The “I” word.

“But in spite of my great desire for intimacy, I’ve always been a loner. Perhaps when the longing for connection is as strong as it is in me, when the desire for something is so deep and true, one knows better than to try. One sees that this is not the place for that.” — Elizabeth Berg, Never Change

If there were to be a better title for this post, it would be “I don’t want to write this.” But I’ve already used that. Oops.

I have a problem with this word. This “I” word. I don’t like using it, I don’t like saying it out loud, I don’t even particularly like thinking about it. Something in it just grates me in ways that are terrible and nervous. It wasn’t even really part of my vocabulary until I started going to therapy the last time, and my professional seemed to keep bringing it up every other session as if the more she mentioned it the more likely I would be to talk about it.

I have a problem with trusting people. (Ask that therapist – I’m still not convinced she ever actually thought I trusted her completely.) I also have a problem with anxiety. This runs so vast and so deep that I would rather vent my feelings to strangers on the Internet than actually have a conversation with a real human being. I would rather distance myself as far as  humanly possible from my feelings than let them be something I genuinely experience. And all this because I can’t control how people react to the things I have to say. Because when I have spoken about the way I feel, or even, God forbid, shown it, I’ve been ridiculed, shot down, told to suck it up.

Mostly this comes from my childhood, like 99% of emotional trauma. I was one of those “sensitive” kids. I was an only child, used to getting my way and undivided attention, and I cried a lot. This got me laughed at a lot. Told to shut up a lot. Told my feelings weren’t valid. And not just at school, either. Thanks, family. You wonder why I still don’t talk to most of you. (Well, let’s be honest: there’s a little more to it than that.) Remember a few posts back? “(Weakness is intolerable. The weak are culled.)” That’s where that comes from. There’s not a clean metaphor for this, so I’ll just put it plainly: if you invalidate a person long enough, they stop acting like a person. If you treat a person like they’re inconsequential long enough, they’ll retract. This isn’t really difficult psychology to understand.

If there’s anything I got from my mother, it’s the never-ending ability to sit back and be quiet rather than try to force my way into conversation. For her, this came from growing up being the youngest of six. For me, this came from example. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s a good skill. Just, maybe not when you employ it so much that your entire existence and personhood gets ignored. And I’m learning, slowly. I pick my battles. I speak up when it’s appropriate and can stand up for myself when called out. That’s not a thing I’m afraid of.

The problem with invalidation on such a basic human level at such a young age is that it sets you up to believe that every single person in the rest of your life is going to treat you exactly the same way. It puts your guard so high that even admitting you have emotions at all is like nicking an artery. This has been my experience. People who grew up with me can probably attest to this. I was (and still am, honestly) very reserved, socially. I did my schoolwork and participated in class when necessary but very rarely voiced my own opinion. I didn’t make friends easily. I could more likely be found speaking to a teacher about any given thing than a classmate. On the rare occasions that I did try to connect with someone, it usually ended badly, so I stuck with the kids who were generally less popular, or people I’d known virtually forever. The girl I shared a bus seat with in elementary school. The weird girl who also happened to be into anime. The singular goth girl in our entire high school. All of those relationships, surprise, also ended in various degrees of crash-and-burn.

And this isn’t the only example. You wouldn’t’ve known it in school, but I had crushes on people a lot. I tried. I got shot down. (This probably has more to do with teenaged shallowness than me as a person, but nonetheless.) There are only a couple of those people that I now have any respect for: a boy who told me that I was going to be something someday, that he was not what I needed then or probably ever, who actually treated me as a person, and a girl I’d admired since we were children. I never told her. I won’t, probably. But she was sweet, genuine, gorgeous. She still is. She’s going to make something of herself. She’s the kind of person who can’t fail. (I think she had more troubles growing up than she ever spoke of, but then the two of us weren’t really friends, either.) Even thinking about her pangs a nerve sometimes. She dated a boy that was cruel to me as a kid. That was kind of a blow to the ego. But she was happy, so I was happy.

It’s very hard to bury these kinds of things. It’s very hard to pretend that you don’t need people. It ends up depleting you as a person. It leaves you kind of hollow and raw and sharp. It’s easier as an adult, when relationships are fewer and farther between. I can count the number of friends I’ve made as an adult on one hand. (I could count the number of friends I had as a teenager on one hand, too. Then, I also use the term “friend” more sparingly than most people, as well.) It gets to be easier just to put up the walls and deny yourself than it is to admit the empty. That’s where I am.

I feel like I’ve been living in a variable state of existential crisis since I was fourteen. When reaching out got me a smack on the hand, I learned that it was better to just pick up your own pieces than to ask anyone to help you. So I did. I do. I will. That gets easier, too, because the pieces tend to fall apart on the inside. The outside looks just fine. But I rush around with my jar of paste and stick things back where they’re supposed to go. Or at least I try. I can’t deny that the work would be easier with another set of hands. But what is another set of hands worth?

Is it worth putting up the ladder to let them in? Is it worth showing them how all these bits fit together? Is it worth hoping that they’ll be able to pick up on the parts of the job that I neglect, or gloss over for fear of not having the words to explain them?

Is it worth having to reassemble again when they decide they want out? Is it worth getting critical and forcing them to leave, having spent all that time and effort?

To be clear, I don’t think having a person would fix me. That’s not realistic. Like I said, though, it might make the process a little easier to bear.

But then, maybe that’s selfish. Maybe being barely capable of maintaining myself leaves me unable to help maintain another.

Still, hands would be nice some days.


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