meaningful connections

I follow my university’s “confessions” page and I’ve noticed a common recurrent theme in these confessions. There is an overwhelming amount of students struggling to make friends at university and in life in general. They are lonely, shy, afraid of rejection, tired of trying, depressed, and suffering from low self esteem.

They are, in other words, my kindred souls.

The number of posts and comments suggest that loneliness is an epidemic, but that’s good for us, isn’t it? It means that there are plenty of other people out there who have NOT established friend groups yet and are looking for human connection.

For what do we mean when we say “friends”?

We don’t mean the girl you wave to when you pass each other in the hall or the boy you’re paired up with for a group assignment. I hate small talk and although I know that I’m further isolating myself and causing my own loneliness, sometimes I’m too tired by small talk so I just don’t bother. And it’s not only that I’m tired and anxious. I don’t see the point. I don’t enjoy it and who’s to say it will lead to anything more? And maybe it’s because I try to make small talk with people and go nowhere, while I see a girl who spends one week with the people I have known for a year already become integrated into the group in a way I know I never will.

But, as evidence seems to show, again, I am not alone. Yet, if there are so many of us pining for friendships, why are we not able to find each other and make these connections?

Obviously, it’s not as easy as it sounds. From personal experience, I can vouch for anxiety being a huge huge factor in isolation. Everyone will tell you to join clubs and to talk to the person sitting beside you in the lecture. They don’t seem to understand how much courage it takes to merely show up at one of those club meetings and to merely NOT leave a seat in between you and the next person. We’re not even talking about going up and introducing yourself. Just to put yourself in a position where that could happen is terrifying. But say it does happen. You do end up in a club meeting. You find that half the people already have friends and are laughing and chatting at a high decibel. The other half are already in engaged conversation with the person they met 15 minutes ago. You sit in silence hoping someone will come up to you and make the first move. If someone does, you talk for two minutes about both of your majors and they give a fake laugh at your lame joke, then they announce their friend has arrived and leave.

But here’s the rub. If by some miracle of nature and humankind, you manage to put yourself in a social situation and start talking to another person, that doesn’t mean you are going to become friends. I’m not sure what percentage the likelihood of friendship developing is but I know it is not high.

I’m beginning to think I might understand something of why so many of us are struggling with this thing they call friendship. Friendship is connection. But how are connections formed? Maybe connection is formed through shared experiences and conversations – through a growing mutual understanding of each other and spending enough time together to grow comfortable and able to open up and perhaps most importantly, it means becoming attached to another person so that you care for each other and form an interest in each other’s lives.

Time forms bonds.

But before I’m comfortable with someone, it’s so hard to keep conversations going (small talk) and they don’t care about my life yet because they don’t know me and it’s so hard to have the strength and courage to start that conversation in the first place. And yet that could be the foundation of forming a friendship.

So I am stuck in a depressing circle.

And then there are people who can be immediately comfortable with strangers and OF COURSE they are going to be chosen as a friend over someone who is awkward and nervous and not quite herself yet.

The only area of connection with which I’ve seemed to have had fairly consistent success is when sex is involved. This makes me wonder if the prospect of sex encourages a person to participate in an emotional and psychological exchange and this in turn causes connection. I can’t say the idea doesn’t depress me. Do I need sex to convince people to give me a chance?

I guess some evidence goes against this theory. Some people do seem to make friends very rapidly. Then I fall into a rabbit hole of wondering if I am simply an excruciatingly boring person; hence, why I end up alone. The flip side is that the conversations I have managed to sustain haven’t succeeded in bringing me friendships. So why expend time and effort for something that is so unlikely to bear fruit?

Maybe it is a self fulfilling prophecy. I always return to this and wonder if I am the enemy of my own life. If I believed that everyone wanted to be friends with me, would this turn into reality?

Seems like a fantasy.

At the end of the day, I know it is not a question that I am my own enemy. I’m the one who is anxious, too tired to make an effort, too quiet, too intimidated by everyone talking over me to pitch in a word and unable to make myself heard when I try.

I’m still longing for connection and I’m not ready to give up trying just yet. But I’m well aware that what I call “trying” falls short of everything I could be doing and I’ve been trying and trying to change my personality and neuroses enough to make real “trying” possible.

But it never happens.

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happy place

in the quest to be content with being alone, an absolute necessity is to find your happy place.

i didnt think id be writing this post. if i was looking for quite a sickeningly positive term, the opposite of the melancholy personality i profess to have and separate from my romanticising of sadness, i couldnt do better. i cringe to type out happy place, even as i cringe at my self absorption. which is why im writing this post, because ive come to the realisation that for me depression is a bit of a revel. A revel in sadness and suicidal thoughts. And its a bit like an addiction. Doesn’t feel great but its easy to get stuck in it.

a happy place grounds you into reality. keeps you there. makes you realise that there’s color in the world if you can only keep your mind at peace for long enough.

my happy place is sitting down in a cool room in front of a computer and pounding my thoughts out, with music blaring in my ears

my happy place is walking in the city streets and feeling the cool air on my skin and a drink in my hand

my happy place is cooking good food and eating it and tidying and cleaning my apartment until its something i can say im proud to have worked for

my happy place is what makes me feel that i could be alone, all alone in the world, and i would be ok. it’s what makes me feel like there is love, wonder, and beauty within me. within my own heart. and thats not all i want. but enough to survive.

these places ground me. they make me know in my heart that im not ready to die. even if this was all there was (and i know its not … oh how i know that theres more for me in store), i dont want to leave. i want to read one more book, drink one more drink, write one more thought, and discover one more thing about myself.

or two. or a hundred

writing and loneliness

I haven’t written any fiction for a long time … the last time was perhaps early this year, but even then, it was only a short bit of flash fiction. The last time I wrote extensively was February when I was finishing up my novel Eunice. 

There’s a big part of me that really wants to get back into writing.

At the same time, I’m nervous to do so.

I’ve come to realise part of why writing is such a struggle … oftentimes, such a draining, painful process.

It’s incredibly isolating.

On the surface, writing fiction is typically a solitary activity (unless you’re writing collaboratively which is a different story). You are alone in front of your computer or paper, and it’s just you and the words. Even if there are people around you while you write, it’s you and the words. You’re not communicating to the outside world … not yet, at least.

But deeper … below the surface … writing requires you to truly be inside your mind. This is why I find it difficult to write with other people around. Technically, writing doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, but for me it’s much easier when it is. And that’s because writing requires you to be isolated in your mind.

When I write an essay, it’s typically about the real world. Even if it’s not (let’s say it’s an English essay on a novel) it is still grounded in the real world and, more importantly, the essence of the piece is not fiction. Also, because it’s an essay and doesn’t need a huge amount of creativity, I can write it fairly mindlessly, without applying my full mental powers to it.

The very term fiction, however, indicates that it’s about something that isn’t real. It’s about ideas and characters and places in your head. And it’s creative writing (emphasis on creative), so I really can’t do it with only half a mind. That means I put my entire mind into creating and writing about a world that doesn’t exist … with characters who don’t exist … events that didn’t happen. I truly immerse my mind in this fiction, because I need to if it’s going to be any good.

And that’s a truly isolating experience.

I come out of writing feeling this disconnection when I talk to real people. I feel even a disconnection with the world. I feel an intense sense of my own loneliness – of being in a separate mind and body from everyone else and completely unable to bridge this distance. Even then, this description doesn’t quite describe what I feel after writing fiction. I can only approximate this feeling with words like “disconnection” “loneliness” and “alienation”.

Maybe I can liken coming out of the writing shell to living life in a daze or as if it’s a dream – and not a nice dream at that. It’s more like a nightmare.

It’s switching to a different reality and in this reality you are all alone. Your characters ignore your existence. The real people who would acknowledge you are in the other reality. And you’re not quite able to be fully in that reality either … not with one foot in another place.

The more I think about my stories, the more my mind becomes entrenched in the world of them and the farther I am from reality. When I do go back to the real world, I can feel something is different.

And I feel tired. The whole process is so so tiring.

I don’t know if other writers feel this and, if they do, to what extent. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s something inherent in writing about worlds and places that don’t exist. (I know writing is often based on the real world, but it is still at its core not quite the same). I do think that I like to write. Having written makes me feel incredibly fulfilled and I love my characters and the stories in my head. I want to get them out and make them into something concrete. And the act of writing itself is a beautiful incredible thing. I will never stop being in awe of it and or feeling the compulsion to write.

But I often wonder if writing stories really is good for me (or my mental health). I wonder if it’s worth it. I wonder if it will really make me happy.

And all too often, the answer in my head is “no”.