To Friend, Or Not To Friend, That Is The Question

Friends. Friends, friends, friends, friends. It’s always been a touchy subject for me.

In junior high I had one friend who made friends with an older group and so I integrated myself into their group.

Well, it was much less of an integration and more like a . . . hmm. More like this:

I didn’t talk much to them, they didn’t talk much to me, but I followed them around because the idea of standing against the wall alone felt too vulnerable. Eventually I met a group of people I jived with and who didn’t bring tasers to school and we were all socially awkward together. Some of those friendships have stood the test of time, and one in particular has got me thinking about the nature of said relationships.

I have been friends with this person for many years (12?) and while I endured college and psychosis, she bumped coke and crashed cars. Granted, I was the one who introduced marijuana to her in high school, but I had enough sense to know when enough was enough. She obviously didn’t.

Psychosis and anxiety played a part, I guess. Hard to enjoy marijuana when every hit increases the two things you’re trying to escape.

She’s not quite an addict. The coke stopped when she had her kid. Now that her and her “baby daddy” (dear Christ I hate using that phrase) have split, and he takes the kid some weekends, she’s back to hanging with losers. For a while I struggled too, dipping back into Marijuana even though it caused me to end up in the E.R and the psych hospital, and back into heavy drinking even though I’d wake up crying, depressed, ready to end my life. Now that I’m more settled in my decision to stay off medication, now that I’ve got more of a healthy routine down, now that I’ve recovered from my abrupt break-up, I’m ready to move on with life. And for some reason I felt myself being called back to my old friendship.

So I’ve been hanging out with her for a few months, and it’s been fun, we have a lot of memories together and our personalities are similar. But I’m multiple people: I’m a peer worker by day (and overnight sometimes), I go to trainings and enjoy doing wholesome things with my friends/coworkers who happen to be twice my age (I’m 23). I enjoy being able to have an intelligent conversation and still find humor in so many things. And by night I’d run around the streets with her, driving places, drinking, smoking, “enjoying my twenties”.

I’m over it. That got so old so fucking quick ya’ll. Am I an old person in a young person’s body or something?

What really broke the camels back, or whatever the idiom is, punched the camel, killed the camel, whatever– wow, all three of those are horrible. What’s really made this decision for me (that’s better) was last weekend. As we wandered downtown, some people were catcalling, and while I tend to have a disgusted attitude about this, she feeds into it. The attention she receives from men–she needs it to survive. I believe it’s an insecurity thing, but having a deep conversation with her is literally impossible.

So, she went back to the group and got one dudes number. We ended up passing them one last time, where she decided to sit on the sidewalk and make a scene, smoke some weed on the street corner. Of course the group migrates over to us and while one loser is trying to hit on me, the other loser doesn’t need to do much to get her attention. They decide they want to eat at a restaurant with us, and while I’m not opposed to “making friends”, I am opposed to being surrounded by fucking morons.

Both are in their thirties and have children, young children. Why didn’t I leave? I’m not the type of person to leave a “friend” with two older men we know nothing about. Especially since she was still reeling from the molly and rave of the night before. She didn’t have a car, and I didn’t trust either of them to get her home safely. And so I stayed. I endured. I threw a lot of shade her direction masked by humor, which got a few laughs at the table. Fine. I can be an entertainer.

At the end of the night (2:50am) they took off, after one of them smacking her ass, and I took her home. Although this encounter is relatively mild (besides the constant being hit on) the reason it struck a nerve with me is because this has happened once before with her and me. In fact, my dumb 16 or 17 year old high self got in the car with two older guys (maybe early twenties? or younger. Adults.) that she said were going to take us for a ride. She lied to me. Her plan was to lose her virginity to one of them because she “couldn’t graduate high school without having lost her virginity”, because that’s something colleges and jobs care about, whether you fucked some loser or not.

Put that on your fucking resume. Literally. Your fucking resume.

They took us somewhere I didn’t recognize, and that’s when I got angry. No one would tell me where we were. I got out the car when we stopped and was pissed. She got busy with the dude in the car. The other guy, his friend, tried getting me to kiss him, to touch him, e.t.c, and I had to elbow him in the chest to the ground to get him off me. I was very athletic, strong, and wasn’t in the mood for his fucking shit. He stopped after that. We waited. They took us back to the mall. I called my mom asking her to pick us up, and called my friend a whore. We didn’t talk for a while.

I realize I’ve held onto this friendship because I’m scared of being thrown to the sharks, of having to make new friends. I’ve never been good at it. Ever. But by being around the group I have been lately, I realize what true compassion and kindness and friendship is. I never experienced it before, really. I now realize we’re at different points in our lives. We’ve both had setbacks, and we both are struggling to get on our feet. The difference is I would like to balance and she prefers the wobble.

I hope it doesn’t take her son being taken away from her for her to get the fucking picture. Because I’m done. And I’m probably the only friend she had who would actually stick their neck out for her.

Not quite sure how to start this conversation with her.

Tell ’em

What are some of the strangest reactions you’ve had when you’ve told someone your mental health story?

Do you tell people your story? I know plenty who do not, and for good reason: we’re not exactly the most understood people out there.

But see, I like shocking people. I like making them uncomfortable, watching them squirm. And so I often tell my story to strangers, especially if they approach me on the street trying to hit on me. How do I do it? Well, here’s the way it usually goes.

“Hi, I’m Dave, can I ask your name?”

“Hi Dave, I’m Alishia, nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too. What are you up to today? Any plans for tonight?”

“No real plans, just some relaxation. It’s my day off today.”

“Oh yeah? Where do you work?”

*Insert Cheshire Cat smile in my head*

“I work at a peer respite house.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“Well, you see we support people who are apart of the county mental health system.”

“That sounds nice. Did you go to school for that?”

“You have to have lived mental health experiences. We do get trained, but we also have to have lived with some mental health challenges ourselves.”

And if that doesn’t make them uncomfortable, if they don’t glance away or squirm or do any of the body language symbols that means I’ve got them by the neck I mention my psychosis. That usually gets them.

What are the benefits and disadvantages to doing this? I don’t see many disadvantages. I of course wouldn’t do this in a professional setting were I applying for some big time job that isn’t mental health related, I’m aware most people have some serious misconceptions of who someone with mental health issues is. But I do it to people I meet or people I’m meeting because I’m not someone who sees my mental health as a disadvantage or something to hide. I see it as something to embrace, something to be fully, wholly comfortable with.

I don’t run down the street screaming I’m crazy, even if that’s what it sounds like. But if the topic comes up in conversation, I casually mention my struggles, and if people struggle with accepting them, that’s not really my problem.

How did I become comfortable with this? I wasn’t in high school. I didn’t like telling people I had anxiety around people because I thought it was a weakness and I didn’t want to expose my weakness for people to play target practice with. I didn’t start getting comfortable until I turned twenty and was forced to tell my boss at the amusement park I was working at so that I could get accommodations. The way he responded was very understanding, and I regret leaving that job without really giving any proper notice.

Sometimes all it takes is one moment in time.

Sometimes all it takes is a little risk.

People will react badly. And if you already know that, you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else. And that’s today’s Mental Truth.

Urgent Update: Life Is Still Shit . . . But, At Least I’m Breathing

Update: My chicken meter is still very high; I have yet to contact the Accessibility Services Center.

But it’s okay.

It’s not okay, but I’ll pretend it’s okay.

As most of you know I’ve been working at a Peer Respite House since Mid June. It was my fourth job in a six month stretch of me realizing I cannot function in the working world. So far I have yet to prove this theory wrong. Work is stressful, and not in the way you’d think.

You’d think people hearing voices and feeling immediately suicidal and wanting to take all their pills or hurt themselves in other ways would be stressful. You’d think hearing stories of someone ending their life upstairs in one of the closets once and not being found for a few hours would stress me out even more. You’d think knowing things could go from perfectly fine to the ultimate pile of shit in less than a tenth of a second would stress me out.

But you want to know what really stresses me out?

The phone calls.

businessman looking and screaming at phone

You want to know what else?

Conducting Interviews.

Can you guess the next thing?

General conversation.

And last but not least?

Connection. Connection. Connection. Something that’s been absent all my life.

If someone is hearing voices, if someone is feeling anxious, those are topics we can talk about. If someone is upset about housing, that is something we can talk about. If someone says “hey” and then stares, I have no idea what they want from me. In fact, I’m more inclined to smile, say hello, and walk on past.

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It’s not me being absent . . . well it kind of is, but it’s also me not knowing what to do next. It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend’s family that I learned (yes, I had to LEARN, at 19 years old to do this) when someone says “hello, how are you?” it’s preferred that you also say “I’m doing good (bad, okay, e.t.c), how are you?”

Unfortunately, at the 2 year mark, that’s about as far as I can get in a conversation with them. It’s better than nothing though, right?

No, no it’s not.

Anyway, always ask “how are you” back. It keeps you looking like 1) you’re human and 2) you know how to have a conversation. Obviously for me it’s a complete ruse because I’m sure I poofed into existence out of blackhole stardust and I have no clue how to hold a conversation.

At 16 I learned how to make eye contact for the first time in my life. It took a year of observing correct technique from my peers, how they interacted with each other and how they interacted with the teachers, and I finally was able to sustain it for more than one second so I too could look normal.

“Normal”.

I picked up a job at this Respite house not to “get through school” like I feel the staff fucking thinks, but so I could find people like me and hopefully gain some social skills. Because my social ineptitude is solely related to my social anxiety and my social anxiety is solely related to low confidence. . .

Right?

That’s what I was told. I have trouble in conversations because my amygdala hijacks the rest of my brain.

R . . . right?

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I’m questioning this diagnosis as of now. Because my confidence is no longer an issue. I’ve worked hard on it for many years. Yet my anxiety seems to have sky rocketed. And it seems, even in situations where my anxiety is low, my social skills are, well, not there.

I was used to not feeling connected to people outside of the world of mental health. But now that I see I struggle even to communicate with people who are “like me”, I took a step back and did what I do best: find patterns. And for the last month and a half I’ve basically come up with the following theory:

What if my anxiety is a direct result of my brain not understanding the world around it? What if my social anxiety presents itself not because I’m scared of someone judging what I say, but I’m scared of them judging how I say it: that is, interrupting–which I do all the time accidentally because I’m not sure if I’m supposed to talk or not. Through observation, I’ve learned over the years that if there is a break in conversation, you should be free to speak . . . but if that break is too long, it becomes weird to speak because mentally everyone has already moved on. That being said, if you do decide to talk in the break, for the love of God stay on topic, don’t just jump to something no one was talking about. That makes you look fucking weird apparently.

'Jeffrey, you're going off-topic again.'

What if my anxiety is related to the fact that I know damn well when I try to speak, I can’t express myself properly. There are so many words rushing around my head that they crash into each other and I can’t say what I need to. So I either gather everything I’m supposed to say before hand and spew it out my mouth at the speed of light before it gets screwed up, or I speak very slowly and stutter over my words.

Of course the more comfortable I am around someone, the less this happens, which indicates anxiety plays a part. But it’s not the whole story because it happens regardless of where I am or who I am with.

What if there’s a reason I feel so lost and confused in conversations? What if there’s a reason I can’t understand things verbally and rather need them written or drawn besides me being a “visual learner”?

What if there’s a reason I was reading and writing in kindergarten, but not speaking?

What if there’s a reason I can’t leave the house without someone?

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I was a master at this for a long while.

What if there’s a reason I still cry at the slightest indication of criticism or being told to “stop”.

What if there’s a neurological reason for my social anxiety besides the idea of feeling “judged”?

What if there’s a reason I’m an observer, a mimicker, someone who knows how to smile and repeat phrases like a robot to people so that I appear that I know what I’m doing? 

How I can’t keep track of a conversation if it’s more than just me and one other person.

How, if I’m talking to someone, one little noise (a crack, a bang, a voice, laughter, several voices, e.t.c) will force me to fall silent until it passes because I can’t think with noise going on. Hence one of my reasons I hate talking on the phone besides also hating people listening to me.

How finger snapping, a mumble from a television in the living room or dim/bright light or snoring can get my blood boiling and possibly send me into a rage if I’m already on edge.

How I can’t say anyone’s name to their face. I don’t even say my own name. I would give some examples to prove my point, but honestly it’s one thing I’m extremely embarrassed about.

shoesWhat if there’s something from the time that therapist/counselor told my parents in elementary school that I was “shy” and “I’ll grow out of it”, to all the interest I rarely showed in my peers or their interests, to the days I spent riding around making lists of every brand of car I saw,  drawing their emblem symbol next to the name, and illustrating how their front, sides, and backs looked until, at 9, I could recite the make, model, and year of a car from looking at it. I still can.

I still have my toy car collection by the way, I treasure it.

How, when I became obsessed with psychology, I listed every psychoactive medication, their generic and chemical names, the class of drug they were, and what they were typically and atypically administered for, until I was 15 and reciting it to my high school teachers and doctors in the hospital.

You know when you get a gut feeling about something and you just know something doesn’t add up?

That’s my gut feeling. And if this is a result of what I think, I’m going to be very furious at some very important people in my past.

FYI: it’s not my parents.

P.S, feel free to leave an opinion. I’m opening to hearing interpretations. In fact, please, leave an interpretation I’m desperate here.