Monday, 10 June 2019

On Fitting In & Friendships

For as long as I can remember, I've struggled to feel as though I fit in.

I remember so vividly spending my days at primary school just looking on longingly at the groups of girls sitting together in the playground, swapping friendship bracelets and sharing their bags of crisps as they chatted easily together.

It felt like every other girl at school belonged to a friendship group. That everyone had their "Bestie". That everyone fit in somewhere.

Everyone apart from me.

No matter how hard I tried to make friends, it just never really happened for me. I never felt able to make real connections with the other kids.

It wasn't for lack of trying and it certainly wasn't because I didn't like them. I did like them. And I wanted desperately for them to like me back.

I tried to pretend that I liked the same things that they did, in the hopes that it might encourage them to accept me.

I backed my exercise books with posters of Bros because everyone else was doing it, even though I didn't really like them. I made sure I watched Gladiators on TV every Saturday night so that I could try to join in the conversations about it on Monday morning in class. I spent hours trying to learn how to do the perfect cartwheel....convinced that surely THIS was the key to making them want to play with me.

But none of it made the slightest bit of difference.

I was still always the one picked last in PE.
 I was still always the one without a partner on the school coach trips.
 I was still always the one who dreaded play time, knowing I'd be spending those 20 minutes walking awkwardly around the playground on my own...feeling self conscious.

I hated school. Not because I wasn't good at the academic side of it....I loved learning. But because, for those 8 hours every day, I felt unlikeable and lonely. So, so lonely. And so, so sad.

Even now, all these years later, the tears are stinging my eyes as I sit here reliving those awful memories.

Although the setting and faces changed over the years, the experience never really did.

At high school, and even work places in later years...that same feeling remained. The feeling that I didn't quite fit in, that people tolerated me rather than liked me, that I had to force myself to change who I was to try and encourage people to see want to know me. To be my friend.

But it still didn't really help. Sure, sometimes I'd manage to make some surface level friendships...and those friends would give me an "In" to a friendship group for a while. But it never lasted long.

In my 20s I made friends with a girl from my college class, and through her I got in with a group of people around my age who would all go out clubbing together at weekends.

But although I went along every weekend and spent time with these people for over a year, I always knew that I was only there because I was friends with that girl. And once she moved away, my access to that group expired. I never heard from any of those people again.

Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been all bad. I've made friends here and there in my life. And for some reason, finding boyfriends has never been an issue. In fact I've bounced from long term relationship to long term relationship since the age of 16, without ever having been single in between. There's probably a lot there that a psychologist would have a field day in analysing I'm sure! But I wouldn't say my adult life has been completely lonely.

Still though, I can't deny that real friendship is something I have always craved and felt I've missed out on.

Over the last few years, since I started going to regular sessions with my therapist to help me overcome past traumas - I feel as though I've finally started to understand the root cause of some of the long-standing issues in my life. And as a result of that, I've started to be able to live my life in a way that feels more authentic than it ever has before.

I know that sounds like such a cliché, but I can't think of another way to describe it.

I remembered recently that during my childhood, I was given some advice from a grown up about how to make my school days easier...."If the other kids don't like you, then just pretend to be someone else. You can be anybody you want to be" they told me...

Back then, I thought this was incredible and empowering advice. Yes!!! I could be anyone I wanted to be! If they don't like ME for who I am, well then I'll just pretend I'm somebody else....genius!

It's only now that I look back on that advice, that I finally realise just how damaging it was.

This was where it all began.

This was where that internal messaging of "You are not good enough as you are, nobody will ever like you for being YOU" came from.

And it's the message I've carried around in my head and my heart ever since.

Since I had that realisation, I've started to make a conscious effort to work on learning how to like myself for who I really am.

As well working out who I truly am on the inside.

It's amazing how well we can stumble through our lives on auto-pilot, without ever truly stopping to take notice of how we're feeling inside. Without taking stock of how authentic the life we're living really is, without stopping to take note of whether we're doing things with our lives that we truly enjoy and want to do...or just doing the things that we think we're supposed to do.

When I finally stopped and took notice of who I really was and what really mattered to me, I realised that I had buried a whole person deep down inside of me all those years ago and never let her see the light of day. Because I'd told myself that she wouldn't be accepted. That she wouldn't be liked for who she was. That she wasn't good enough.

So slowly, over the last year or so, I started to let her out...just a bit at a time.

I indulged myself in the things I enjoyed that I'd never given myself permission to run with before. I took up new hobbies, I changed the music I listened to, I changed the things I read. I discovered interests that I hadn't realised were there.

And I found that the more freedom I allowed myself, the more I realised that there were so many things that resonated with many passions I never even knew I had.

There was a whole inner me who had been bursting to get out for all of these years, and although setting her free has been challenging in some's also had some really surprising results.

One of which, the one that has taken me by surprise most of all, is that since I started to allow myself to be exactly who I really am....I have found myself meeting new people. People I'm drawn to, people who feel like maybe....just maybe these are the friends I've been missing out on all of this time.

People that I like, and enjoy being around. People who feel like positive energy. People who don't make me feel drained and as though every conversation is a chore (which is how I'd often felt in the past when I'd tried to make myself into somebody else in order to be liked)….instead these people make me feel uplifted, and as though I could easily talk to them for hours on end.

So could it be that this has been the answer all along? That the reason I've never felt as though I fit in, was that I was trying to force myself to fit in the wrong places?

That I've never been able to make connections and friendships with other people, simply because I wasn't allowing my true inner self out?

I'm not entirely sure of the answer to that question yet.

It feels very foreign to me to form new friendships, and sometimes I still struggle to know how to navigate them. I worry about putting myself out there too much, so I have a tendency to hang back and hope that people will reach out to me instead. And I will probably always worry that people don't really like me, that nobody really wants to be around me or talk to me. I don't think that anxiety will ever fully leave me, now.

But I feel optimistic.

Maybe after 37 years of not fitting in, my luck is finally changing.

Maybe I'm finally finding my "People".

Or maybe it's been the (not so) simple act of finding myself and being a friend to myself first and foremost that is the key to all of this, after all.

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