an open letter of regret from an anxious extrovert to close friends

Dear Friend,

I wasn’t always this way.

I didn’t always hide away from the general public for months or weeks at a time. Once, I was quite confident. Occasionally, I felt happy. I had a full-time job and could face customers with no concern. I would chat to people over the phone, make an effort to see friends, be interested in daily life. I could cope with negativity. Overcome it, even. I wouldn’t let anything bring me down because I had something inside me that made me keep going out there, into the world, facing it all.

But sometimes, Friend, things happen. Sometimes just one thing. Sometimes many things. The courage to face these things is strong at first, at least stronger than now. But depending on luck, or coincidence, or fate or opportunity, eventually the voice of that courage for some people becomes quieter. Weaker. And sometimes, silenced completely.

It’s not your fault these things happened. And if you hear the tales of what they were, you’ll likely think you know what could have been done or said to resolve it. But your experience in this life is not the same as mine, Friend. No matter what we have in common, we can never share the exact same perception. Please make sure not to confuse your perception with mine. We are different.

Sometimes I need a break from people. It’s usually the people I don’t know completely, but like, and with whom I want to hold some kind of friendship. I’m already tired of feeling anxious and sad and don’t want you to grow tired of me feeling anxious and sad. I’m sure you care and would be happy for me to confide in you, but I’ve confided in friends before and have been burned and heartbroken in return. I can’t bring myself to take that kind of risk again.

I’m afraid I won’t be good company. I’m afraid I’ll burden you with my emotions which I don’t feel would be fair to you. I’ve heard of your struggles too, Friend, and would like to help you, but I can’t. I take all struggles as if they were my own and my load is already far too heavy. Sometimes my whole world is devoid of any good news, and any conversation we could have would be very quiet on my end. All I can really do is listen, because if I speak I might burst into tears. But I don’t feel strong enough to pretend to be holding myself together right now, so I’d just rather not.

I’m sorry you feel I’ve been avoiding you. You see me comment on social media but I ignore your messages. This is because commenting on social media is usually not personal. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to have adult conversation without the spotlight being on me. I can do it in my pajamas and without doing my face to look prettier than I feel on the inside. I don’t run much risk of having to answer the question, “How are you?”

…because I don’t want to lie to you. That would make me feel anxious when I’m already feeling anxious. I don’t believe in lying to people, especially people I care about. So for that reason, I can’t run the risk of being asked this question.

You may see me posting an update about a group I went to, or am going to go to. Maybe I invited someone along, even though I still haven’t answered your messages. This does not mean I’m feeling better and have purposely skipped you. This doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. My doctor told me to do things in the community so I don’t completely shut myself off. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get myself back into the habit of being seen in public for reasons other than running a quick errand. I’m trying to quell the self-talk in my head telling me everyone hates me and thinks I’m weird. Sometimes when I meet new people and they smile at me, I think perhaps I’m not all that strange. “I can do this… I can do this…” I say to myself.

You see, Friend, with a head full of thoughts like mine, there is no invisible ticket machine. In a perfect world I would answer all messages and requests in order, and you’d be able to know when I’m going to call your number. But that’s not how this works. There’s no ticket, no number and if I can’t shut off the feelings inside me, I might never get to you. Or I could respond to you tomorrow. I really have no way of knowing.

To expect I give you attention specifically is just unrealistic, and I’m sorry. The nature of this beast is that I can’t gain complete control whenever I want to, and give people all the attention they want or deserve. You may be lonely too, and I’m sorry. But I’m training myself to take care of myself and my needs, and to give myself all the attention I deserve. That’s what is supposed to help me recover, or at least cope.

Part of the reason I got into this mess is because I put everyone else’s needs before mine. And they took and took and took some more until there was nothing left, because I was so willing to give. I regret being so naïve. I love to see people happy, but I forget I need to be happy first. You might not be one of those people of whom I speak, but that’s unfortunately irrelevant. I can’t handle any of it yet.

Maybe we struck a friendship during a time when socializing wasn’t so daunting. Maybe you think it’s uncharacteristic of me to be silent and that surely you must have caused offense. But Friend, understand this condition is unpredictable and the best thing you can do is just wait.

There’s no forcing a friendship with me. I need time. I’m grieving that part of me that no longer exists and that bright future I thought I was going to have.

As part of my anxious predicament I’m regretting so many things. Things that are long since dead and buried, things that happened yesterday: The way I reacted to something, the person I shouldn’t have trusted but did, the thing I said that surely must’ve made me look like an idiot. The fact that I feel this way in the first place. The fact that I can’t make it stop. The fact that I’m hurting my friends by accident by apparently turning my back on them. The fact that I don’t have the strength to be what my loved ones need. The fact that I can’t talk to you about this in person because it’s too hard. The fact that I can’t have friends because I can’t talk to my friends and therefore none of them can begin to understand why it’s hard for me to keep friends. The fact that I’m so alone I don’t know when I’ll ever be less alone. The fact that there are people depending on me, who deserve better than a version of me who is afraid of so many things I can hardly function.

I’m trying, Friend, and I’m so sorry if you’re hurt by me. If you want to walk away I understand, but please don’t convey to me the disappointment that I’m not what you want me to be, because I’ve got enough disappointment in myself for the both of us. Just send me positive thoughts as much as you can spare in the hopes that maybe, one day, I’ll be on the other side of this. I’ll be so grateful you were so patient and understanding. When that day comes, I’ll be able to call you a “Great Friend.”

Sincerely,

A Nervous Wreck

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