Anxious

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Photo by Boris Thaser via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I apologize for not writing for a while. I kind of feel like I’ve already told my story here. My intention in starting this blog was to make sense of my life within the context of my newfound realization that I likely have autism. I think I’ve done that now. Unless there are new developments in my life, I don’t feel like I have much to say anymore.

There has actually been a new development since I last wrote. I’m now, for the first time in my life, on anti-anxiety medication. I was taken to the hospital a few weeks ago with what turned out to be an anxiety attack. I’ve always been an anxious person but this was the first time my anxiety caused something that looked like a medical issue serious enough to be of concern to other people. (While I have always been prone to meltdowns when overwhelmed by sensory input and stress, they typically involve crying and therefore appear emotional in nature and not like I’m having a heart attack like this anxiety attack did.)

I’ve now been taking Cipralex for about three weeks. The doctor said to give it a month before deciding if I want to continue taking it. I was very wary at first, and reading online reviews scared me, as they mentioned things like “dulled emotions.” (I don’t mind a bit if my negative emotions are dulled, but I still want to feel the positive ones.) But I haven’t noticed any big differences, either good or bad, other than some headaches when I first started taking it that have since gone away, and I do seem to be sleeping a bit better. But I cried my eyes out over a video about a homeless cat who found a good home the other day, so my emotions are intact, which is good. Unfortunately though, I am still anxious when something stressful happens. I had a very, very stressful encounter with a relative last week and I was a wreck. But then, it hasn’t been a month so maybe the medication just isn’t fully kicking in yet.

In other news, I had mentioned in a previous blog post that I had started going to church again. I have since quit again. People were asking me too many personal questions and I was dreading going every week. I hate being asked personal questions because I don’t have good answers for most of them. I’m not normal, my life isn’t normal, I don’t have the kind of answers people expect, and I feel judged as a result. So I stopped going.

I am still getting together with my local friend about once every two weeks, and I enjoy visiting with her because we understand each other, but other than that I am avoiding being social at all, because it’s just not worth it.

The biggest source of stress right now is my family. Some of my relatives are judgmental and downright mean. I wish I could live somewhere else.

 

New Developments

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Photo by Matthew G via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

My husband found a local job! We owe a debt of gratitude to my friend’s husband, without whom it would not have happened. There was nothing on my husband’s resume that should have made him look like a good fit for this particular job, but the employer told him, “A recommendation from [friend’s husband’s name] goes a long way!” We’ve often complained that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and that is certainly true. This time it actually worked in our favour.

The job is very different from anything my husband has done before. It’s mostly physical and involves a lot of lifting. But he likes it, and is grateful to have something to pay the bills while he figures out his next move. It’s full time, but minimum wage. That’s fine though, since living with my parents we don’t have housing costs except for contributing $100 a month for electricity and gas because apparently we use a lot. And I don’t hate living here as much as I thought I would. It’s going okay (other than some small issues, which I might write about in future posts). It makes a big difference that we can buy our own food and everything. My parents are providing a roof over our heads, but we are not completely dependent on them, which makes it more bearable.

In the meantime, my husband is planning to enroll in an online course (from a reputable university, of course) that will fill in one of his skill gaps. Often employers looking for someone with his particular background also want this one particular skill that he doesn’t have, so he is going to rectify that. With his current job being so physical, he misses the intellectual stimulation of his former work and will be happy to have that with this course in his evenings and days off. I think the course lasts about nine months. So maybe next year he can get his career back on track again. Paying for this course would not be possible if we weren’t living with my parents (it’s going to stretch us financially as it is) so we are definitely staying put for a while.

I stopped going to those awful employment workshops. I had to go to the doctor for a routine appointment and he took my blood pressure while I was there, and it was scarily high, despite the fact that I’ve never had high blood pressure before. Since I was so stressed out when I was at those workshops I did not think continuing to go was in my best interests. I e-mailed my counselor and told her, “For personal/health reasons I need to cancel all my upcoming appointments and workshops.”

I’m supposed to go back to the doctor to get my blood pressure checked again but I’ve been putting it off. I want a chance to try to bring it back down naturally. With moving and all the related upheaval and stress in my life, I was not being as diligent about my healthy eating and exercise habits. I am now back on the wagon, so to speak. I hope it will make a difference.

We have started attending the church I used to go to in this town when I was single. I stopped going there about fifteen years ago after a major humiliation and was determined to never set foot in the building again. Once I realized circumstances were bringing me back to this town, I became certain that God wanted me to go back there and face it. My first Sunday back, it just so happened that two of my closest friends were also attending. One of them still lives here and attends with her husband, but the church has three services and things worked out so that we happened to attend the same one that Sunday. The other friend no longer lives here, but had made the trip to visit her family with her boyfriend that weekend, so she and her boyfriend were there too, along with other members of her family, who, back in the day, were almost like a second family to me for a while. We all sat in the same section. I had been nervous about my first time back, but it turned out that I was almost literally surrounded by people I felt safe with. I was emotionally moved to tears when I realized it.

My husband and I have continued to go, and it’s been good. The church is like a completely different place. The whole atmosphere is completely different, in a good way. The people who were instrumental in my past humiliation are no longer there. In fact, there are very few familiar faces. I encountered one woman I used to know and she didn’t remember me at all. “I have a memory like a sieve,” she said, when I was trying to explain who I was and how we knew each other. I am not offended by that. I am relieved. If people don’t remember me, they won’t be thinking bad things about me based on things that happened in the past.

I don’t intend to get heavily involved there. The last thing I’m looking for is a bunch of activities to get involved with and events to attend. Sunday is enough for me. And if I’m not heavily involved, I won’t be getting overwhelmed, and if I’m not getting overwhelmed, I hopefully won’t make a lot of social mistakes that will lead to people hating me like I did before. I didn’t know my limits then, but I certainly do now.

 

Workshop Hell

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Photo by Justin S. Campbell via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

My husband and I both started attending employment counseling last week. After the first appointment, we came away with very different schedules. My counselor had me fully booked for workshops and appointments every day this week and into the next. Meanwhile, my husband was scheduled for only two workshops and one one-on-one appointment with a networking expert.

I had even been honest with the counselor about how overwhelmed I get and told her I can only handle part-time work (if that). She must not have understood what I was getting at. She would not have over-scheduled me if she had.

The workshops have proven to be pretty much useless. I already know how to write a resume. My problems are far more complex than that. What they’re teaching is so basic I think you’d have to be a complete idiot to get much out of it. I’m not saying I learned nothing though. I learned a couple of sneaky, unethical tricks to get my resume seen by potential employers. That’s the kind of stuff they’re teaching people.

There were really only two things I hoped to get out of all this, which have already proven to be complete busts:

  1. I was hoping to get help identifying a new career path that is a better fit for me than office admin. The only thing that’s come out of this in that regard is the advice to “find a way” to make money using my writing skills. No shit. Easier said than done.
  2. I was hoping there would be some kind of government funding for retraining, but my counselor told me on day one that there is nothing like that available.

 

I have ended up extremely overwhelmed and stressed by something that is proving to be of no value or benefit whatsoever. The problem is that I don’t know how to get out of it. It goes against everything in me to just not show up, so I know I need to cancel, but I don’t know how to. I will feel like I need to offer some excuse, but I don’t have one. And I don’t want to piss anyone off in a small town like this. In fact, my counselor even goes to my former church, which I intend to start attending again. If I bail out of all this without a good reason it’s going to be really hard to face her socially.

So I’ve continued to go.

My state of overwhelm finally came to a head today in a workshop on “Finding the Hidden Job Market.” This was the most useless workshop yet. It was basically hours of the instructor saying, “You have to socialize and talk to people to get a job in this town,” in a variety of different ways. I was already well aware of this. There’s no new way anyone can say it to make it any easier for me in practicality. So I was sitting there, feeling physically worn out from the week’s schedule, feeling tired from days of having gotten up earlier than my body can cope with, and with a blinding headache from the fluorescent lights. I was trying to look at the printouts I’d been given and the letters and words just started swimming on the page in pools of bright light, blending together, indistinguishable.

And then things took a bad turn, socially. She was talking about how if you’re new in town, employers are going to love that you’ve moved here, because…. she paused… she then looked at me and for some reason decided to single me out. “Do you and your husband have kids?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

“But of course you will in the future.” Not a question. A statement.

“No,” I snapped, too loudly. “I’m already 43; if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably not going to.”

The room went silent for an awkward moment while everyone stared at me. Or at least I felt like everyone was staring at me. My face started to burn. I had overshared. Typical.

Then she, apparently unfazed, went on to say something… now I will probably not quote this accurately, word for word, because my head was in such a whirl that I’m not sure exactly what she said… but it was something to the effect that if we had kids, we would be seen as more valuable to the community, because our kids would be going to school here and would be involved in things and would be seen as the future of the community.

So, wait. What? She’s telling me I have to procreate to be valuable to the community? That employers would be happy my husband and I have moved here if we had kids? Was she implying they’d be more likely to employ us if we were parents and could contribute to the future population of the town? Is that how people think?! I hope I misunderstood what she was getting at because that is fucked.

I remained silent during this little lecture.

Not long after that, she had each person do a role-playing exercise with her. We were supposed to pretend that she was a potential employer and we were introducing ourselves for the purpose of networking. As she went around the room, getting closer to me, I felt this tightness rise higher and higher up my body. I started wracking my brain trying to think of something to say when she got to me, but my head was in such a fog by that point that I was a complete blank. I could not string a coherent thought together. When I realized that, I started trying to weigh my options for escape. But again, my brain wasn’t really working. My first instinct was to run from the room. But that would attract so much attention. I hate attracting attention. And there was actually someone in a chair blocking the path from my seat to the door. I would have to ask them to move to get out. So that was out of the question.

That was as far as I had gotten in my thought process when she finally came to me. She stuck out her hand and said, in her role as potential employer, “Nice to meet you. What can I do for you today?”

I blurted out, “I’m so sorry, I cannot pull it together to do this right now. I have a blinding headache and am not okay. I don’t want to be difficult but I just can’t.”

“Oh yes, you’re so difficult,” she said jokingly. Then she made some comment about how you shouldn’t be approaching employers if you’re having a bad day anyway and moved on to the next person. Funnily enough, and perhaps fortunately for me, two other people declined after me. One guy said it takes him all day to think of something to say and he can’t handle being put on the spot like that. A fellow Aspie, maybe? I could certainly relate.

As I sat there, I was feeling so awful, physically and emotionally, that I started having — okay, don’t be alarmed here; I’m not suicidal — mental images pop into my head of me shooting myself. I wasn’t actively thinking about suicide, or wanting to do it, or planning it. I don’t even know how to use a gun. It was just these images, unbidden. I used to get them a lot when I was young, but it’s been a very long time since the last time it happened. In fact, it was here, in this town, where I used to have them a lot.

When I got home, I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up, I didn’t know what day it was. I thought I was waking up the next morning. It took a few minutes to gain my bearings.

I really don’t want to go back to that place. Am I a terrible person if I don’t?

They’ll All be Looking at Me

mannequin
Photo from Flickr.

I’m finding myself worrying about my appearance as I prepare to move back to the small town where my parents live. In my adult life, I have never had my appearance criticized so much as I did when I lived there. In fact, the only other source of criticism in that regard has been from my mother-in-law. She says I wear black too much. I did tend to wear black a lot in the past for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s slimming. Secondly, it’s a classic colour that was easy to resort to when I was less savvy about putting together outfits. Thirdly, I am clumsy and tend to spill things on myself, and stains don’t show up as well on black as they do on other colours. Fourthly, I just think black looks good on me.

I never wore black in a “goth” kind of way, although it seems like people make that mental association when they think of someone who wears black a lot. And my mother-in-law seems to think black is only for funerals. Even my husband, when he sees someone wearing all black, sometimes jokes, “Are they going to a funeral or something?” I think maybe, with my husband and his mom being from England, this could be a cultural difference. I don’t think wearing black is viewed quite as harshly here in Canada. After all, there’s a reason it’s said that something is “the new black.” It’s because black is a classic, flattering colour that’s always in fashion.

But aside from my mother-in-law, in my adulthood it’s always been in this one place where my appearance and wardrobe have been criticized by people. My aunt, in particular, always has something to say about whatever I’m wearing. She’s very much into this whole school of thought where your complexion and hair colour determine what “season” you are, and you should only wear colours that correspond with your season. She believes in it like a religion. So if she sees me wearing a white sweater, for example, she’ll say, “You shouldn’t be wearing that. Only winters can wear white.” Or she’ll say, “I can tell you like the colour blue. But you don’t look good in blue. You only think you look good in blue.” It’s not just the seasons thing though. She also says things to me like, “You shouldn’t be wearing that dress. It looks like a nightgown. Yuck!”

She also criticizes my weight. (I have been diagnosed with PCOS and hypothyroidism, both of which make weight a constant struggle.) Once when I was still single I had the opportunity to participate in a fashion show. She was in the audience and she sought me out afterwards and told me, “It was good to see a heavier girl up there on the runway. When you finally find a man, you should just tell him it’s like he’s getting two girls for the price of one!” That’s her idea of a compliment and is actually the most positive thing she’s ever said to me. She tells me about diets I should be going on, usually completely jackassed, unhealthy, not-medically-sound eating plans that I know better than to try. She can be very insistent about such things. She was on my case about one of these the last time I saw her in 2011. As she was telling me about it, I lost control of my mouth and blurted out, “That is absolute bullshit.” She was unfazed. “No it isn’t! No it isn’t!” she insisted.

It’s not just my aunt, either. It’s friends of my mom, too. From them it’s comments like, “You should be wearing a slip under that skirt. When the light is behind you I can see the outline of your legs.” First of all, does anyone under the age of 60 still wear slips? And secondly… Oh no! The outline of my legs?! All the men in town will obviously be consumed by an uncontrollable, fiery lust if they see that! Pfffft. Give me a break.

Then there were also teenagers at church who, assuming I was their peer when I was actually in my late twenties, were giving me fashion tips so I could look more trendy, despite the fact that I was extremely poor at the time and could not afford brand new clothes. And telling me I would look better if I parted my hair in the middle. Hair parted in the middle looks great on some people, but I think it looks horrid on me and I don’t care if it’s in fashion at any given time or not.

In the bigger cities I’ve lived in, I’ve felt so free to just be myself. I don’t feel like my appearance is under constant scrutiny. Even when I was more socially active than I currently am, and even when I was heavily involved in church, rarely, if ever, has anyone given me a hard time about the way I look in these bigger places. As I’m preparing to go back to that small town, I’m starting to worry again. What will they be thinking when they see me? And because I’ll be living with my parents, I can’t hide. I will be like a sitting duck for all the people they’re involved with.

I’m fairly satisfied with my wardrobe at the moment, but I would like to go to the salon before I leave the city. Unfortunately, I don’t feel I should be wasting our precious resources on something frivolous when I don’t know when or from where our next source of income is coming. I really want a new pair of glasses too, as my trendier black-framed pair is showing signs of wear in their finish and the metal bits on the nose have turned green. I would at the very least like to get them professionally cleaned. But again, I shouldn’t be spending money on things like that right now. I’m going back to a place where apparently appearance matters (whether it’s because of the social atmosphere of the place itself or because of the people I’m related to there — not just my aunt, but I think the people who are friends with my mom feel they have some kind of authority over me by extension), but I can’t be spending money on my appearance at the moment.

You know what one of my biggest fears is? When I was young, I used to be very passive and I accepted everything everyone said to me without protest or defense, but I’m not like that anymore. And I’m afraid that one day I’m going to lose it and say something extremely rude to anyone who criticizes me or offers me unsolicited advice, kind of like what I said to my aunt five years ago only worse. And I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that. That’s not the person I want to be.

 

The Town I’m Moving to and the Most Difficult Person There

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Photo by Picturepest via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

The town that I’m about to move to isn’t my hometown. I love my hometown and would be thrilled beyond measure to move back to it. It’s a really nice place. But my parents no longer live there (my dad cheated on my mom with so many women there it would be awkward for my parents to live there now that he’s reformed), and my husband has never been able to find work there, or even within commuting distance of there, even though he has tried. While I did get bullied in my hometown, mostly in junior high, my bullies have since found me on Facebook and apologized to me. Not so for the people who hurt me in the town I’m moving to.

My hometown is a four-hour drive away from this town I’m moving to.

The town I’m moving to is a smaller town where my mom decided to move us to around the time I turned 16. One of her brothers and his wife live there, which is why she chose it. It’s the town I couldn’t wait to move away from when I was 18, and the town I moved back to after I could no longer make it financially on my own when I was 20. Moving back there at age 20 felt like death. It kind of feels that way now. This will be the third time in my life I will be moving there, even though I’ve never wanted to live there even once.

I do have one friend there, thank goodness. I met her at church when I was 27. She’s the friend who inspired me to start this blog. I am really looking forward to seeing her again. Another friend of mine, the one who visited me this summer, is also from this town but no longer lives there. She doesn’t like it either and says she’ll never live there again. People were not nice to her there. But she does visit family there from time to time and that means I will get to see her more often than I currently do. We have already talked about seeing each other when she visits for Thanksgiving. So those are the two bright spots in all of this. I’m grateful that there are bright spots. It truly would be unbearable otherwise.

One of the people I’m most worried about dealing with there is my aunt. My aunt has the strongest, most dominating personality of anyone I’ve ever met. She is very negative and critical and she lies and schemes. She is nosy and meddlesome and seems to think it’s her right to know every little thing about other people’s lives. She’s extremely ignorant and uneducated (whether formal education or otherwise), yet is the most opinionated person I know. She’s also really into alternative medicine (but in the most ignorant and unskilled way imaginable), and has been known to walk up to me and start slathering goop onto my skin without my permission (I have eczema, psoriasis, and occasional bouts of hives) and every time, my condition has gotten worse instead of better.

All of these things make her an extremely difficult person for me to deal with.

I haven’t seen her since 2011. When I saw her then, one of the first things she said to me was, “Which route did you take to get here?” When I told her, she told me that was the wrong route, and another route would have been faster. Then she ordered my uncle to get a map so she could show me the other route. I was already well aware of the other route, and she was wrong, it was not faster. (According to Google maps, her route is 15 minutes slower.) Even if it had been faster, so what? Maybe I just like the route I took better. That is my prerogative. I don’t understand why she makes an issue out of every little thing. Even so, I didn’t argue with her or defend myself because it was just too much hassle (you have to pick your battles, right?) and because I don’t think well in overstimulating moments like that. She’s so overbearing I’m like a deer caught in the headlights when I’m with her. My point here is that even something as innocuous as which route I took is judged and criticized by her. Imagine what she does with the bigger issues.

When I was living with my mom in my twenties, she greatly disapproved. She thinks adults should be independent. For what it’s worth, I actually agree with her on that; I just haven’t been able to consistently make it happen. Her harassing me about it is not helpful.

It’s going to be so much worse now that I’m in my forties.

This woman is not an emotionally safe person for me to be around. Not only because of her disapproval and criticism, but because of her schemes. When I was in my twenties and didn’t have a job, she assumed I just wasn’t trying hard enough and was very critical of me. Then one day, she told me, “I have a new job managing a restaurant. I’ll give you a job. Come there first thing next Monday morning ready to work.” I said okay. But as the day approached I started getting an odd, prickly feeling about the whole thing. So I phoned the restaurant and asked for my aunt by name. I was told I must have the wrong number and there was no one there by that name. I explained that it was the manager I was wanting to speak to because she had offered me a job there. I was told, “I am the manager, that is not my name, and I am not hiring right now.”

Needless to say, I did not show up on Monday as my aunt had instructed me. The next time I saw her, I mentioned the apparent misunderstanding. She admitted she’d lied about being the manager there. She said she’d done it to “give me the push I needed.” She said if I had shown up at that restaurant Monday morning ready to work, they would have been so impressed by my initiative that they would have hired me on the spot. She is utterly delusional. Maybe that’s how people got jobs in her day but that is no longer the case. Can you imagine how humiliated I would have been if I’d shown up there? I was already feeling humiliated just from the phone call I’d made.

She has not changed. She just recently got my mom involved in a scheme. She told my mom that while visiting another town she’d run into an old childhood friend of my mom’s who wanted to see her. She offered to take my mom to visit this person. When my aunt and my mom arrived, this old friend had no idea who my mom was. She hadn’t been saying she wanted to see her. She had no clue. I can’t imagine what my aunt’s motive was, but something was fishy about the whole situation.

Ever since I got married almost 12 years ago I have managed to shield my husband from her. Especially because he’s a physicist and she thinks science is from the devil. She and my uncle (he’s not as bad as her in other ways, but he is with this kind of thing) once told me that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is evil because it states that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Say what?! I’m pretty sure they meant the philosophical concept of Relativism, which has absolutely nothing to do with Einstein, his theories, physics, or science (whether or not it’s evil is a whole other matter, but we should at least be clear on what we’re talking about before we get to that). But they were convinced they were correct and that this means physicists are doing the devil’s work.

I do not want them to meet. My husband does not need to be subjected to that kind of thing. But my aunt has it in her craw that she hasn’t met him yet. She writes in the Christmas cards she sends me, “When am I going to meet your husband?” She has meeting him on her agenda and the only thing preventing that from happening thus far has been a lack of proximity.

I know that once I’m living with my parents in that town again, I will not be able to avoid my aunt forever. But I was hoping to at least get settled and get my bearings before having to deal with her. Unfortunately, a well-meaning person who knows we’re moving back there and doesn’t realize we want to keep it on the down low for the time being mentioned it to my mom when my aunt was standing right there. So she knows. And I fully expect her to be a one-woman welcoming committee. That’s going to be a lot to deal with when I’m already stressed and freaked out by the whole thing.

I don’t hate my aunt. I wish her well. She had a rough upbringing and there are reasons she is the way she is. I get that. But I have a hard enough time dealing with ordinary people, and she is… extraordinary. The combination of her personality and my social and sensory difficulties is not a good thing for me. I seriously consider her dangerous to my well-being.

It’s possible to not hate someone and yet still recognize that they are not good for you.

 

Full of Hate?

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Photo from Photofunia

I am reeling with shock and hurt over something someone said to me today.

I was talking to a relative on the phone about my upcoming move. And because I have the tendency to overshare, I started talking about all my anxieties about living in that small town again.

She snapped at me, “I was hoping that now that you’re older you would have mellowed out, but I can see that you are still full of hate.”

What?! Full of hate? Is that how people see me? Is that how I come across?

I guess perhaps I have sometimes said, “I hate that place.” (I don’t think I said that today though.) But it’s not really hate I feel. It’s dread. And fear. I am afraid of the social atmosphere in that town, because I did not cope well in it in the past. I am afraid of certain people, because they have hurt me before and I don’t feel that they are emotionally safe people for me to be around. I am afraid of finding myself in situations that I won’t know how to handle, and I am afraid of handling social situations wrongly and saying the wrong things and getting into trouble with people. I am afraid of that because it has happened more times than I can count. It is not an unfounded fear.

So I will admit to being fearful. But hateful? I wonder if it’s just this one person who sees me this way, or if others do too.

I am deeply wounded by my relative’s words. What a way to kick me when I’m down.

 

A Friend’s Visit

A Candid Conversation
Photo by Christian Yves Ocampo via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

One of my long-time friends made the 7-hour drive from another city to visit me last month. She stayed for four days. Our apartment is small, but we made a private little space between the back of the couch and the wall for her air mattress, and that worked well.

It was really nice having her here. We went out shopping and dining. One day we went to the farmer’s market and another day we went to the beach. We had great conversations. I find it really easy to talk to her.

I wrote a blog post in June about not having a social life in this city and said I didn’t really mind that I have no friends here. But my friend’s visit was a nice reminder of how much I can really enjoy being with a friend and socializing when it’s with the right person. With the small number of people I naturally click with and already love and trust, it’s easy to be with them. There’s no social anxiety or constant ruminating on our conversations afterward, wondering what I might have said wrong, like I do with most people.

It makes me wish that I could live in the same city as her. Or that I could make a new friend like her where I do live. But I don’t know if I can make friends like that now. It seems like I made all my friends when I was young and I don’t connect with any new people that deeply anymore. I just find meeting and getting to know new people exhausting now. New people tend to ask me so many questions and put me in the position of having to explain myself and why I am the way I am. My old friends already know all that and accepted it a long time ago. And I think it’s a numbers problem. It’s like I have to meet so many new people in order to find one I might click with, and I open myself up to a lot of stress and pain and potential rejection in the meantime. Maybe I had the energy to do that when I was younger, but I don’t now.

My Social Life (or Lack Thereof) in this City

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Photo by John Perivolaris via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I have absolutely zero social life in this city right now. I am not really lamenting this. It eliminates a lot of stress from my life, to be honest.

My husband and I first moved to this city in 2013. After a time of unemployment for both of us and getting to a point of utter desperation, we both managed to get something lined up here, and things seemed to fall into place for us to come here in other ways, even though it was never somewhere we had previously aspired to live and we didn’t know anyone here. Feeling like we had no other option at the time, this is where we ended up.

My job here ended up not going well (surprise surprise). On several occasions I had to e-mail the woman who had previously held my position (she had been fired abruptly and had not had the opportunity to tie up loose ends, leaving a lot for me to have to figure out) and when, after six months, she found out I too had been fired (in a nutshell, for back-answering my boss during my six-month performance review), she, probably feeling an affinity with me since we’d both been fired by the same man from the same position, invited me to go out for coffee with her and another woman I knew from work.

The coffee outing (I don’t actually drink coffee, but that’s what it’s called regardless, isn’t it? Going out for coffee?) turned out to be a surprisingly validating social experience for me. It’s not often I can say that. Both of these women are writers, one in her spare time outside of work and the other having moved on to a staff position at a magazine after getting fired from her office job, so we talked about writing and various ideas we had. Sometimes when I talk about these things, people’s eyes glaze over, but these women were interested and engaged. And I was interested and engaged in their ideas too. How rare! And when they asked how my job search was coming along, I told them about an awkward interview I’d had and then I confessed that I actually wanted to be at home. That was my real heart’s desire: To stay home and read books and maybe write or take online courses or pursue other personal projects. But I confessed I was worried about money.

They completely validated my desire to stay home! Most people do not. Most people treat me like it’s disgraceful to want to stay home. Being Christians, these women even told me that if I wanted to stay at home, I should do that and let God worry about the finances. No one had ever told me that before. I suppose it’s always nice when people tell us what we want to hear, isn’t it? For what it’s worth, they turned out to be right. While money is tight, it is no tighter now than when I was working, because I wasn’t earning very much and I tend to spend a lot more when I’m working, on transportation, office clothes, convenience foods because I end up too exhausted to cook, useless impulse purchases because I get too exhausted and overstimulated to practice my usual restraint, and medications, because the exhaustion and stress of being in the workforce, as well my poorer diet at those times, causes all my health issues to flare up. But I digress.

The social engagement didn’t go off completely without a hitch though. At one point they started talking and laughing about something that happened on a TV show I hadn’t seen. Understanding that it was a funny anecdote, I laughed along, only for one of them to turn to me and ask, “Have you seen it?” I then had to confess that I hadn’t. Busted! What a tool, huh? I was mortified, and still think about it sometimes, even though it was relatively minor.

Anyway, they invited me out for coffee with them again, but that time I was ill with nausea and… ahem… bathroom issues (not out of the ordinary for me, but some days are worse than others) so I declined. I legitimately was ill, but perhaps they thought I was making an excuse, and after that it was like the ball was in my court, and even though I had enjoyed being with them, I just never got in touch again.

The thing really holding me back was the fact that I don’t have a car. When they invited me out, it was their idea and one of them offered to come pick me up. But I didn’t know how to initiate an outing and then say, oh, but you’ll have to pick me up, okay? It just seemed to create this imbalance, and I didn’t want to come across like a user or a taker or whatever you call it. (I was accused of that once before, over twenty years ago, and I never want to be again, so it’s something I am very conscious of.) And it’s not like I could afford to treat them to make up for it.

I just didn’t know how to initiate under these circumstances, so I didn’t.

Then there was this guy I met on Twitter. He’s a little younger than us and is a local pastor of a small church, and we had great conversations online. He invited my husband and I out for coffee a couple of times, and then it progressed to having dinner at his home with his family. We got along fairly well, but then he pushed for us to attend his church and we declined, explaining that we don’t have a car and bus service is so drastically reduced on Sundays that we can’t feasibly get there and back. He said, “I’m sure I can arrange for someone to give you a ride every week.” But we explained that we weren’t comfortable with that, partly because there might be some weeks we wouldn’t want to go (especially with my health issues), and we would feel awkward cancelling and making excuses in those cases. And we explained this is not a temporary situation. Unless our situation dramatically changes we do not envision getting a car, so we would be an ongoing drain on whoever volunteered. (At our previous church, someone had even generously offered to lend us a car until we bought one, but we didn’t intend to buy one, so we thought we would have come across as taking advantage of them. Not to mention the fact that we would still have had to pay for insurance, gas, maintenance, repairs, and parking, which is not something we can commit to in our current situation.)

So anyway, we never heard from him again, and it became apparent that he didn’t really want to be friends with us, he was just trying to recruit us to his church. It is always so disappointing when you think someone likes you, but it turns out they have an ulterior motive.

So all that was in 2014, and I have not had any real social life in this city since. Both sets of parents have come to visit us here, and one of my long-time friends is coming here from another city to visit us next month, which I’m really looking forward to, but generally my life is void of in-person social contact, other than clerks in stores and whatnot, but that doesn’t really count.

For the most part, I don’t mind. When it does bother me, it’s more the idea of it that bothers me than the actual day-to-day experience of it. Like, “Yikes, we don’t have any friends; we’re all alone here. What if something happened? There’s no one we could call.” But I also kind of love the fact that I don’t have anyone trying to get me to go places when I don’t want to and making demands on my time, which I never feel like I have enough of, even though I’m not working now. I love that I never find myself in awkward social situations, where I’ve made a fool out of myself and ruminate on it endlessly afterward. I love that I don’t find myself in positions where I have to explain myself and my various quirks and the health issues that affect my life. Life is so peaceful now, and I need that.

This is one of those things that makes the person who shall remain nameless think there’s something seriously wrong with me. Who doesn’t even want friends? Once when this person was visiting, I got a phone call from one of my long-time friends in another city, and afterward the person who shall remain nameless said, “Oh, I’m so relieved you got a phone call from a friend. I do worry about you not having friends!” I just stared at the person, kind of shocked, not understanding why anyone would be thinking such things about me. If I’m not unhappy, what’s the problem?

My husband also hasn’t made any real friends here. There are people he’s friendly with at work, but no one he sees outside of work. Somehow that’s okay though. The pressure always seems to be on me, not on him, as if it’s the woman’s responsibility to make a social life for both members of a couple or something. I don’t understand that. But I don’t understand a lot of things about how people think.

I’m Always the One in the Wrong

Shame
Photo from Photofunia.

I’ve just realized something.

When I say something that hurts or offends someone and they get upset, I feel horrible and in most cases I apologize, but it still plays on my mind for weeks, months, years, or even decades afterward and when it does I am filled with shame.

When someone else says something that hurts or offends me and I get upset, they tell me I’m too easily offended or too defensive, or that this shows a character flaw that I need to work on, and then they carry on like nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, it plays on my mind for weeks, months, years, or even decades afterward and when it does I am filled with shame.

Either way, both I and they see me as being the one in the wrong and I always accept the guilt in both cases.

I just realized this tonight. Last night, something I said to someone about 16 years ago came to mind, and I was filled with deep shame. Despite my apologies, this person no longer speaks to me, and I think about this often. Last night it took me hours of thinking and praying and relaxation attempts to stop that old tape. Then tonight, a relative said something that deeply offended and angered me, and I had to use every ounce of self-restraint I could muster up to not respond. Even though I succeeded in that regard, I still felt guilty and ashamed over how angry I felt. I wondered why I can’t just brush things like that off, not just externally, but internally too. Then I thought about how it’s been far worse the times I have externally shown that I was offended and I’ve responded negatively; in those cases I’ve come out the loser and I’ve been left feeling deep shame over my response.

And then I thought, wait a second… Why am I feeling shame when other people get offended by something I say and when I get offended over something someone else has said (whether I even respond or not)? If it’s wrong to verbally offend someone, shouldn’t it be wrong for both me and others? If it’s wrong to get offended, shouldn’t that also be wrong for both me and others? On the other hand, if they feel no guilt when they offend, why should I? And if they feel no guilt when they get offended, why should I?

Why am I so hard on myself? And why are others so hard on me?

Leaving a Friend Behind

bye
Photo from Photofunia.

So what do you do when you really don’t want to be friends with someone anymore?

I don’t think I have ever taken the initiative to end a friendship in my life. Other people have stopped being friends with me, and in some cases we’ve just sort of mutually drifted apart, but I have never chosen to end a friendship.

Is it a matter of personal growth that I have reached a point where I can willfully leave someone behind? Or does it mean I’m just not as nice as I used to be?

The friend I’ve blogged about before, the one who didn’t invite me to her wedding but then sent me a really nice Christmas gift and kept messaging me like nothing ever happened, is not a positive, supportive person in my life. She talks down to me like I’m an idiot. She seems to have developed a really low tolerance for weakness and stupidity, and she sees weakness and stupidity everywhere. She once told me that people call her “the dragon lady” at work and I’m starting to see why.

I’m afraid to say anything to her at this point because she’ll just argue with me or point out some way in which she thinks I’m off base. I could probably handle her doing that once in a while. If it were 80% support and 20% correction, maybe I could live with that (I get that nobody’s going to agree with me 100% of the time or be able to honestly support everything I say or do), but it’s the other way around. I do think that a friend should be able to tell it like it is, but it’s also her general attitude that’s getting to me, like she’s exasperated and annoyed by everything that comes out of my mouth. I can’t take it anymore. I end up feeling bad almost every time I communicate with her. So it’s not even a matter of needing to forgive her for individual things she’s done to hurt me; this is an ongoing pattern of behavior.

And if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I have to admit that if she’s finding it so hard to tolerate me and the things I say and do, the friendship is probably not a positive, beneficial thing for her any more than it is for me. It is probably for the best for both of us if we can wish each other well but go our separate ways.

I’m not sure of the best way to end things with her though. After 31 years I probably owe her some kind of explanation. But I don’t want it to turn into some kind of back-and-forth accusatory thing. Usually when people have stopped being friends with me, they’ve just stopped getting in touch and not replied when I’ve gotten in touch. Perhaps that’s the way to do it, but it seems cold and wrong after so many years.