Therapists have been telling me for years not to isolate. It’s so appealing in the short-term: the silence, the freedom from social pressure. In the long-term, however, it just feeds every problem. Depression, anxiety, alcohol cravings – they’re engines that run on loneliness.
So you want to go out and build some connections. You don’t even need profound, soul-bearing conversations right now. There can be something soothing and sustaining just in chatter, the exchange of little jokes and shared moments.
But here’s the catch that will slap you in the face, if your experiences are anything like mine: being mentally ill, just having a history of receiving mental health services, can be a kind of isolation in and of itself.
It’s a matter of stories.
People are swapping stories, like people always do, and I’ll think, “Oh, that’s like something funny that happened when I was in the hospital.” Or, “That’s like something my case manager in rehab always said.” Or, “I once had a great conversation about this same topic with my therapist.”
Sometimes it’s something more serious. Sometimes it’s, “You’re wrong, and I know this because I am one of the people you are talking about.”
And there’s that moment when I think about this story, and my mouth might even start to open a little. Then I remember:
- If I say this, it might alienate the people I am talking to.
- It might make them uncomfortable.
- It might make them look at me in a different way.
- It might reveal a side of myself that I work so hard to conceal from others because it hurts, and it invites so much judgment, and there’s a good chance they won’t understand anyway.
And those are just some of the outcomes. In some circumstances, there are real risks related to my employment or the opportunities I may have in the future or even my safety.
So I keep my mouth shut. There are stories – some of them kind of funny, some of them potentially helpful to others, some of them painful and fucked up – that I swallow every time. Unless I am in very specific circumstances, in which I am talking to people with experiences like mine, I have to keep them to myself.
Here’s an idea: One day I would like to live in a world where everyone can share their stories, whether in serious conversations or silly ones. I want to feel safe acknowledging these important parts of my identity and my past. Even if I am talking to people who are different from me, I want to feel like this difference is okay.
I’m tired of balancing my real self and my socially acceptable one.