I should open by saying I've never been to therapy. My excuse of late is that I simply cannot afford to go. One of my goals for 2016 is to make enough to afford it. But please understand none of what I'm about to say has been informed by a professional. I've read a lot of books and have a decent understanding of the inside of my own head, but this ain't gospel.
When I was young, I had this thought. I might call it a dream except it often showed up when I was awake, and it wasn't pleasant. In the thought, I'm called to dinner, and I go. Only when I get there I'm told I was too late. I didn't show up fast enough, and my food has been given away to someone else at the table.
If you're wondering if this was calling back to some previous trauma, the answer is no. My parents could be strict, but they weren't the kind of people who'd withhold food. And I seriously doubt anyone who saw a picture of me would think I had been anything but well fed. Still the thought, nightmare, what have you, persisted. Finding me, typically, in moments where I was already down, sad, or feeling sorry for myself.
I don't know how to properly convey how terrifying it was. Except to say it felt real, in the moment. Not that it had happened but that it might. That if I wasn't good enough, if I messed up or something then I'd be left out. Then I'd go without. And it didn't matter that I knew my family loved me and would never do something like that, whenever the thought found me it had me absolutely terrified. It could ruin my whole day. Turn light to dark. There were times it nearly drove me to tears.
What might be worse, though, is that I could never do anything with it. How do you tell someone that? How do you tell your parents when they ask why you're so sad? "Oh, well, I have this fantasy, you see..." Could they even understand? Wouldn't you sound crazy or, at best, bratty and attention seeking?
And that's what I thought. It didn't seem to be a coincidence that the thought found me when I was already feeling sorry for myself. I figured it was just my selfishness, playing the victim of some imagined pain because that made me feel important. (I could be very hard on myself. Still can.) I was the middle child after all, still am. And no one ever seemed to miss an opportunity to remind me what that meant. So I told no one.
I told absolutely no one until right now when I decided to tell the Internet.
Because I know what it is now. And it was so odd because it didn't occur to me until I was sitting in bed reading a book, thinking absolutely nothing to do with this, and the thought found me. Not the thought itself, more like a thought of the thought. A remembering of it and how much it hurt me. And in that moment there was a voice that said, matter-of-factly, "That's depression."
And for the first time in 31 years, I saw how it had worked. It was anxiety. It may have been my absolutely first anxiety. A thought that lied to me and told me I wasn't lovable on my own. That I had to be quick to get the things that everyone else got naturally.
I can see it clearly now, how so very typical it was. Because in as much as it caused me pain, it simultaneously isolated me.
No one can know.
No one will understand.
You'll only make it worse.
And I listened to it. For decades. I listened to that thought until worse ones replaced it. But it was always there.
Anxiety is not simple, but it can be so predictable and so very clever. It always knows what to say so you'll believe, and how to say it so you'll never be able to get rid of it.
I can't enumerate all the ways this thought has woven itself into my behavior.
I tell people my biggest fear is going somewhere I’m not invited. Physically, socially, emotionally. I want, no, I need permission to go certain places, and I wish it helped when people welcome me in, when they say, “make yourself at home”, but most of the time I’m thinking, “That’ll do for today, Douglas, but you’ll have to ask again tomorrow.”
Other people may get in without asking, but not me. For me the door is closed until I convince someone to open it, and I have to be very careful I don’t run out my time inside.
It’s a terrible way to think about people, of course; I know that. The realization only makes it worse.
And I say it’s because I’m polite, because I don’t want to take advantage of people, that I don’t want to be “that” guy. But, deep down, underneath all my good intentions, I know this thought is there. I know it’s just as much the fear of rejection. Some part of me is convinced if I step through the door without being sure I’ll find there isn’t a place set at the table for me.
And some part of me would rather never trying than being hurt.
But anxiety dies in the light. Speak its name, and you’ve robbed it of some of its power. So, I’m saying it out loud now, in the hopes that I can recognize it next time it happens. So people will understand me and my awkwardness just a little better. Maybe even understand themselves a little better as well.
Because I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing difficulty where everyone sees opportunity. I’m tired of being so scared of a “no”, I won’t entertain the hope of a “yes”. I’m tired of thinking no one wants me so much that I don’t even want myself.
Depression lies, so you have to tell it the truth. And the truth is I deserve a seat at the table. We all do. Doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily get one. The world can be very cruel. But there are good people, and when they let us in, we should thank them. When they tell us we belong, we should believe them.
And maybe, just maybe, when I step inside I’ll find there’s been a place with my name on it this whole time.
I wish I could say this was the victory lap, but I can't. This isn't even the home stretch. There are other thoughts. A whole menagerie of them. This was just one. The first one. But it is only one. I still need therapy. Hopefully, soon, I can get some.
At the same time, though, that's how you conquer this stuff. “Brick by boring brick”, as Paramore would say. You bring the wall down. It's a process, a journey I'm on.