23 May 2019

Don't answer that

‘“You feel like you’re going to fall because you’re broken into a hundred different floating pieces,” she told me. “You’re all over the place. You’ve got no rooting. You don’t know how to be with yourself.” The back wall of my eyeballs finally gave way and tears poured out from the deepest well in the pit of my stomach. 
“I feel like nothing is holding me together anymore,” I told her.
“Of course you do,” she said with a new softness. “You’ve got no sense of self.”’
- Dolly Alderton, Everything I Know About Love

When I was 19, I told two friends that when I get on a train, I think everyone hates me. I think I’m in their space, I’m a negative presence, and that they’re thinking bad things about me. Me, this girl they’ve never met, surrounded by all the others strangers they’ve never met. They hate me.

The two friends looked at me, understandably to the average person, like I was mad. They laughed, thinking it was a joke but I was deadly serious. Around strangers, my anxiety manifests in the default of: I am hated until proven otherwise. I have to prove myself to be liked, let alone loved. And nobody can tell me differently. 

Being a teenager, this thought process wasn’t an issue. I was always around people I knew. I knew where I stood and didn’t need to make new friends. I was comfortable. It wasn’t until I started university that this damage crawled out the cracks like fucking flying ant day. 

I wrote about it here but in a nutshell, I'd lock myself in my university halls bedroom for days if I didn’t have lectures or seminars. I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t drink. I had an en-suite and boxes of cereal bars which I’d ration to see me though the hours, days, week. I didn’t need to leave. I could survive, but I couldn’t live. Deep, right.

One night, I sat by my bedroom door with my ear pressed against it, listening for my flatmates to leave on a night out. When I knew it was safe, I ran into the kitchen and took all my stuff to hide in my room. I wanted to remove my existence from their flat, from their space. In the end, someone broke into my room one day because my flatmates hadn’t seen me, and shouted at me for locking myself away. Which was nice, and exactly what I needed, many thanks…

When I started my new job just over a year ago, I had to go back on my antidepressants. I was so excited about my new job. It was the best move I ever made, and I’m still blissfully happy there. But everyone hated me. Every feeling I had from university came flooding back. I was a burden, they didn’t want me there. This wasn’t just anxiety, this was a deep-rooted feeling of self-consciousness. I was almost too self-aware. I felt every part of my existence and it screamed. I kept myself so quiet but my existence was loud and everyone despised it. I wouldn’t look people in the eye, I’d skip lunch, I wouldn’t go to the toilet. The stiller I was, the less disruption I would be. 

It. Sounds. Ridiculous. It’s not until I write this shit down that I realise how irrational these feelings were/are, but they’re there. Cemented into my wiring like tangled earphones. That don't even work. Just out of one ear, if I have it at an angle.

We can all make our own theories as to why this is something I'm lumped with. Let me offer you a lucky dip of emotional abuse, daddy issues and trauma. Ketchup’s on the side, here’s some cutlery, do tuck in. But we're not here to talk about that. I want to talk about how I think this self-hatred and desperate need for validation has affected how I see friendships. Buckle in. It gets miserable. 

I’ve never had a friendship group. In school, I flitted from group to group, quite happily. I was not bothered. In uni, I think we’ve established very well that I did not make many friends because I didn’t give myself the chance to. I made a couple of close friends through sheer luck or talking to them on Facebook first, but did I manage to squeeze my way into a WhatsApp group? No. 

The closest friends I’ve made have mostly come from online, shocking to precisely no one. And the close friends I have are CLOSE. It’s a 1:1 friendship, no one else involved. No mutuals. We know everything about each other, and I’m an open book. Embarrassing period chat? Give it to me. Mental health chat? I’m here. Stuck in the work loo because your poo won’t go down? Louise is here, step aside please. I am that friend. The friend people go to when something’s gone wrong, when they need help, when they’re feeling shit. I am… a sponge.

And I’m proud of that! I’m super happy that people feel they can come to me for support. Opening up is one of the most important things, after all. The few friends I’ve spoken to about this say, ‘That’s what’s so brilliant! You’re such an amazing friend and when we do come together, we’re a random group of people who get on so well thanks to knowing you!’ 

Which is great. But… then they go. They go and hang out with their WhatsApp group. Their fun friends. They go for dinner, on hen dos, for drinks. They’re invited to shindigs and have in-jokes. And I’m staring at them like Ed Miliband through that window wanting all of that. I want to chat about TV and food and the weather and this stupid video I found on Twitter. I don't want to be a one stop trauma shop, but that's exactly how I've presented myself because I think that's how I prove to... who, them, me, does it matter... that I'm a good person. By fixing things.

Do I go to friends when I need to offload? Sometimes, but rarely. I have THE INTERNET, duh, my own swirling head, and the void of Twitter and Instagram for those light-hearted breakdowns that I never take seriously and delete when someone dares to ask if I'm ok. Ha ha ha. Please don’t mention it when you see me in real life. 

Of course, I’m a hypocrite. When I do end up in a WhatsApp group I get overwhelmed, and when I do get invited to something, my first thought is, ‘I hope I’m busy.’ But it’s not because I don’t like the people, or don’t want to make the effort, or won’t have fun. I just don’t think I’m wanted, I think I’m included out of pity. Woe is me, let me whip out the tiny violin. And I know that I’ll spend the whole time at whatever thing thinking just that, and end up anxious. When people are together and fine and having fun, I have no purpose. I have nothing to fix. So I back out. Damage limitation. Isn’t that easier? 

It’s lonely. I’m really, really lonely. I have friends, I have family, I have Ryan. But I am lonely.  I want someone to ask how I am, like really am. I want a group of friends to throw me a party, to surprise me, to be a safety blanket. To all notice if I’m miserable and do things together to help. I have people to go to, I know your ‘DMs are always open’, but God forbid I make the first move. What a burden, what a letdown. 

I’m the strong one, right? If I go down, everyone goes down. I have to be here for this friend and that friend, and that family member and those colleagues. I never have to be here… for me.

Being an emotional sponge is exhausting. I don’t think that’s news to anyone. But I’m slowly realising the obvious that I have no idea how to process my own emotions. I have no idea how to separate myself and my feelings from those of others. If everyone around me is stressed, I’m stressed. You’re sad? I’m sad. You’re lost, I have to fix things. Your problem becomes my problem, but Lord knows where my own problems are. Location disabled. And if I do feel something by myself, shut it down. SOS. Code red. Alert the elders. 

I can’t look at my face when it’s not in passport mode. I have never once looked at myself crying. Is that weird? If I’m in the bathroom and talking to Ryan, I won’t look in the mirror. Like I can’t acknowledge my own existence as a living, breathing human being. I find the thought horrifying, especially of me looking at myself crying. But why? 

Every feeling I have is intense. Erratic. Hysterical. I either don’t find something funny at all or I find it stomach-achingly hilarious. I’m totally cool with something or I’m an anxious wreck. I go from chill to stressed in a nanosecond. When I'm angry, I'm furious. And if I’m crying, something is really, really bad. 

I don't know how to feel something by myself. I live my life absorbing others’ emotions instead and I just don’t know how to be a good friend without doing that. I have to. That’s being a good friend, isn’t it? Don’t answer that. My default is: bad friend. My default is: do everything I can to make things better. But for who? No really, don’t answer that. 

I need to be the best friend anyone has had. I won’t be liked if I’m not being the best. I can’t just ‘be’ and be liked. Impossible. What worth do I have if I'm not being there for everyone else? Please, do not answer that.

Obviously I feel like a whiny, narcissistic, white privileged wet lettuce after writing all this, and I don’t have a cute bow to wrap this up with conclusions and quotes for your Instagram. But I’m feeling things, and I’m sad, and I’m chucking this into the ether instead of at a therapist. 

Call it BPD, call it codependency, call it being an empath. Just call it. Call me. 

Anyway, how are you?

‘She was telling me to stop making crap jokes. She was telling me that this was a room where I didn’t have to labour over every word and gesture and anecdote to accommodate her in the hope the she would like me. This woman with no sense of self, no self-regard, no self-esteem - a shapeshifting, people-pleasing presence; a tangled knot of anxiety - was being given permission to just be.’ - Dolly Alderton, Everything I Know About Love


  1. I've never related to ANYTHING as much as I've related to this. I'm not one with words, but thank you so much for sharing because I thought I was alone. I've never been able to go anywhere since I was a teenager without thinking one single person doesn't care I'm near them.. which is why I stuck with the same supermarket job for 10 years - It took a good 2 years to open up. I drive to the countryside a lot to get away from people, but you've made me realise it's to get out of people's way. It's such a horrible feeling. You're not alone. Thank you.

  2. It gets better. I know that because huge chunks of this resonate MASSIVELY, but they're not the person I am anymore. I can't remember how or why it changed, but it did. Medication? A lot of time by myself? Hella journalling? Writing it down is an excellent place to start. xx