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I'm not going to grad school to stay with a guy, but I'm depressed.
How do I let go of my anxiety about this guy? How do I stop self-pitying? How do I overcome the rage at my upbringing and my parents, at my lost youth?
A PERFECT GEM:
[NOTE: this letter was cut down / edited from its original length, but I tried to make sure that everyone still got the gist of what was goin on. If I reference something that isn’t in the text below, it’s from the longer letter].
I'm a visual artist and creative writer and I suck at making friends and maintaining connections and it really hurts.
I was always super introverted and shy around new people, very depressed and anxious (and still am); I didn't have sex or even KISS anyone until I was twenty-five! My dad had (has) major anger issues, and my mom was (is) super guilt-trippy and, in hindsight, they both did terrible damage to my self-esteem.
I moved to this city about a year and a half ago, right after grad school, and it was instantly a shit show: I had three major friendships/romantic relationships that were horribly abusive (and which I extracted myself from in time). If it weren't for a couple of friends I DID have from school (out of state) and the therapist I finally started seeing, I would have killed myself. That year was so scarring but it really hit home how I form ties to people: I know now none of their behavior towards me was my "fault," but I realized upon reflection that a LOT of my relationships over the years have been like that--that I allow myself to get taken advantage of by people not taking responsibility for their own wounding.
My younger sister graduated undergrad last year and moved in with me, and I have made two friends in my new city that I see and speak to regularly. I've been going to therapy twice a week (and am one of the extremely lucky ones who can keep doing therapy remotely) and working hard to maintain ties with people from grad school, and I got a new job at an art gallery. Over time I got involved in maintaining and installing gallery exhibits, which meant learning cool new things and interacting more with my coworkers. They're all very kind and inclusive in the workplace, but being friends outside of work has been difficult.
Eventually, though, I started talking more to one of my coworkers, and about two months ago, we started dating. Right after we started, I got into a prestigious MFA program for writing, full ride. A few weeks after that, we went into quarantine and lost our jobs.
We've been seeing each other almost every day while living in the horror-dreamworld of quarantine and god, I am in LOVE with this guy. He's kind and encouraging and interesting and hardworking. He's a painter. He's from the area--he's already moved around a bit and found his way back here (he's 34; I'm 28). He has STRONG social, family, and career networks in this city. And if I go to grad school, he says he would try long-distance, but he's trying to make a name for himself as an artist here, so he likely wouldn't move, or not for a long time, anyway. He wants to buy a house and fix it up and start a garden. And honestly? That sounds GREAT. It's been a year since I decided I wasn't ready to go back to grad school, and... I STILL don't want to go. I've been doing just fine the last year publishing my art and writing in "good" journals, and I have writer and artist friends to exchange work with, including my old grad school mentor. The main draw to grad school, for me, is....... friendship. I want more friends, and I suck at making them in the real world. But once grad school ends, everyone leaves town. And so I'd be back in the same position I was in a year and a half ago: lonely, trying to make friends from scratch. AND without this fantastic boyfriend.
So, I'm settled on not going. Besides what I've already said, with quarantine and a virus, I can't afford to move, nor does it feel safe or wise. But I am fully aware that if I didn't have this guy, and didn't have this fantasy of settling down with him and starting a garden and painting and having kids, I would probably go to grad school (because... why not?). But I'm ALSO aware that WE'VE ONLY BEEN DATING TWO MONTHS. And you can't talk about feelings with a new partner under quarantine; time is weird in quarantine! We're all slowed down and sped up and side to side. But I really believe I am in love with him. But--to stay in a place FOR someone (and I haven't told him that's what I'm doing; honestly, if I wanted to go to grad school, I would go) is a major decision. And what if we get out of quarantine and break up? I'm afraid I would regret not going.
And something else worrying me is: he has such close ties with people here, and is so friendly with people. I feel like a loser. I'm SO unfathomably depressed about this, and about him. I have such low self-esteem, and the more I realize how low my self-esteem is, the lower it gets. He's close with people he grew up with, close with his family. He has fabulous art friends and goes to parties and he lives in a studio. I haven't been to a party... since grad school. He draws from live nude models (!!!! brings up MAJOR body image issues for me even though he's given me NO reason to think anything remotely inappropriate has ever happened, so I've never brought any of this up to him and don't want to because I don't want him to feel attacked or like I'm jealous or don't support him). He has energy, he sets his mind to things and does them. He has EXPERIENCES and stories to tell. I have none! I'm waiting for him to realize I'm a loser, or that I'm relying on him way too much, and break things off. It's killing me. And quarantine is ALREADY fucking with everyone (except him--he's a marine vet (he's literally got PTSD; why am I the fucked-up one? I feel like such a sad sack), so he's pretty good under pressure, and is just running around taking care of people in what safe ways he can, including me); I'm just waiting for him to realize I'm a moody burden who doesn't know how to make friends or stay passionate about things!
I know it's easy to compare yourself to others and come up short, and I know that I've got things going for me. So I'm not really asking how to keep this guy from leaving me because I'm a loser--I'm asking how to stop feeling so ashamed of my struggles to connect with people, and my small social groups and failed relationships over the years? How do I let go of my anxiety about this guy? How do I stop self-pitying? How do I overcome the rage at my upbringing and my parents, at my lost youth? Lost opportunities?
Good morning you precious earth angel!!!! I’m going to let you in on the biggest secret that no one but me, your dear Uncle Sophia, will tell you: no normal adult has more than like 3 friends. I know what you’re thinking!
Oh Sophia Sophia! That’s not true… this girl on my instagram had a girls trip in Palm Springs where everyone wore matching pajamas the whole time and there were like 12 women there. THAT IS NOT NOT A REAL THING.
Oh Sophia Sophia what about all the stuff I see about all those celebrities throwing massive birthday parties where 300 people come? CELEBRITIES AREN’T REAL PEOPLE.
Oh Sophia Sophia I just told you about my boyfriend who has 1 million friends. What about him, huh????!?! HE IS NOT NORMAL AND IT’S NOT MY BUSINESS WHAT HE’S DOING AND MAYBE THOSE AREN’T CLOSE FRIENDS ANYWAY.
Every single adult I know, even the ones with perfect skin and waxed assholes and a child who loves radishes and thinks they taste better than candy (I don’t know anyone like this, but imagine) HAS FEWER FRIENDS THAN THEY WANT TO HAVE. We are all lonely, crabby, imperfect, repulsive little critters who long to be perfectly understood and continuously adored by other humans even as we misunderstand, ignore, and grow bored of the people around us.
You are not a piece of shit for having what actually sounds like to me quite a few friends. You are not bad at meeting people AT ALL. You moved around and have gone to many schools at this point and you had a weirdly (abusively) sheltered upbringing; the fact that you have any close friendships at this point is a testament to what a great person you are.
That all said, you seem to be 🚨🚨🚨ALTHOUGH I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR🚨🚨🚨 depressed.
That’s… incredibly fucking normal of you. Most people I have ever met have been depressed at one point or another. I mean you literally mention multiple symptoms of depression (including not having energy, lacking motivation or passion, feeling like you suck). I could be wrong, or you could already know this about yourself, so excuse me if that’s the case, but I think the problem isn’t your life right now—which on paper actually looks very good—but rather that your brain is being a Large Fucking Brat.
I think one helpful thing to do when you have depression or anxiety is to label your thoughts as they come in, but don’t get too caught up in what you think. Unfortunately, when you have a mental health issue like depression or anxiety your brain becomes a big fucking LIAR who tells you things like, “You lack motivation,” “You never finish anything,” “Everyone has more friends than you,” “This guy is waiting to dump you.” THOSE ARE ALL LIES.
So try your best to label thoughts as they come in by going, “Ok, that is actually not true and not helpful, thank you brain but I’m not taking that in.” Or “Ok, so what if I never finish anything? That’s not my business!” You do not have to entertain every insecurity you have!!!!
You know when you accidentally imagine a weird person naked? Like a neighbor or a random coworker and you have no reason for having imagined them naked, your brain was just like 💥BOOM HERE IS SOMETHING!!💥 That should tell you a little something about how reliable thoughts are. They aren’t. And often the best thing to do is simply acknowledge that and label thoughts as they come into your head. (Obviously easier said than done, but a good place to start).
Now, I’m going to try to address some of the sundry parts of your letter and I put them under subheadings so I don’t have to do hard work like think of transitions:
Having nothing to write about/create art about.
“He has EXPERIENCES and stories to tell. I have none!”
What the fuck on earth are you talking about?!!? No one needs to read another “I went abroad to Paris my junior year and it changed me” story for as long as they live. Going abroad to Paris is undoubtedly a very fun experience, one that might even come with tons of built in stories. It doesn’t mean it makes for great art. You know what generally makes for great art? Lying your shit bare. Making art that explores things that YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED (or at least are worried about experiencing) like, just off the top of my head: feeling worthless, being convinced someone is going to leave you even if there is no sign of that, having difficult or horrible parents and trying to navigate that as an autonomous adult, feeling like you can’t make art, giving up going to school for someone only for it to not work out with them, living with your sister, escaping abusive friendships. I mean you have done PLENTY of experiencing. The myth that people need to do a certain set of things in order to create is meant to keep people out of art. You do not need to have gone to war or moved back to a city or jumped off cliffs in Hawaii or whatever the fuck it is you think you need to do before you can make art. That excuse does not fly here. You can not create because you’re not ready, or because you’re depressed and you need to care for yourself, or because you’re not sure what you want to make next. But the idea that you didn’t have some “thing” happen to…?? No.
Getting over lost opportunity.
How do I overcome the rage at my upbringing and my parents, at my lost youth? Lost opportunities?
Not to be trite, but: you don’t. It’s a life-long grief for most late bloomers and people whose parents were shitty, people who spent a lot of time either simply staying safe or caring for others. It’s unbelievably common. It’s been the fixation of my own life at many points. It’s heart-wrenching to feel like you were robbed and you can’t go backward. I’m sorry. You will have to grieve. The first step is recognizing loss and actually giving yourself permission to mourn said loss, rather than expecting yourself to just be over it.
Here is a great place to make art. It’s not that simple, and art will not fix you or grieve for you, but it’s a good place to start, imo.
Body image shit.
[This] brings up MAJOR body image issues for me even though he's given me NO reason to think anything remotely inappropriate has ever happened.
If I had all the answers about body image shit, I would… have a healthier relationship with my own body. I’m getting there. It’s slow and it’s not linear, but I’m drifting towards hating her less. So take this with a grain of salt or 10. BUT here’s the thing: so what if your body sucks? So what? What then? So what if he sees someone hotter? What if he paints someone hotter?
I know you’ve been conditioned on such a deep pathological level that your worth is inherently tied into how hot you are or can be. It’s fuuuuuuucked, and I’m sorry. It’s not ok.
But he’s dating you, so he CLEARLY wants to be with you. If he didn’t, he’d leave. It’s not like you’re paying him to date you. He likes you. He’s attracted to you. But so what if you weren’t hot? I’m sure you’re gorgeous and beautiful and stunning. But ask yourself honestly what you think would happen if you weren’t hot. Would you not be valuable? (THE ANSWER IS NO). Some times you have to give yourself a fucking break and remind yourself that not everything is your business. How you look is not always your business. You have other things to do!!! You’re a busy person on the go!! (At home, social distancing).
I know you didn’t ask— in fact, it is one of the things that you seem the most sure about, so please do not think that I’m trying to get you to change your mind. You’re more than welcome to not go to a grad program that you aren’t jazzed about. Especially if you feel like the only thing drawing you to that program is getting friends. If that’s the case, kudos to you for being super honest with yourself and also good on ya for not going. You can make friends in other ways (and you will, slowly, over many years) and MFA people move away anyway, like you said.
HOWEVER, is there a chance that you turn down school and then you and this guy don’t work out? YES. And I think you need to think about how you would feel if that happened. Not because an MFA is a good place to run away to if you get your heart broken (it’s not). But in case there is a chance that you actually want to do the MFA, but feel like you don’t want to pass up the chance to date this guy. Is there any chance that feeling depressed is making you not want to do this? Is this a big life goal you’ve had for a while? If that’s the case, is there a way to defer enrollment in your program?
I think you’re likely making the right choice not to go, I just want you to do a quick check in.
He likes you a lot. He wants to do long distance with you. For the love of god give you AND HIM a break and trust that he loves you (or whatever words he’s used so far). Please. Sometimes you have to mentally say to yourself, “Ok, I’m just going to trust that this is going to be good. If it gets bad, we will tackle that then.” Right now you’re so convinced that the vacation is going to be over that you’re not enjoying it. Trust that if it were bad for you, you’d leave. Trust that if it were bad for him, he’d leave. Please. Allow yourself to be excited that someone who is such a great catch (sorry to use Aunt-speak there) is into you rather than trying to convince yourself and him that you do not deserve this. You do!!!! You’re phenomenal.
Ok, that’s all I have for you. I know that’s both a lot and nothing, but the main thing is to give yourself a break whenever you can. Stop beating yourself up for every thought you have. I know you know that they’re not all healthy, but sometimes brains have unhealthy thoughts. It happens! You don’t have to add to the pain and shame by shitting on yourself for an unhealthy thought. Enjoy something small today; keep trying. You’ve got this! ❤️