Getting in touch with my emotions is part of the healing process. While I am expressing more of them, I am still playing my cards, in certain situations, close to the vest.
I don’t let people see behind the mask.
Let me give you an example. In the group meetings I am attending, I am completely transparent. I have held absolutely nothing back. It feels good to share things with people who have been through and for the most part, are still going through exactly what I am talking about.
Being honest and open to the group is not scary.
From the very first time I went, I have felt confident in my ability to share exactly what I was feeling, whether I was afraid, mad, sad, or glad. I have never felt judged. I have only felt support and empathy. But there is safety in numbers.
For me, the hard part is talking with someone alone.
Just me and that person. Looking at my life’s collection of true friends, I only have two. I talk with one every few years and I haven’t seen him in three or four. And I would consider him my closest friend. My other close friend exchanges Christmas cards and occasional social media posts. Living in different states, we visit sometimes.
Now I have hundreds of friends in the larger sense. Maybe even thousands. I can tell you how many kids they have, or that they are trying to have kids, or they just got a dog, a new car, or their first apartment. I know what they care about and I make sure to bring that up when I see them.
My knowledge of them is two miles wide, and two inches deep.
Just don’t ask me how they feel about most things. If they don’t volunteer that information, then I do not know. I have never thought to ask. Remember, I have lived most of my life as a reporter, writing down and reporting the facts. Facts are straight-forward.
Facts aren’t gooey and squishy.
Facts are hard solid, formidable, reliable. They stand up to inspection without being vulnerable. Facts don’t have to worry about letting their guard down. They are what they are and do not need to justify or explain themselves.
There are times when “why” something happened is important. But I try to avoid those types of conversations if I can. If I can keep the conversation light and factual, then there is little risk. I most likely will not get my feelings hurt. I won’t have to “feel something.”
Only having two true friends after 63 years is a waste of possibilities.
As I examine how I have lived under depression’s rule, I can see how this could come about. Getting people to remember you in a positive way usually involves getting them to talk about themselves. And since most of my jobs have involved keeping employees happy, I have become an expert at learning just enough to be liked, but not enough where I would feel required to share my feelings.
I have done this on occasion, but I prefer not to open up, not to be vulnerable.
Can I change my outlook to be more empathetic?
I don’t feel I look like a hatchet man, but I was always the one who fired, demoted, or laid off employees. I would just put my officer of the company hat on. It was easy for me because if I was firing or demoting an employee, they had done this to themselves. This made it easy to separate me from my feelings about the situation. It made it easy to do my job.
When I laid off employees, I was confident that they would return sooner than later. And to my companies’ credit, this was always the case. I stayed up to date on call-backs and would make the case for sooner whenever I could. This is still different than opening up, one to one with someone.
To let them see behind the mask is another story.
I tried today to do that. After my meeting, I was going to offer my writing services (for free) to someone I felt deserved the help of a professional writer. He had shared his challenge with finding a job and the things he was doing to secure stable employment, complete with benefits. His story was inspiring.
Yet I did not bring it up when as everyone was leaving. It was too risky. Depression had told me long ago, it’s a bad thing to open up to people, to care too much about someone, to really be empathetic about a personal situation.
I’m feeling like a cold-hearted bastard.
Letting people into my thoughts and emotions is not what I have done. If I am going to change my engagement level with people, I am going to need to figure this out. Setting boundaries is important but helping a fellow human being can be done. I shouldn’t be letting depression toss in all of these “what ifs?”
“What if he wants to be your friend?”
“What if you have things in common and hit it off?” That’s where I have run to the exits. I never really thought about my ability to make true friends. I have many “friends,” people who like me, appreciate what I have done for them, enjoyed my company. But I can see now how different that is from a friend I can call up and say, “I need to talk.” Or a friend that could call me and say, “Have you got a minute?”
Depression has taught me that close relationships can be dangerous.
It has reminded me that closeness can cause pain. That opening up can leave you vulnerable. I have conveniently blocked out all the benefits of forming deeper friendships.
This has left me an observer of life, not a participant.
Being on guard against emotions has been a life-long pursuit. Depression has been giving me awards and trophies for staying detached from people. And until now, I thought that was normal. Now I am facing the challenge of figuring out how to let down my guard. How to let people into my life. Everything I am learning says it is up to me to decide if I will do the work.
If I want deeper, more meaningful relationships, then it starts with me.
And I can see one place to begin. I’ll be ready at the next meeting to offer my resume writing services. Just like with most things, the best results come when it is not about you.
I will start with this one person.
And instead of running from people, I will look for opportunities going forward to engage with them and open up. Who knows, maybe I can develop deeper friendships and expand my support group while helping others?
I think that is worth the risk.