Handicapped

I spent nearly a decade, from my late teens and almost through my twenties, in a fog of depression. Some of those years it was so severe as to be debilitating. It affecting every aspect of my life, especially the social.

It’s hard to be friends with people when you are depressed. It’s hard for them to be friends with you, especially if they’ve never known you any other way.

When I am depressed I am emotionally needy. And physically exhausted. I sleep a lot. I don’t want to go out. I’m incredibly sensitive and prone to overreact. I make it very hard for people to be there for me, and yet I have (impossible) expectations that they will.

This is what I was like during my most formative friend-making years. Add drinking and drug-use to manage my depression and you’ve got a pretty horrible combination. I was not great friend material. Looking back I’m not quite sure how I made, or kept, any friends at all.

I wasn’t involved romantically during this time either. Not once. I never even went out on a date. Not until I was 25 and I met my now husband.

For what I consider to be the most formative years of my social life I was severely handicapped by depression. I don’t think I ever learned how to be in a healthy, productive relationship. Obviously I learned enough to get by, but I don’t think I ever understood what was required to be one half of a meaningful friendship. Every interaction, every expectation, every gain and every loss was experienced through the warped lens of depression.

I believe this has been incredibly detrimental to my ability to make and manage friendships. I think this has crippled my trust in myself as a reliable gauge of what is acceptable and what is not. I have very little context with which to make reasonable determinations. There are no “healthy” friendships or relationships with which I can compare because I was never (emotionally and psychologically) healthy in any of my friendships (and I never even had a romantic relationship).

Without these parameters I feel lost. I am mired in self-doubt. I feel like I’m learning now, in my mid-30’s, what everyone else learned in their teens and twenties. I feel like I’m stunted, like I’ll never catch up. I feel like I’ll never have trust in my own abilities to understand other people and the ties that bond us. I’ll never recognize what is a feasible expectation, which slights should be forgiven, what friendships are worth saving, and which should be allowed to drift away.

It feels like something inside, something fundamentally, is broken. That it can never be repaired.

I worry I will never have the kinds of friendships I imagine for myself. I fear my marriage will never satisfy me. I worry I will stumble through life making mistake after mistake and never learning anything.

I’ve worked on this in therapy. I’ve read books. I’ve talked with trusted confidants. But it’s hard to learn something this intricate and complex this late in life. It’s like Spanish; I may approach fluency but I’ll never speak with the ease of a native. I’ll never be able to express myself in the ways that feel most natural. I will never feel as seen or heard in Spanish as I do in my native language.

That is exactly how it feels, like it will always take just enough effort to remind me that I’m different, that friendship is not my native tongue. I’ll always be second guessing myself, lingering over grammatical exceptions, grasping for the perfect word, ignorant of the expected turn of phrase.

I have spent the last 20 years of my life learning Spanish. I teach it now, but I’m still not as fluent as I’d like to be. I am constantly improving my skills, reading in Spanish, watching telenovelas, arranging intercambios, speaking to my kids. It requires a huge amount of effort and sometimes it feels like I’ll never arrive at the level of fluency I want. But I keep at it because I love it. I love the language, I love being able to think and speak in a completely different way. I love how it stretches and flexes my mind.

And I suppose that is how it will be with friendship. I’ll work at it for the rest of my life because it feels worthy of the effort. I just hope I’m not perpetually disappointed in where I end up. And I hope I don’t hurt people along the way.

9 Comments

  1. I like the analogy of speaking a second language, and that you’re not giving up on that.

    Also, re “But it’s hard to learn something this intricate and complex”: my teacher, Ethel, once told me something so simply profound about expecting others to meet your needs. She said something like (and I may have mentioned this before), “whatever you need from others, give it to yourself.”

    So if you need companionship, give it to yourself (get comfortable with yourself as company). If you need an honest compliment, give it to yourself. If you need support give it to yourself. Etc etc.

    You then are able to come into relationships not from a place of need.

    Simple, yes. Easy? Maybe.

    Lo tienes.

    1. I love this sentiment, of giving what you need to yourself, but I don’t know if we, as humans, can do that. We have evolved as social animals. It is in our DNA to seek comfort and acceptance from others. So while I will always try to give to myself everything that I need, I don’t know if I can ever really meet my own needs. I AM working on this. And I have grown in some profound ways, for sure. I am coming from much less of a place of need than I used to, and I always focus on how I can bring more to a relationship that I perceive as lacking (ESPECIALLY my marriage). But in the end, I’m not sure I can ever love myself enough to not need love from anyone else. What do you think? Do you think we can provide for ourselves everything we need?

      1. I agree with you Noemi. sometimes what we really need is someone to see us, hear us, support us. To not feel alone. I get what Lori is saying, and I agree—there is a lot we can do for ourselves, and expecting others to meet our every need is not part of a healthy relationship. I’m pretty good with being alone, I LOVE it most times. But sometimes you really do need companionship.

      2. Oh, yes, we are social animals, and I’m not suggesting that we go off into the wilderness or become a hermit.

        Rather, it’s that we make a subtle change. The more you can plug into your Source — yourself and your deep connection to God/the Universe/Whatever — the less you NEED someone else to complete you. The whole Austin Powers/Dr Evil thing, “you com.plete me” is funny because deep down, we realize that you can’t really have a healthy relationship if both people are missing a whole lot.

        Plugging in to yourself or your Source simply takes the neediness and the resulting messy boundaries out of a friendship/partnership.

        1. I am curious, do you believe any need in a relationship is healthy? I’m guessing it’s not, but I honestly don’t know. Again, this is where I feel I really missed out on some of the important learning that needs to happen to be a part of a relationships. I’m making the messy mistakes in my marriage that I was supposed to make with my first couple of failed relationships. 😉

  2. Whenever I read these posts from you I get so sad and wish that I could do something to ease your burden. Friendships, even when you have had the benefit for your teens / 20s to form them are always something that require maintenance – like any relationship. You aren’t alone there. Trust your gut seems such a simplistic way to phrase it but with friendships try not to let your self doubt hinder you – just trust that you are a wonderful person and the friendships should follow.

    1. I feel like I can’t trust in my gut though. I really, really do not trust myself on this stuff. Because I’ve been a part of so many failed friendships and I don’t believe they all failed because of other people (I am self-aware enough to recognize that if I perceived everyone around me has a problem it’s probably actually me who has a problem). So if it’s not everyone else it must be me. And so if I caused all those friendships to fail, how can I trust myself not to cause my current friendships to fail?

      I also probably need to trust that I’m a wonderful person. Most of the time I don’t…

  3. I feel this way about smoking, I started when I was 14, and I feel like the neuro pathways required to handle the everyday stresses of life never formed because nicotine took care of it for me. *sigh* And now I’m a perpetual basket case. It’s lame. I miss being normal.

    1. You know, I wonder a lot if my early alcohol/drug-use did this to me too. When I couldn’t handle my mental state I altered it. And now I can’t (because the fallout the next day is just too brutal), and I haven’t learned how to manage how I feel most of the time.

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