Today, I passed by the office of the Dean of Student Retention at my university. This amazing lady helped me through difficult times. If not for her guidance, I doubt that I would have remained at the school I dearly love. Every time we talk, wisdom and hope for my future fills me. Her cheery smile and warm hugs comfort any of my fears.
However, I hurried past her office in hopes that she would not see me. As I eyed the door suspiciously and slipped down the stairs, my stomach clenched in fear of being discovered. The woman who helped me out of darkness now filled me with dread. Yet, part of me longed to stop by her door to chat about life and successes. As the conflicting feelings warred inside, I rushed out of the building in hopes of forgetting my dilemma.
This type of scenario happens to me often. Instead of stopping to speak with someone I greatly admire and enjoy, I run in the opposite direction. Afterward, loneliness and self-loathing creep in, reminding me that the other person is relieved of my disappearance. A vicious cycle of fleeing, isolation, and self-destructive behaviors follows.
My depression and aspergers join hands to gang up against me in these situations. Since childhood, aspergers built up a wall between myself and others especially peers. Taking things literally, stubbornly adhering to rules, and inability to read emotions caused others to avoid or mock me. Sarcastically, girls complimented me while boys manipulated my actions. Confused and hurt, I sunk deeper into misery and inability to understand the world. No one could be trusted.
Thus, depression found me friendless and vulnerable. If all people were deceptive in their care for me, then I might as well be alone. One of my strongest held beliefs, however, was that others had good in them. To make a compromise between my fear and love of humankind, I believed myself to be a monster, a freak of nature. Something must be wrong with the essence of myself if good and loving people could not accept me.
Years of healing and therapy still have not erased these wounds. However, I can now prove logically that I am human. Better yet, that fact has begun to wind its way into my thoughts and emotions. Despite my flaws and failings, I am no worse than anyone else.
Unfortunately, giving up the behaviors surrounding others has been more difficult. I still avoid potential friends and brush off compliments as kind lies. Excuses to leave conversations slip naturally out of my mouth.
Just today, I rushed into a room with a present for a friend. Because of my anxiety, she only had time to smile before I bade her farewell and scurried down the hall. Did I really need to leave so quickly? No. Yet, the fight or flight response kicks in for me in the least harmful of situations, sending me racing away from an enjoyable experience.
I am continuing to work on this aspect of my personality. Interacting normally with others might take years. Perhaps I will never master that skill. However, my hope to have close friendship (and perhaps even a romantic relationship or family) remains plausible if I continue to work steadily toward that goal.
For all of those who have a loved one who struggles with relationships of any kind, please try to be gentle with them. Work to understand what is so difficult. Then try making a plan on how to address those problems.
If your loved one flees from you or shows other signs of fear, try not to take it personally. Especially if they struggle with autism, depression, or PTSD, you might not be the problem. Instead of criticizing yourself or reprimanding them, teach them to trust others by being honest, caring, and steady. In a gentle but direct way, speak the truth so that they do not need to worry about your thoughts. Then remain consistent and trustworthy; be the person that they can rely on even when you are angry or disappointed.
Dealing with relationships is difficult for those with mental illness, other health issues, their support people, and everyone else. Perfect social skills are not possible. However, everyone can learn to interact in a healthy, energizing way.