If you’re anything like me, than you have had a handful of friendships take a sudden left turn after going really well. The beginning is almost always the same – an immediate, spark-like connection. We have a lot in common emotionally, even if our backgrounds are different. It feels easy to talk about anything, and like we’ve known each other our whole lives.
I used to believe that these connections were brought into my path by God, but now, I know it’s not that simple. One friendship ended after she moved away suddenly without telling me, while another friend who moved changed all her contact information and I had no way to contact her. I’ve had friends suddenly become emotional abusive, cuss me out, or ghost me for no apparent reason. Every time it happens, I tell myself, “Never again,” and build up my walls by another brick. At the same time, though, I’m always ready to be vulnerable and listen to my “gut.” However, after this past weekend, I’m just really tired.
This most recent friendship probably took the quickest turn I’ve experienced, which makes it all the more jarring. I was left gasping, shaking, bewildered, and outraged. I’ve thrown up once every night since. After talking to others about the situation, a mix of those who know and don’t know the person, I know that it wasn’t my fault. Still, I find that I blame myself for taking yet another chance on a connection that had all the signs of a disaster just biding its time. I keep asking God, “Why, why, why.” Why do these people keep crossing my path?
I don’t have a lot of answers or “lessons.” The one thing that all these experiences have taught me though, is that good friendships don’t always begin with a spark. If my track record is any indication, if they do, they’re destined to explode. The friendships that are more likely to succeed are the ones that take work. A lot of awkward silences. A lot of me asking myself, “Do I keep trying?” I’m someone who likes to rush into deep, personal conversations, but most people aren’t, so I’ve learned to be patient. Somewhat. It’s a work in progress.
At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.
The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.
Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.
Not too much of a stretch, right?
It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.
That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.
During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.
I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.
So we started our own small group. I talked about it in a past post, and now we actually did it. It wasn’t that hard to outline what we wanted. I have more “must’s,” than Chris, of course, but we both wanted the group to be a community that wasn’t about a church. It wouldn’t be based around all going to the same church, or going to church at all. We both wanted there to be openness and honesty. We didn’t want to be the “leaders,” and always responsible for content. I made a Meetup. com profile, and created an event. It didn’t take long for lots of people to “join.”
I knew right away that most of the people joining wouldn’t actually be in the group. I sent out an email that explained again that the group wasn’t just for socializing, and that we really wanted people who were committed to each other. I only got a few emails back. We ended up meeting with three people, and they were all a great fit. I also posted on Craigslist, and within 20 minutes, got an email from a couple who wanted to join.
We have our first official meeting on Friday, though we’ll just be having dinner, doing some ice-breakers, and talking about what we’re going to be studying. “The Bible” and how we read it comes first, and then prayer, and then some other essential faith tenet. I think sticking to the basics gives us a lot of breathing room and doesn’t lock us into something too narrow.
Chris and I feel really good about all this. The time was right, and God really showed up.
My sexuality goes through phases. Since acknowledging that I was bisexual about five years ago or so, I’ve noticed that I go through times when I feel more into women than men. That usually happens when I don’t feel as close emotionally to Chris, so I don’t explore it at all or look at it as anything more than just a passing thing. My interest is also always on a celebrity or other person who I don’t actually know, so there’s never any temptation to act on anything.
Lately though, the “gay phase” has lasted longer than usual. I’ve been confused by it. Chris and I have been very emotionally close lately, we’ve been through pretty intense counseling, worked very intentionally on communication, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in the romantic area of my life. What’s the deal?
Yesterday, as I was watching interviews with my latest celebrity obsession, I realized that none of my thoughts were sexual. I was honestly just daydreaming about hanging out, having tea with this person, being gal pals. Okay…so this really doesn’t have anything to do with being bisexual. This is something else.
Studies have shown women are “hard-wired” for friendship. When women become stressed, their instinct is to seek out other women because of biological factors like hormones and oxytocin. They don’t seek out men because men’s brains handle stress differently. Harvard Medical School even showed that women with a close group of female friends develop less physical impairments as they get older. Not having friends is bad for your health, and can have a similar effect on the body as smoking.
*None of this is to say that men don’t need friendships. The studies are also obviously pretty black-and-white in terms of gender, which gender is not, but I think the point is true: humans need friendships. I’m just especially interested in the girl-girl dynamic, because I’m cis, and that’s what I know and experience.*
None of this is surprising to me. When I was in counseling and struggling with my sexuality, one of my counselors suggested it was just because I didn’t have girl friends, so I had started seeing them like I did boys, as unfamiliar, and that triggered my brain to believe it was a sexual thing. I know that wasn’t what it was, but I’m sure it was part of it. I’ve always been more interested in girls than boys; most of my crushes have been girls. I’m sure some of it was sexual, and some of it was just wanting that close friendship.
I think that need for female energy and company has become especially strong because I’m pretty isolated here. I work from home. I’m building friendships from scratch. I have one close girl friend here, but one person can’t be everything, and I have a lot of close girl friends who are further away who I miss a lot. The last few attempts I’ve made to make more friends have not been successful. I think I’m discouraged. So I turn to interviews and TV and movies and music to hear female voices that I like, watch interesting women and imagine they’re talking to me. It sounds really pathetic when I write it out, but it hasn’t been a conscious thing, so there’s not much I can do about it.
Eh. This was a really personal post, and maybe no one else feels this way, but I wanted to put it out there, mostly to process. Thanks for reading.
I recently read an open letter a husband had written to his wife, who had depression. It felt like he was describing my life, and the fears that I know Chris has. He talked about how inexperienced he had been being with someone with serious depression, how paralyzed and helpless he felt, and frustrated that he couldn’t fix anything. He also wrote how his wife told him that the main reason she didn’t go through with suicide was because she knew how much it would hurt him.
I’ve definitely been there.
Our relationship has never been easy. Chris has had to see me have multiple breakdowns, including at least two where I lost the ability to speak or move. I literally traced words on his arm when he asked if he should take me to the hospital. I had a self-harm relapse. And that was just in the first year of knowing each other.
Like the woman in that letter, I’m in a good place now. I haven’t had suicidal thoughts in a long time. Still, mental illness is always there, its shadow always peeking into our life. There will be days when it comes closer. Loving Chris motivates me to do more to keep it at bay, to anticipate it better. But the thing that gives me the most confidence is that I know I’m not fighting alone.
It’s been a busy three months (give or take). We’ve been on a lot of walks, I’ve taken a lot of pictures of trees, and I’ve packed in a lot of life work: getting medications, seeing doctors, and getting an Oregon driver’s license. We’ve been to Portland and Lincoln City. I started growing parsley, which is now in full bloom and edible. Baxter’s skin is no longer super dry, and he loves having his own room to be super loud in. Chris loves his job, he feels he’s doing important work, and is always in a good mood when he comes home.
It’s nice to fall into a routine. We shop at Fred Meyer, I eat frozen cherries most nights to help me sleep, we go for longer walks on the weekends, and my work load has been pretty light. That means more time for working on my novel, painting, reading, and keeping the house organized. It also means more time for naps, which I still take probably too often, but I’m learning to give myself a break from fretting over that. The fact that my medication changed from caps to tablets has kind of helped with that, because I have to take one pill three times a day, so I have to be awake at certain times to take it. That schedule also helps keep me asleep at night, too, which is weird.
In terms of mental health, it’s been a relatively smooth transition. The only reoccurring blip has been feeling really isolated and kind of at a loss about how to make friends. Chris has been scouting out churches, looking specifically for ones with young people and groups, but I’m still not really interested in going to church. I would definitely join a group though, that just hasn’t happened yet. I tried going on Tinder to look for friends, and chatted with a few people, but after a few messages, that just fizzled out. I recently tried Bumble, which has a better friend-finding feature, and found a person who I’m hanging out with soon. Since I’m just a naturally intense person, I have to keep myself from thinking, “This is my new best friend! Kindred spirit! We’re going to do everything together!”
Being away from everyone I’ve ever known has forced me to get better at communicating with people and work on old friendships. It’s also made me more appreciate of friendships in different stages, and not neglect someone just because we’re not as close as we used to be, or if there are certain things we don’t talk about. I guess distance does make the heart grow fonder.
Things I Like About Salem:
Having a huge park close by
Having basically every restaurant close by
Fred Meyer and their incredible organic/natural options
So much green
Being closer to Erin (and seeing her twice already since we moved!)
New Things I’ve Baked/Cooked:
Quinoa salmon bowl
Chicken enchilada bowl
Butterscotch + dark chocolate oatmeal cookies w/ brown butter
I’ve only had one psychiatrist since I was diagnosed with depression at 16. Last week, I had to say goodbye to her.
It was weird. We just talked about how many refills she should give me, so I could have enough meds to last till I found a new psychiatrist in Oregon, and she prescribed a separate anti-anxiety in case I got panicky during the whole packing/moving/adjusting deal.
And then I stood in the doorway and said, “So…thanks for like…almost ten years? A lot has happened.”
And I do mean a lot. After filling out the same questions every visit (“Rank this statement on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most true”), I would take off my shoes and stand on a scale to be weighed, and then get my blood pressure taken. Then it was into the office at the end of the hall to spill out my guts and decide what to do with my dosage. I went through my rough high school years, my first true heartbreak, experimenting with meds that made me sick every morning and then meds that made me feel like I was having a heart attack. We went from the lowest dose to the highest dose of at least one medication out of the seven I’ve tried. We went through my first year of college where I had to see her every two weeks because I had formed a suicide plan, followed by broken-up college years where I met and married Chris, took a year off to develop agoraphobia, and then went back to graduate. I saw four counselors, co-led a youth group, became a charismatic Christian who saw demons at the end of my bed, and then learned about sleep paralysis and fear-induced hallucinations. I left the church, but not my faith. I lost some friends of the road and made some friends of the heart.
I didn’t want this post to be all “me me me me me,” but it kind of bcame that. My apologies. My point is that while all these things were happening, my psychiatrist was sitting across from me, offering me tissues when I cried, laughing at my jokes, listening, and asking questions. I’ve seen her with long hair, short hair, glasses, and contacts. She’s had a baby in the time I’ve been seeing her. She has a bookcase in her office with stuffed animals, like the purple octopus, and quirky little figurines that look like they’re from Anime. She always wore black or gray. She seems shorter than me, but she’s probably the same height.
I had no idea how to say goodbye. I still don’t. Should I have asked to hug her? Shake her hand? Psychiatrists are in a very weird spot, because they aren’t counselors, who can’t prescribe medications, but it’s not like my psych didn’t know anything that my counselors did. She was basically the same as a counselor, just in shorter sessions. There’s a layer of professionalism there that’s absent with counselors, maybe because (to quote Dana Scully) she’s a medical doctor? I don’t know. It’s just weird that one of the longest relationships of my life was with someone who isn’t my friend, but who knows more than most of them do.
It’s kind of jolting to realize when you’re wrong about something. And not just like one thing, but “something” as in a whole pattern of behavior. It’s even more disturbing to realize that the pattern probably cost you a few relationships and a whole lot of time wasted.
Early in college, there was a weird situation with some friends and a bunch of people got hurt and things got complicated, and it just wasn’t pretty. For years, I was convinced I hadn’t done very much wrong, or that I had good intentions, or whatever, but within the last two years, being given a lot of space from the situation, I realized I was totally wrong.
I was controlling, manipulative, and judgmental. I spent a lot of energy involving myself in things that were none of my damn business. I was a bad friend and just all-around, not a great person. Even worse, I actually believed that what I was doing and thinking was right and that God had led me to it. Sure, I acknowledged some imperfections, I wasn’t that delusional, but I always made excuses for myself:
“I just care too much.”
“It’s coming from a good place.”
“I’m a good person for knowing when I’m wrong about things.”
“I get so obsessed because of the anxiety/depression.”
Note to the world: having depression or anxiety does not excuse you from being a bad friend or a bad person. It can explain some of it, i.e. with the level of anxiety I had, it was very difficult to not freak out about things I saw as dangerous behavior in friends, but it does not excuse the fact that I became very judgmental or reacted poorly. My mental illness does not control me or how I handle my relationships or hard situations.
It’s difficult to know what to do after you realize you screwed up, and screwed up bad. Is there any way to come back from that, with the person involved? Or is it one of those things you just have to let go of and never really resolve? I’m not good with non-resolutions. I’ve already had one major relationship in my life that ended pretty strangely and the lack of concrete resolution still haunts me. But then I stop and think about it, and realize this is all still about me, isn’t it? How I feel and how I want to feel better about myself by being apologetic and humble. Ultimately, it seems like it’s about power and control, I don’t like feeling like someone else has some kind of power over me. By getting a resolution, I am claiming control over the situation, and if I don’t get it, it drives me crazy. By saying “I was wrong” to someone, I’m still the one in control. That’s not really a great motivation for trying to reconnect with someone.
So…what is a good motivation? What should I be striving for? And even thinking that makes all this still about control! By not knowing, I feel powerless. Maybe I just need to chill. Stop questioning myself so much. I don’t know though. By not questioning myself, I managed to go years believing I was totally in the right when I was really totally in the wrong. This is all very complicated and confusing.