Aware of the silence already.
Familiar voices from the radio fill the room.
My days, much like everyone else’s, have an obvious routine about them. The learned actions and behaviours that happen without thinking. Subconscious and necessary. It’s part of being human. It’s part of living in the modern world. We all have places to be, things to do. For some of us though, these places are visited alone, these things are done alone.
I currently lodge in a large family home with one other person. We have the place to ourselves during the week. I have my own double ensuite room just off the main house. We both work long hours. I tend to like my own company in the evenings and at weekends, so I don’t really engage much outside of passing conversation with either him or the family when they return at weekends. I’ve learned to keep out of the way so I don’t disturb people. I’ve been this way since I was a kid living at home with the folks. It’s so much easier to keep your head down and stay out of trouble…
For some reason, this has always been the way with my friends though too. I’ve kept them at arm’s length, only letting the ones who really understand what it’s like to live in an anxious, depressive bubble get close enough to know me. I think that this is the worse part about it. I’m lonely because of how I am. It is actually my fault that I have very few close friends. It is actually my fault that I rarely get invited out. When someone does, it’s always one of the few who do it to check in and see if I’m still coping.
For me socialising always feels like that silver lining. That reward that comes when everything else is working. It’s because of this that I keep my head down and focus on my job or getting through the day. If I can just fix these parts of my life then people will want to hang around with me. It’s because of this that I’m so anxious about meeting new people or just hanging out with friends. I’m not in a good enough place for them. They’ll see that I’m a fraud or a failure. It’s best if I leave them to have fun without me…
I’m sat writing this in the local coffee shop with my headphones in listening to the smooth sounds and comedy ways of my favourite radio station as the bitter cold of winter forces passers by to pull their collars up and walk a little faster. There are groups of happy people all around. I am literally the only person who’s on their own. The group of students opposite me, all no older than 20, talking and laughing as they hug their hot chocolates and lattes. The family to my left, all three generations, sharing the joy and excitement of the beautifully naïve toddler. The young couple staring into each others eyes, hands entwined, as they forget that the world around them even exists. Then there’s me with my black americano, typing away… I came here for a change of scene, but the obvious happiness of others socialising only makes my loneliness feel even more real.
The problem is that seeing people becomes an event, something big. If it’s not part of your routine, then it comes with added anxiety. You almost forget how to engage with people beyond the pleasantries of short interactions. How do you change this after so long? I wrote something in my first piece for CALM a few years back which is an all too familiar thought for people like me:
“I’m alone because of my faults…”
I have come to realise that, personally, I am alone because I choose to be. We all have faults and failings, but it is the decisions that I make and the way that I act that make this poverty worse. I choose this because, at the time, it feels more comfortable than struggling against the anxiety of meeting up with people. Over time, anxiety becomes the comfortable reason not to do something, leaving you alone with your routines, simply because it’s easier. There’s a quote that sits at the back of my mind. I can’t remember where I first heard it, or who said it, but it’s sadly very true:
“People only treat you the way that you allow them to.”
People don’t ask me to socialise because I don’t let them… Over time I’ve shot them down or turned them away.
It’s a hard truth to accept. People aren’t horrible or scary. They won’t judge or criticise. What they will do is offer kindness and love. When someone makes the effort to ask me to do something, instead of making an excuse or shying away, I should take their kindness and treat them with the respect that they are showing me… More importantly I should treat myself with the respect that they are showing me.
Believing in something, no matter what it is, comes with practice. Little positive thoughts build into larger positive feelings. It’s never too late to change something for the better. If I can make it part of my routine to meet up with someone once a week or find a regular activity to get involved with, then it will slowly become part of my daily life. Before I realise it, I’ll be socialising like a pro! For now though, I might see if someone wants to go to the cinema with me this week, you know, keep it simple!
I’ll let you know if I survive…
About the author
Grayson is a writer, book lover and outdoors man with a passion for wood smoke and wilderness. After fighting through the employment battlefield and ranging around…
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