A Missed Cup of Coffee: Loneliness in Mental Illness

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I have therapy on Tuesday. I had an assignment from her. It hasn’t gotten done. It isn’t getting done. I know she won’t be happy with me. I know that she won’t take “I just couldn’t” and/or “Can we not talk about it?” as answers. You have no idea how much I want to be able to complete this assignment. You have no idea how having to have this assignment as an assignment feels like I have failed at life.

I can only speak for myself but living with mental illness can be extremely lonely. For several reasons. I tend to not think about it all too often, but when I do…It is a kick in the gut that doesn’t stop for a while. This assignment caused me to think about it for the past three weeks.

My assignment: Be social. Diana doesn’t count. The barn doesn’t count. The gift shop… NAMI… church… Yeah, those don’t count either. No. It couldn’t be that easy. My assignment was to go out and have coffee with someone my age. Connect with someone I haven’t seen in a while and have coffee. She said that Facebook would be the perfect contact place followed by “I know this is hard. I know that, but I’m not asking you to make a best friend. I’m asking you to drink a cup of coffee.”

Upon her giving this, what may seem small, “request” the anxiety started to rise almost immediately. My therapist told me she could see it visible rolling off me. Oh, and I’m sure she could. I know I felt it. My face flushing, constriction in my chest, and the strong need to hold tears back. The latter worked until she wanted to talk about the root of the anxiety. Part of which I don’t think I was able to grasp while sitting in that office chair.

I, personally, have so many things that come into play when I go somewhere. I have my timing down perfectly. From what time I need to get ready in order to meet a certain bus to how long I have to be where I’m going before I can catch the next bus home. I go to the same places because I know them, because they’re safe, because they are routine. I go to the same places because I crave all of the above and… and because when you want to avoid triggers, going someplace familiar is the best route to go. It’s more than that though. So much of my life I can’t control because of my various diagnoses; and I know I’m more than my illnesses, but that doesn’t mean they don’t play a huge role in my day to day.

I have myself to worry about. There are many days when that is way beyond enough. Adding another person into the mix absolutely terrifies me. As it is, I run every conceivable scenario through my head before leaving the house. Depending on where I have to go, those scenarios could already have run through my head the night before as well.

Some of the scenarios/fears, running through my head, that are added into the mix in order to be accomplish the feat that led to this horrendous assignment:

– Other than my main safe places- church, the barn, the bookstore, and NAMI- I have few locations I will venture. The art museum, three different coffee shops, and like two restaurants. Three if I’m forced. What if someone doesn’t like those places? If we have to go somewhere else, where is it? Will it be noisy? Will I have a panic attack? Where is the closest bus stop?
– I can’t do busy restaurants… busy anywhere actually. Too many people and I’m done. I know the times to go to “my” places in order to avoid masses of people. What if they can’t go during a lull time? If we HAVE to go somewhere different, how crowded will it be?
– The OCD rears its ugly head. I have things down to a science so that it isn’t completely obvious to those moving about around me. The number 5 comes into play- a lot. What if someone notices?
– There are times I can’t even handle my safe places for long. I’ll be fine and then in an instant, that changes. A feeling of extreme discomfort, an anxiety attack, or I’ll be on the brink of tears until I can get out of them and on a bus home. Often that will continue until I reach the safety of home. What will they think if I have to leave suddenly? What will they think; and will they even want to try again?
– I have to have a goal to accomplish in everything I do. It helps to have one. On a good day I have 101 things running through my mind at once. Having a set goal to accomplish helps me see through the mess. When I go to the art museum, I make seeing my favorite gallery- Gallery 226 where Georgia O’Keeffe pieces hang- the final stop. Why? Because that is my goal: to make it through the museum to that gallery. … What am I supposed to accomplish… or what do they hope to accomplish? Can I actually do it? What will they think if I can’t? What if I fail them?

That list could go on and on. Other issues arise if I’m feeling hypo-manic (or slightly more manic than that), etc.. Things like: Will they notice my scars? What if I can’t handle music in the background? What do I tell them if I start not being able to focus and they ask a question? How do I…? What if…? Where can…?

Most days I don’t think about it. I’m pretty okay being by myself…

… Other days… Other days not so much. Like now. I’m sitting in Starbucks typing this. At least four pairs or groups of people have come through in the past hour- talking, laughing, and generally having a good time. A couple has walked by with two little ones in a stroller. A set of students are working on something together over a laptop… It seems like such an easy thing. Such a simple task. I have known some friends on Facebook most of my life but, other than Diana, haven’t done anything that would be considered a social activity with them- like my assignment’s cup of coffee- in years.

A public semi-recluse. If I’m not at church or NAMI, lately, I’ve been alone 99% of the time instead of my normal 95%. I haven’t even been able to handle the barn. Why the latter? As the weeks have went on without being able to accomplish a cup of coffee, a mild depression has been kicking in. Not huge. Nothing I need to call my doctor about. It’s been enough, however, that the 2.5 hours that it takes to get to the barn and the 2.5 hours that it takes to get back have just been too much.

I like to think that I am:
– Friendly
– Likeable
– A good person
– A good friend

That does not help however. Guilt, insecurity, and fear are a part of everyday life while living with a mind that can betray you at any time. I miss when I was able to go to the movies with friends without thinking about it- Like going to see “Titanic” or “Monsters Inc.” with Holly. I miss getting gumbo with Jenny. As I said, most days I don’t consciously think about the fact that I don’t do these things anymore. The days I do, however, are miserable. They’re extra lonely. Even more ideas play viciously through my head- Will they still WANT to hang out with me? What if I screw up somehow? What if symptoms become obvious while out and they don’t want to deal with them/me again?

The depression that has set in… I see family and friends going to concerts, going to dinner, going on trips, getting married and having kids (the latter is a whole other post), and having a life all while I fail at coffee. I know that it’s insecurities that run through my head and grow and grow until they’re all I can see. I am aware that it’s probably just everything being focused on and that it will eventually go away. Hopefully after my therapy appointment tomorrow.

Tomorrow I see my therapist. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the empty coffee cup; and my fear of spilling the cup once it’s poured. Maybe, together, we can come up with a way to fill the cup at least half way.

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