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"I want to reintegrate myself romantically — am I supposed to just pretend I'm normal, or make excuses for my weird neuroses?"
By Cait Robinson
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Dear Miss Information,
I'm not exactly at rock bottom, but I'm pretty sure I'm as close to it as I want to get. I'm a twenty-eight-year-old female first-year law student suffering from social anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Those problems have resulted in an academic performance so far below what I'm actually intellectually capable of that I'm facing the prospect of dropping out or being kicked out of school.
The same problems have also driven my supposed best friend away. To be fair, this relationship was mutually unhealthy for a variety of reasons, but it still hurt being told more or less that I was just too much crazy to deal with. These issues have also caused problems with my family, as they feel like I'm driving them away and they worry about me a great deal.
I'm currently seeking help from a counselor whom I like, and I feel like there's potential for improvement from working with her. I'm aiming to reintegrate myself socially and, at some point, romantically and sexually. I'm just worried about this reintegration/resocialization project. Am I supposed to just pretend I'm completely normal, make excuses for my weird neuroses, come right out with it, or something else?
— Into The Wild
Dear Into The Wild,
I love the concept of a "resocialization project." It reminds me of a releasing a circus elephant back into the wild, or teaching Bananas the Finger-Painting Chimp how to woo a lady-chimp. Really, any phrase that makes me dwell on chimps is a good one, so I thank you.
Uh, anyway, the first step here is giving yourself some credit: you've got a lot on your plate, and, more importantly, you're taking charge. Things may feel bleak, but as long as you don't lay back and give up, you're doing great.
If you're prone to erratic behavior, you should absolutely mention it to friends. It doesn't have to be a PowerPoint presentation, but it should be a conversation. For instance, tell them that you may fall off the radar from time to time, but it's not a reflection of your friendship or what you think of the person; it's just a fact of your headspace right now. Most people should be fine with this. And, if they're not, don't take it personally: that's more a case of them failing at understanding than you failing at socialization.
There is a double-edged sword to dealing with any chronic illness: while having to "out" yourself to new friends sucks, that vulnerability can engender greater closeness. It takes courage and honesty to tell someone, "I'm not doing great right now," and most mature, together people will respect that you opened up. You'd also be surprised at how often you're met with, "I know what you're going through." More people understand periods of depression and illness than you might suspect — give them a chance, and people might surprise you.
So, while preparing to release yourself back into the wild, start with one thing at a time: stabilize yourself so that you feel comfortable with your actions and proud of yourself. Then start to collect more acqaintances and friends. Then open yourself up to relationships. Periods of healing and coccooning are not for the faint of heart. Introspection takes tremendous amounts of work, and you should applaud yourself for all of the energy you are putting in. You're not weak and you're not retreating. You're taking the time to ground yourself as a human, and that will pay off in your future relationships.