As I stated in the first post of my revamped blog, sometimes we don’t have the conversations that we need to. Things are left unsaid, and relationships that could grow or become enriched by these types of conversations remain stagnant or even decline. There are so many reasons not to have these conversations: they’re unpleasant, they’re heavy, they’re not appropriate for the situation, etc. Most of all, the reason I’ve avoided these conversations in the past is I’m afraid of what the response will be. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m being too personal, saying too much, dumping on the other person, that they’ll think I’m a freak. I feel guilty, and this perceived asymmetry keeps the thoughts inside of my head. They’ll come out if I decide to share them with my therapist.
When I was younger, I sought out therapy because as I was heading into the summer before college, I told my step brother that I just wasn’t as happy as I thought I should be. I was 18 soon to be 19, and I was in the prime of life, despite the fact that every now and again I’d think of turning 20, and I’d find it hard to breath. That being said, the main reason I wanted to see a therapist was that I knew there were things that I had to talk about, issues that were weighing me down, but I didn’t want to talk about these things with friends. I didn’t want to be “that guy” that has a few beers and then proceeds to spill his guts. That just wouldn’t do. Instead, I wanted the therapist to “clean me out” once a week, so that by the time I was with my friends, I’d be at peace mentally and ready to crack a joke or two. I’d be the positive and confident person they gravitated towards.
That worked, at least for a little while, but even my therapist was skeptical when I told him my intention. He told me that these types of conversations with friends would happen at some point, that it was only natural. I didn’t believe him. I thought that I could keep using therapy for this, and that no one would be the wiser. It was during the moments when I wasn’t seeing a therapist that the issues started to add up, and I started to let things out.
I didn’t think that seeing a therapist was necessary at the beginning of my freshman year, but I struggled with the transition to college life, and even had a brief bout of depression. I didn’t know many people there, and I didn’t have a car either. UConn was a wonderful place to go to school, but if you don’t have a car there, you’re more or less on an island. It can be incredibly isolating if you don’t take action, and that’s the thing about depression; you don’t want to take action. Your mind can keep you indoors, and your anxiety can tell you that you don’t deserve the help, that you’re worthless. That’s how it works, and it’s frighteningly effective at reinforcing itself.
Over time, I started to test the waters with some of my close friends. I’d prep them for these types of deeper conversations, and would try to make sure that they knew they had an out if things go too heavy. I didn’t want them to feel trapped in the conversation, and I didn’t want them to feel like I was using them as a crutch. I’m terrified of letting people know that I need them, and I get angry with myself for not being self-sufficient. I don’t think as humans we were ever meant to be self-sufficient, but I’ve always liked to think of myself as bucking that trend. I know that I’m wrong, but I’m also stubborn.
The thing is, people have been responsive to these types of conversations, and have even offered their own feelings, insights, and experiences. It makes me feel stupid that it’s taken me this long to open up to people, to pop the hood, and show them what’s under it. For so long, I feel like I’ve been genuine with people, but that I haven’t totally tipped my hand either. I’m working on it, piece by piece. It’s terrifying to offer up a piece of yourself, to feel vulnerable, but you have to trust that you’ve picked the right group of friends, and you have to give people credit sometimes.
When I left New York City, I was sick of the bar scene. I felt bloated and miserable, and was ready to take a break. I felt like the smoker who tries to quit by just smoking and smoking until they no longer want another cigarette. When I moved home to Massachusetts, I took four months off of drinking, and didn’t bother to tell most of my friends until a later date because I was so worried that the response wouldn’t be positive one. I didn’t want to be the reason people questioned their habits, and I also didn’t want to publicize my choice: it was mine and mine alone.
A funny thing happened, though: the more and more people I told, the more I realized how misguided my thoughts were. People were supportive, and even told me that they had considered taking some time off as well. My friends were still willing to hang out and spend time with me, and didn’t make any comments about my ordering a club soda or soft drink in a bar, aside from a casual joke or two about my not being able to drive home if I had too many. It was a different experience for those four months, but it completely changed my perception of so many of my friends. I realized that they weren’t hanging out with me because I was a good bar buddy; they were hanging out with me because they actually liked me. What a novel concept.
Sometimes you have to give people the credit they’re due, and sometimes you have to have faith in your friends and family, as well as yourself, that you’ve made some pretty damn good friends who will like you know matter who you decide to become, or what you decide to do. Sometimes, you have to take a leap, knowing that you will be well-received. People will surprise you, often in the best way possible.