be really good in this sense, especially since I too feel as though I’m trying to learn how to make friends all over again.

    You are a good, nice, lovable person…that’s why I was drawn to you and your blog. You’ve made an effort with the people you live with, but sometimes you just don’t click with people or the situation isn’t right. It’s not because you are bad at making friends or anything like that. Something I’ve learn recently is that over time you get better at finding places where potential friends will be. Sure, mental health is one arena, and that’s ok…alot of my friends have come through my ED experience, but there will be others, because you have lots of interests and things that make you who you are. Jobs and courses, volunteering, chance encounters may all lead you closer to exploring new friendships, and whilst there are alot of insensitive and ignorant people out there, there are also lots of kind and lovely people too. Eventually they will find their way to you, and you to them. Don’t lose hope!

    It’s good that you see patterns in terms of not wanting to bug people. People like to be ‘bugged’ by those they care about! Myself included. And you help/support so many people that you deserve some help/support back. Remember you can email/fb me whenever, and although I’m not blogging much anymore, I still check my personal messages avidly on a daily basis! Can’t let go of that compulsion 😉

    Gosh what a long and rambling comment…hopefully not too incoherent….

    Hugs!!

    Sarah x

  7. I have a bad habit of losing contact with people. It usually goes something like this: a friend of mine goes through a busy patch, isn’t around as often. I don’t want to bug them because I think they only bother staying in contact with me through pity anyway, and would be annoyed if I chased them up. The longer it goes on the less likely I am to poke them and ask if they want to meet up sometime. This has happened again and again and again and again. My attitude is that anyone who talks to me is doing me a huge favour, and I’m so sorry to impose on them like this. It’s pathetic, it really is. But thinking like that just makes me want to inflict myself on other people even less (because what if I’m irritating them with my lack of self confidence?).

    Did I write that?… Seriously, though, that is EXACTLY how I feel. All the time. Which is why I just don’t bother getting close to people, because it seems like that’s asking for trouble.

    I wish you didn’t feel that way, though… from what I can tell, you’re an awesome person, and anyone would be lucky to know you!

    ❤ ❤

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