Making friends. It was so easy when I was little. Shall we dress up as Disney Princesses and play Barbie’s? Yes? We’re friends.
And everywhere I go, it still seems like it’s that easy for everyone else – people are collecting new pals left, right and centre, from the school run to the gym. Yet here I am, feeling like I couldn’t make a friend whilst wearing an ‘I need a friend’ badge at a friend convention.
When I meet new people, I feel like a mess. It’s like I’m incapable of having a comfortable, normal conversation without spewing utter tosh – either completely oversharing (who wants to swap birth stories?!) or stumbling over words like I just learned English.
To be fair, plenty of people have said it’s not something they’ve noticed (I touched very briefly on this in one of my very first blog posts) – I guess I’m a pro when it comes to wearing my confidence mask. But inside my mind is racing, questioning everything – everything I said and did, everything the other person said and did…maybe even a quick cross reference to an awkward conversation I had when I was 14.
It leaves me feeling paranoid and different – I know very well that the brains of people with good mental health don’t work this way – and it sets up hurdles and gnawing anxieties for the next time. So sometimes I find myself faking jaunty social encounters just to be normal, the irony being that they leave me feeling the exact opposite.
It’s created a situation where it feels impossible to make real connections with people. I crave human interaction but am too terrified to establish it. It’s exhausting.
I’m smart, caring and if I do say so myself, pretty fun – I’m a good person and a good friend. So what the hell’s my problem?
I don’t feel like I reject people but maybe, at least subconsciously, I do. Maybe years of a heady mix of fear of rejection, feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence have just made it impossible for me to connect. Maybe the safety and comfort of my longstanding friendships play into those anxieties and make new relationships too risky? Maybe I’m just not confident enough to put my true self out there, or maybe I’m asking too much from others, too quickly. Maybe I can’t cope with being flexible enough to meet people, get on, not get on, whatever.
Or maybe, this entire situation is a negative thought spiral that got out of control and has continued to perpetuate itself, even though I’m actually in a much healthier place now.
There’s no doubt that mental ill health affects friendships. People have started talking more about how you can support a struggling friend, but no one talks about how hard it can be to establish those relationships in the first place. And how overthinking and obsessional thoughts are the death of the spontaneity and natural flow of human connections.
I’d set up a friendship dating site for us all, if I thought any of us would have the confidence to sign up.