Isolating Myself Through Difficult Times

Humans, in general, are pretty good at coming up with coping strategies for nearly any situation. Whether those coping strategies are healthy is another matter entirely. I noticed, recently, that one of my coping strategies for stress is so exactly the wrong thing, I will never understand how it became part of my tool kit at all.

When I am stressed, I am usually feeling intense overwhelm; my brain feels scattered, I fidget endlessly, and I make lists and lists and lists of things that must happen that instant (even though 95% of them don’t need to). One other thing I do is pull away from my friends. It’s not conscious, it’s not planned, but it does happen. I will feel so overwhelmed that I can’t answer a text, or I won’t pop into my favorite discords for a few days, or I will only react to friend’s messages instead of actually having a conversation.

On the surface, this tactic makes sense: if I have so much in my brain that a two-sentence text feels overwhelming, taking a step back from the text conversations seems logical. Taking a break from social media is sometimes the answer… but all of my favorite discord servers are small, contained places where my best friends from around the world are telling jokes and supporting each other 24/7–it’s not as if it’s the equivalent to falling into the Reels section of Instagram and never coming out (which, incidentally, is something I find myself doing when I’m overwhelmed… which is also not a great idea).

The fact of the matter is, if I texted my friends back and then took the time to tell them what was happening in my brain, they’d be the first to tell me that my big, long list of must dos” is actually only 1 or 2 tasks. Or they’d be there to commiserate and offer advice about whatever work issue is stressing me out. The same goes for my discord communities–the few dozen friends scattered around the world are awake at any moment of my 24-hour day (which means that birthday celebrations in our collective timezone last nearly 42 hours) and we’ve all helped each other through our worst times and celebrated each other in our best.

So why do I pull back? What makes me hide my struggles? I won’t go into the psychological reasons, but I do remember that I started picking up this coping strategy when I was a teenager. If I had too much homework to complete and felt at the end of my tether, I hid that from my friends and family. I would pretend everything was great, and then stay up until 3am in the harsh light of my closet, alternating between crashing into snatches of sleep and furious attempts at completing one more calculus problem or one more page of biology homework. I would tell my friends I couldn’t go to the movies, or I couldn’t go hang out on the community pier, but I’d sit at home and stress, and I wouldn’t touch my homework until the house had quieted and I could hide in my closet and try to hold myself together.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want to stop doing that. I don’t hide my struggles behind closed doors and the dark of the night anymore, but I do stop talking about them. I fade quietly away until I don’t post things to my Instagram stories, or I stop writing blog posts, or I neglect to answer a text message or seven. It’s not what I need anymore. It was never what I needed.

Are you hiding, too?

6 June 2022 mental-health

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