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How My Mental Illness Makes Me Avoid Social Connections

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I don’t have an instinctual drive for social connections. I never had it.

But that wasn’t obvious in the beginning, as I spent my early childhood in an area without many kids. It was a settlement full of retirees, only two other families with kids. And even then, I didn’t befriend them — my siblings did.

When I entered elementary school, I got peer-rejected from the whole class and could not cope. It was the first time I met so many other people my age while being on my own. Until then my siblings had buffered me, especially my sister. And then, when I first tried to interact without that buffer, my classmates thought I was strange. It made me develop symptoms along the line of avoidant personality disorder (AVPD); fear, self-blame and arising from that, depression.

I hit my lowest point, after over a year of being deeply depressed with suicidal thoughts, just after my 14th birthday. At that point, I didn’t feel any kind of connection to anybody, even my family. That’s what caused me to seek help. I was alarming myself with my apathy regarding other people, because I knew I should feel something and didn’t. I entered therapy and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicidal tendencies.

During four years of therapy, I mainly just spoke with my therapists, told them about me, my problems and memories. I never felt self-consciousness because they were doing their job and I was supposed to talk. I was institutionalized for a time and the teenagers I met there often said they had topics they would not talk about because of embarrassment. I didn’t understand that; it’s appeared strange to me. Now, as I’m older I understand them intellectually. Back then? No.

Even so, during therapy, I learned that even if emotionally I have no desire for social contacts, that doesn’t change that I need them to be healthy. Because the human being needs social connections, and I realized that includes me. I need contact with people regularly to feel I have a place in this world, to feel connected with it. So, I started developing an intellectual need for social contacts. I was essentially forcing myself because, in the end, it does make me feel better.

Being with my family can be horrendously exhausting and emotionally trying, but they’re a harbor where I can stop and recharge. Being with non-family people is like riding a roller coaster. When it’s awkward, because I didn’t catch a non-verbal clue or whatever, it leaves me feeling sick and horrible. When it goes well, and every year I get more competent in interacting with others, it leaves me riding a high, exhilarated. Because I’m doing well in doing something that doesn’t come naturally to me, something I had to learn, it means success. A heady feeling.

I hug my family now and I found people who I am happy to talk to me when they see me. I don’t get touch-starved or lost in my own head all that much anymore.

That doesn’t mean I don’t spend most of my time on my own. The two metaphors I used above kind of describe how I approach other people. Either I’m a ship, self-sufficient, but every now and then I can cross ways with other ships or islands before setting out again. Or, social interactions are like roller coasters, which I can choose to ride or not, depending on how I feel. I don’t have any close friends, I’m asexual and romance repulses me. I don’t feel a relation to gender, consider myself an Androgyne. So in many ways, I stand separate, see myself as separate.

Nevertheless, these interactions I force myself to do, to plan and I sometimes even enjoy while doing them. They make me feel grounded now, and happy. And that’s what counts.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Unsplash photo via Felipe Elioenay

Originally published: June 8, 2017
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