How can I open up to people?
September 14, 2014 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I have a really hard time relaxing in life and sharing myself with others. It's making me miserable. How can I overcome this?

I am 21 years old. Still living at home, currently working full time and taking a semester off school to figure out what I want to do with my life. And I'm female.

I grew up in a kind of dysfunctional family. I lived with my dad since I was one, my parents weren't together when I was born, my mom has a fifth grade education and really bad schizophrenia. I visited her as a kid and didn't know how messed up she was. My dad's girlfriend moved in when I was 4, with her two girls who were 2 and 4. I have a sister who is 10 years older than me.

My dad was always pretty distant and sometimes really angry, he would freak out on us and sometimes be kind of abusive, also called us named like retarded a lot. I know he loved me though, just didn't know how to show it. When I was younger my mom would try to turn me against my dad and especially my stepmom, and my stepsisters and I fought a lot, I felt pretty alone and unhappy and confused I think. I spent a lot of time in my room just listening to music.

When I was 16 I got into a relationship. I basically stopped hanging out with my friends, who were starting to go down the wrong paths anyway, and talked to my family even less. I spent all my time with him. I was really unhappy and felt like I lost myself, and I wanted to experience being single so I broke up with him in May.

Now I don't really have hardly any friends. My high school friends are potheads and not in the best places in life.

I feel very very self conscious, tense and alienated from people. I feel like I'm going crazy sometimes. Even when I'm alone I feel very out of it, I never really feel peaceful and content, except when I'm around someone who feels that way, if that makes sense. I don't know how to rebuild my relationships with my family. I don't understand me.

I was the only kid still living at home for the past couple years but my stepsister, the one who's my age, moved back in for a couple months. We used to hang out in high school and were kinda close. She's really cool, a no nonsense type of girl, really chill and artistic. She invited me out to a bar last night with her, her boyfriend and one of our friends from high school came. We were drinking and she was trying to talk to me some. She said I should come out more often, that drinking and smoking weed helps you let go and overcome those blocks and inhibitions, she said "I think it's good for you sometimes, especially for you. You just need to let yourself out, I can tell, you just need to not care" I almost started tearing up so I excused myself to the bathroom. I was in there drunk and crying for like 10 no sites so she came in and checked on me, could tell I had been crying, I was embarrassed but I needed to let it all out. She tried to talk to me, encouraging me, said she knew something was up with me and that her and her mom had talked about me, that no one knows how to connect with me, that she wants to help me. Which made me cry more. She made me feel kinda better, more clarity than I've had in a long time, still don't know what to do though. She said she can tell I'm not happy and that I'm not getting as much out of life that I could.

She came home today and I overheard her telling her mom what happened, she said I had an anxiety attack and was crying because I don't know how to open up to people. I'm embarrassed to talk to her.

I always feel so tense, I work at a coffee shop, and I always feel like I'm out of it, never present with coworkers or customers, people can tell and they try to be nice to me but I'm not connecting that well. I want to just be myself but I don't know how, I don't want to be the goofy immature self I'm afraid I am, I want people to see me a certain way but maybe I should just stop trying so hard.

I need help, I don't think I can do this on my own. I think I have depression, social anxiety deffinitely, and general anxiety. Being around people like my stepsister, I just want to feel that kind of peace and self confidence. I just don't know. Been fighting this battle for a long time.
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely, get some help, because it seems like you haven't had the safest space to open up to people growing up, and doing so in a safe environment will help with that.

It sounds like your stepsister is a really good person, and has your best interests at heart. I would possibly ask her if you two could go out together alone next time, so you can relax and open up a little bit without the pressure of being social with a group around you. Maybe somewhere without the alcohol, though there's nothing wrong with a drink if that's where you want to hang out.

I want people to see me a certain way but maybe I should just stop trying so hard.

I would just let people see you for who you are (that's so much easier said than done, I know). Don't try to get people to see you in any particular sort of way. If you're a little goofy and immature, that's perfectly fine! 21 is a great time to be a bit goofy and immature. If people are being kind and trying to engage, don't self-censor or worry about what they think, just try to enjoy the attention and give back in kind.

But again, seeing someone who can help you work through this may be a very smart first step.
posted by xingcat at 8:16 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think there's a lot going on here, and I don't think we can provide you with what you need. I'm not typically a therapy obssessed poster, but I just think we do not have the tools to unpack everything that you've written.
posted by Aranquis at 8:22 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please don't try to overcome your inhibitions with alcohol and other substances at this time. You need more of a plan, otherwise the substances could end up being your _only_ plan -- and that will not lead anywhere good.

I kind of hear what your sister is saying about "not caring" but you definitely want to care _most_ of the time. Another way to approach this might be to figure out what you _really_ care about, and focusing on that in a clearer way. If you're always worried about being seen a certain way, maybe that's less important than connecting with someone, or than learning about new people and situations, or than being a strong person, or than helping others (while taking care of yourself).

I'm really not an authority on any of this stuff; these are just some thoughts for you to consider.
posted by amtho at 8:35 PM on September 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry that you're in so much pain. Your state of mind actually sounds a lot like mine when I needed to get help for depression. I didn't think that I was depressed, because I felt more numb and alienated, rather than sad per se. Even though there are a lot of things that you can do to try and be less tense and in a more peaceful state of mind, medication to literally lessen the pain you're feeling actually does help a lot in terms of getting you to the place you need to be in to make/understand/keep up with those changes. Is seeing a psychiatrist a possibility for you?

She said I should come out more often, that drinking and smoking weed helps you let go and overcome those blocks and inhibitions, she said "I think it's good for you sometimes, especially for you. You just need to let yourself out, I can tell, you just need to not care" I almost started tearing up so I excused myself to the bathroom.

Even though I just said that medication can help, PLEASE DO NOT SELF MEDICATE. Your stepsister seems like she really means well and loves you, but this advice specifically -- to drink and do drugs to lessen inhabitions -- is misguided. For many people doing that stuff would be fine, but since you're in a delicate emotional state, depressive substances like alcohol are probably not a good idea. Since you have schizophrenia in your immediate family, hallucinogens (which include pot, even though it's relatively mild) are probably not a good idea. Not that you necessarily can *never* try either of those things, but don't make it a habit or use it as a replacement for actual help. Even if things don't go very wrong, you're liable to use it as a crutch and become a heavy user, and if things do go very wrong, you could really hurt yourself. Until you're in a more peaceful state of mind, at least, please go very easy (at most!) on using anything on your own that alters your consciousness.

If you're feeling a ton of tension in your body, as though you're about to crawl out of your skin, try very hard exercise, out in the sun, until you've tired yourself out. Intense stretching is also really good. Otherwise, a lot of the stuff you can do on your own is just that ordinary stuff you've probably already heard: sleep well, eat well, socialize at least every week or two, take time for hobbies that feel satisfying/fulfilling to you. I know that's probably not enough to ease your pain right now, though.

Honestly, I do think you should see a professional, and while a therapist would be a good idea for help with communication problems, etc, a psychiatrist is probably essential, too. Especially with your family history, it's vital that you stay on top of your mental health.

Please don't feel daunted or defeated. I know that you're feeling a lot of pain right now, and it's all you can do to keep going -- but that's all that you *have* to do. Keep reaching out, you're doing things right. Just try to also reach out to professionals, because even though medicine can't fix everything, it *can* likely offer you at least some pain relief, through therapy or pharmaceuticals or both. One day the pain will start to fade, and eventually even the memory of the pain will fade, too.
posted by rue72 at 8:46 PM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm glad you're putting these difficult feelings and experiences to words -- that's opening up right there! You are clearly thoughtful and kind, and I think you can definitely figure out a way out of this current rough patch.

For the times I've really struggled with my mental health, I found I had to get my foundation in order before I could tackle the problems -- otherwise, I was dealing with both situational and emotional precariousness at the same time. For me, this meant: (1) peaceful-as-possible living situation, (2) regularly seeing a therapist, (3) doing whatever I could for my self care (exercise, sleeping, being around people at least some of the time, even if it was painful and confusing).

1, 2, and 3 might look different for you than me, but I would definitely recommend doing what you can to get those fundamentals in order. Is your school nearby? Even though you're taking a semester off, you can probably call up your school's health and wellness center to ask about appointments or therapist referrals in the area. The goal during this time is not "I need to fix myself to be better," but "I need to take the steps that I can at this point in time to get in a position where healing can begin."

It's really hard when you can't envision what your life -- or yourself -- is supposed to look like in the future. But the fact that you're asking this question and reflecting upon it speaks volumes. Check out others' advice too. Take care!
posted by elephantsvanish at 9:05 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Journalling could be a good start. Think about trying CODA or Al Anon (maybe don't get too drawn in!!) but more to spend some time in a space where others struggle with some of the same stuff to feel less isolated. You don't have to speak.

You are young, life is hard and you've been through a lot. You're post shows a lot of bravery and insight so try and be kinder with how you 'talk to yourself'. The centre for clinical interventions CBT workbooks (free) may help with this.

Remember alcohol is a depressant, it can have it's place socially etc but might not be the greatest when you are feeling vulnerable. Maybe a walk or a spa with your sib may be a gentler place to start.
posted by tanktop at 12:14 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel very very self conscious, tense and alienated from people. I feel like I'm going crazy sometimes.

When you feel this way, you think you're the only one. You're not. That's what's so great about group therapy.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:09 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot of times, in dysfunctional homes, people involved in said dysfunction act like its normal. And, well, it sorta is, because people can get used to anything. Often, simply hearing someone else acknowledge how messed up stuff really was can be very freeing/helpful.

You are at a point in your life where you want to start growing into who you really are... and thats scary. Its hard. It takes forever. It is Work. I'm armchair psychologist-ing like crazy, but you seem partly afraid of who you are and largely afraid to show who you are to people. What underlies that fear? Was there a lot of rejection during your childhood? Are you afraid people won't like you if you don't act a specific way?

You've got a lot of stuff you're holding on to. If you can find somewhere private, it might be a good idea to verbally and out loud let some of this out. Hitting pillows, hitting eggs with tennis racquets, and such can be a pretty cathartic and safe, if sometimes intense, way to bleed off some of that pressure/emotion.

Its ok to accept who and where you are at this point, but also want to heal and grow and improve. Dont beat yourself up if its slow or hard or you fail some. Everything can be a learning experience. :)

A psychologist and maybe a psychiatrist might be good for you, yes. Having a safe place to talk with professionals is usually useful. And based on several discussions with multiple people, meds can lessen that anxiety. Its not really a cure-all, but meds can free up some space for you to grow.

The good news is you have a bright future in front of you! Its not too late. Youre not the Titanic. It will be hard, but by this time next year, I bet you'll be in a much better place. And three years from now, I bet you'll be in an even better place than that! It will be ok :)

As always, I'm open to mail if you want. Good luck! Have fun! Enjoy it if you can :)
posted by Jacen at 6:55 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for replying everyone. Yes, I do think I experienced a lot of shame in my childhood, it's something I remember mostly feeling. I remember feel different from others and lost and ashamed. I didn't feel a good or close relationship with my parents at all.

I have tried seeing a counselor before but I don't think it was ready to do the work or that I could really understand my problems. I saw a psychiatrist once recently and he acted as if I had nothing to be anxious or sad about and made me feel like an idiot who was overreacting.

It's comfortable the way I am now. But also extremely uncomfortable.

I wish I could feel better permanently but it just seems like nothing lasts and it's always back to this.

Sometimes I feel like id be way less depressed if I knew how to have good relationships. I've learned a lot but I've been depressed and lost for so long that I feel like I missed out on things normal people know and I can't relate to people as well or think of things to say. I'm sure that made no sense.

I'm going to call my doctor tomorrow and discuss this, and also call my insurance company for therapists to look into.

I hope I overcome this someday.
posted by anon1129 at 8:17 PM on September 21, 2014

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