RECOVERY

Slipping Off the Deep End

Social Isolationism can make you crazy.

man with ears and nose mask
Photo by michael schaffler on Unsplash

The world we live in is imperfect at best, and a cataclysmic train ride to hell at worst. Just when you think things are starting to go your way, something happens to bring your life crashing down around your feet in broken bits of whatever’s left when your expectation doesn’t match your outcome.

And if you want a fast track to crazy, just go into social isolation for a few months.

I’m not a social butterfly. I never have been, thank God. I love my own company and can go without other people for long periods of time. But not forever.

Humans aren’t designed to live their lives alone. We need connections.

When the normal is snatched away from you, the “new normal” takes its place. NOT the one everyone is predicting, but the real one. The crazy one.

At first everyone was content with taking care of things that needed to be taken care of. I did a little of that. Cleaned up some stuff, threw away some stuff, boxed up some stuff, gave away some stuff. I did home repairs. Cleaned out a shed. I burned a lot of things when we were able to (there was a burn ban in our state for a while).

I burned some things that didn’t need to be burned just because I like destroying things sometimes.

After a while, I ran out of things to do.

I ran out of things to write about to, or I couldn’t think of much. My mind seemed a bit blank.

A blank mind is a dangerous thing.

Granted, it could be said there’s a little insanity in each one of us. Some more than others. But when you take a person away from everything that is “normal” and into forced isolation, the potential for crazy dramatically increases.

Thoughts creep in. Suspicious, paranoid thoughts.

You have nothing else to do anyway, so may as well entertain those thoughts for a while. Maybe check into them, see if you can validate them in some way. Maybe by using social media, the devil’s playground.

Sleep is an odd thing as well. If you aren’t parented by your job on when to sleep and when to get up, there’s no reason for a regular schedule. You can even do your cyber stalking in the middle of the night if you want to.

You’d be surprised how fast the crazy sets in.

Psychology Today calls solitary confinement torture. It leads to all kinds of symptoms, including anxiety and paranoia. It may seem extreme to compare our bout of social isolationism to solitary confinement, but I don’t think it is. It would be especially daunting to someone who already has issues with trauma, loss, and anxiety.

You know, people like me.

Being socially isolated causes loneliness and depression also. We’re able to get out more now, and that’s a huge relief, but there are some people who are never able to get out much.

A large percentage of our population are shut ins. We have the elderly, and the mentally and physically disabled. People in hospitals, hospice, and nursing homes.

Maybe your mother, father, or grandparents.

People who are too poor to afford to go anywhere.

Going a little crazy for a bit has helped me see things from more than one perspective, and I’m grateful for it.

I see that I need to reach out to people more and stop doing without people for long periods of time, even when I’m not forced to.

I also reached out to my ex-husband and asked for his forgiveness. Not because I crashed and burned our relationship. That was him. It was more because I could see the other side of the fence, and how he had to live with me choosing to give my attention to all kinds of things, and not realizing he needed more from me.

I kind of see why his thoughts went all haywire. When you feel isolated, you’ll do stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily do.  

Good comes from everything if you know where to look.

Even slipping off the deep end.  

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ENCOURAGEMENT, RECOVERY

The Coat I Used To Wear

My Experience With Social Anxiety Disorder

Person wearing a coat holding a leaf in front of his or her face.
Social Anxiety Disorder is bigger than the accusations people throw at you.

I forgot about the coat I used to wear. I was brushing my teeth one morning when the memories came rushing back. I was in eighth grade, and it was too hot for a coat.

I wore it anyway, because I needed protection.

I felt awkward inside, embarrassed, like at any minute people (specifically, my friends) would find out something about me and start laughing. Like the fact that my breasts were under-developed, or maybe my clothes weren’t keeping up with the latest trends.

That awkwardness is the same reason I took my hair down out of the beautiful bun my Mama spent an hour creating for me one morning, and why I didn’t give out the class presents she and I both stayed up late at night to work on. I always felt like my contributions were somehow not “enough,” and someone might point that out.

I wanted to hide so no one could see my flaws.

Somehow I must have gotten it into my head that I needed to be perfect. I wanted to be like everyone else, or at least not stand out as something other than what they were! I was smart, and kids made fun of me for it. I heard things like “teacher’s pet” and other descriptive names that didn’t sound the way I saw myself.

Kids will be kids.

I wasn’t bullied, at least I don’t remember it that way. These kids were my friends. But it was hard for me to put my feelings into sentences. I didn’t know how to blend into the crowd, and I was afraid to just be myself.

My homemade dresses were a half-inch longer than the other girls’ dresses, and I thought that mattered. I believed my hair made me look too different to be accepted. There wasn’t much about me that I was comfortable with, and THAT was the real problem. I didn’t want to be noticed–to be set apart for any reason.

So I wore the coat.

Photo by Esther Driehaus on Unsplash

I also knew that I was getting to “that age.” I was actually LATE getting to it. Other girls would ask me all the time, “Did you start yet?” and I hadn’t, but knew I would soon, and what if there was blood on me and someone saw it?

Protection. But I forgot.

So when Mikey wore his leather jacket in the summer, it never crossed my mind. I didn’t remember the girl who was so awkward–so socially impaired and afraid that I needed something to cover me so I’d feel better.

I was the one person who should’ve understood, and I didn’t. He wore it everywhere, and it was hot, and it made me angry. He didn’t just wear a coat though. He wore a knit cap too.

He needed protection even more than I did.

I passed down generations of fear to my child, just like it was passed to me. I could have stopped the cycle, but I didn’t recognize the patterns. The reality was right there in front of me, and I missed it. I failed him. Now that leather jacket hangs in the closet as a reminder of the protection that I didn’t give. He doesn’t need it anymore, but I always will.

Social Anxiety is a very real and crippling thing.

It can cause you to make choices that you ordinarily wouldn’t. The toughest person in the world might be too afraid to go into a grocery store and talk to a cashier for fear of embarrassing himself. That is a classic, identifiable symptom of the disorder.

I didn’t know. I finally did some research when I started to notice patterns in my life and in my family of things we were failing to do that most people took for granted. Some of us have pretty much beat it. Many others never will.

Shame and Withdrawal

I forgot about the coat, but I never forgot that I didn’t take my ACT test for college because I was afraid that I wouldn’t know where to sharpen my pencils. There’s a lot of shame that goes along with the crippling fear.

People who don’t understand (which is most of the general population including people inflicted with the social anxiety themselves) hurl judgment at you, like, “Why doesn’t the boy get a job like everybody else?” and other perfectly reasonable questions that don’t have reasonable answers from someone who couldn’t even ask where to sharpen her pencils.

The Catalyst for Change

I don’t have the solution, but I know this is a real thing. I’ve watched many members of my family struggle with it through the years. The turning point for me was knowing I didn’t take that test, and I had to lie to Mama for the first time in my life. I couldn’t find a way to just skirt the truth.

I looked at what my future would be like if I kept denying myself opportunities because I was afraid. I decided I was more afraid to get to the end of my life having not done all the things than to go ahead and try.

Photo by Andrew Kondrakov on Unsplash

I can’t say that the anxiety doesn’t still win a battle or two, but I know it will never win the war. I don’t consider this courage–just the other side of fear. They call it “doing it scared.” To me it’s like closing your eyes and backing up. Whatever happens, happens.

I can’t go back and change anything–not my past as a child nor my past with my child. I can only go forward and try to do better. I know that I will be watching more closely to see if someone is needing protection. Hopefully I will be able to share my story with them and maybe give them some hope that it doesn’t always have to be this way.

As for my son, I take comfort in the fact that he lived his life on his own terms, even though he was afraid. He was a writer (something else I passed down), and I found an accurate description of his struggle in one of his notebooks.

First, a whole page of the words “I’m sorry….I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”, as if apologizing for all the ways he thought he didn’t measure up. Then he wrote the best description of himself that anyone ever could. Whether the world finds it appropriate or not, in the end, we put it on his headstone.

“I’m not sorry, I’m Mikey.”

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