Is there any hope for me to have a social life?
July 24, 2018 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I've dealt with a lot of past trauma from other people. I also have trouble with things like communicating coherently (things like Ask Metafilter is one of the few exceptions). Is there any hope for me to build a social life?

I've been so traumatized throughout my life that I've been diagnosed with complex PTSD. I think that's part of my issue with socializing, but a few people who said something objectively less bad than what would be considered trauma ironically killed my hope for socializing even more than the cptsd. These people accused me of being boring and not talking enough. My mental illnesses are so severe that I find it difficult to be coherent and even follow along with simple activities when I'm with people, though sometimes I can pull those things off with my parents and social workers. My ability to communicate seems to mainly be limited to problem solving, whether my own problems, someone who asks for help, or thinking about how to help society. Hence, I can articulate myself in this post about this problem, but if you went for coffee with me, I might involuntarily fall mostly or completely silent, or say something incoherent like when I tried going to a restaurant with my mom the other day and all I could get out to the server when ordering my food was, "chicken with tomato-y stuff on it." All I can think of to try to initiate a conversation outside of problem solving when I can even think enough at all to try that is usually "What have you been watching?" or "Can you tell me something about animals?"

I have a wide range of interests that has been continually expanding. I've been exploring philosophy, social and physical sciences, and continue to add more as my mental resources allow. I've spent hours upon hours reading Captain Awkward, Doctor Nerdlove, etc, but still feel incapacitated with people.

I've tried addressing my social issues with my therapists, but she often steers the conversation away from that towards things like my self care and making sure I don't accidentally screw myself over financially, which I understand are also pretty urgent things. Also, there have been a lot of interruptions to our therapy (which I don't blame either of us for) such as her calling out sick, me being hospitalized for mono, and her taking a day off to go to a funeral. I'm sharing these things with you all because I know therapy is a popular suggestion here, but I'm already doing the best I can with it and it might be a long time before my therapist will get more in depth with social issues.

Anyway, back to the hurtful comments those people said to me. They made me believe that I'll never be able to catch anyone's interest for either friendship or romance and be able to keep the person engaged enough to stick around. I started isolating myself more than ever after that. Before then, there were times that I somehow managed to stumble into "friendships" or "relationships," but I'm not sure if they can really be called that, since either the other person was similarly incapacitated and thus we'd barely interact (i.e sit in almost total silence while we hung out and barely look at each other) or the person was more typically interactive but got frustrated with my inability to function socially.

Every friendship or relationship I've had has gone horribly for me - even the people with similar social ability levels have done horrible things, such as the guy who kept leaving me stranded for hours in town waiting for him to show up for our dates, or the guy who abused the cat that my dad and I gave him (he seemed like a typical animal lover before that and it's one of the biggest regrets of my life). Aside from my parents, social workers, and some customer service people, it seems like everyone either ignores me or is hostile or predatory towards me. People I've tried to connect with have tried to push me to do illegal things, sexually abused me, taken me on a trip to another state and then just left me there, pushed me, and so on and so forth. I've read that people with disabilities like mine are more vulnerable to being victimized, so I think that's why these things have happened to me so much.

Overall, I'm close to my parents, but they're also socially isolated outside of our little family unit and have been victimized a lot, so they can't help me. They've almost entirely given up on people.

Aside from my parents and social workers, I can indirectly feel some warmth from things like Metafilter and watching people's YouTube videos, but it's not the same. I'm worried that for the rest of my life, all the warmth I can hope to get aside from my parents and social workers will be through a screen or a book. I've been profoundly lonely for my entire life and the thought of that stretching ahead of me for several more decades is deeply disturbing.

I'd like a healthy social life with people who respect me. I'd like to be able to carry conversations with people for all kinds of reasons, not just problem solving. I'd like to be able to follow along with activities, such as playing board games with them.

I've thought about joining a book club where each person can share about the different books they've been reading, but am afraid that I'll either be victimized again, or will lock up verbally or do the word salad thing. Is it worth a shot?

Is there any hope for me? Is there anything I can do?

I'm trying to reframe the insults about being boring with, "I'm not objectively boring, just disabled, and my disabilities are getting in the way of expressing myself. I can keep trying to work on that, but it's not my fault that it has been difficult for me. Maybe there will be some people out there who will like me if I can find them and figure out how to connect with them." Is that a reasonable thing to think?

Also, medical professionals are still debating what my other diagnoses are outside of the confirmed cptsd, anxiety, and depression - some ideas being tossed around include intellectual disability, autism, learning disability, and/or schizophrenia. Since they're still working on that, and I don't know how much longer it'll take, right now I can't access resources like groups for developmentally disabled people (if that's even what I have). I've tried a couple of groups for mentally ill people, but neither of them worked out, for what to me are good reasons (i.e one of them had several people connected to past traumas of mine).
posted by Psychology Hearts to Human Relations (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You mention board games as something you'd like to do within your social groups. I've found that a lot of people struggling in their social circles have a lot of luck visiting local board game clubs.

Board games are interesting, the expectation for social interaction is pretty low. At one of the clubs I go to, barely anyone knows anyone else's name until they've been going for a few years. Board games are kind of a way of communicating through non-verbal ways. Even between the games, the small talk is usually minimal. I'm sure it varies from group to group, but usually people are just happy to have people show up, and won't ask you your life's story.

Learning to be social and make friends is a skill - it takes practice. I highly recommend you keep trying clubs until one clicks for you. The biggest component to friends is time - the more time you spend in a room with someone, the more likely you are to be friends by the end of it. So find a club, and attend for a few years.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:44 AM on July 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

My number one piece of advice on how to make friends as an adult is to become a regular somewhere. This could be a gamestore or a bar's trivia night or a yarn shop or a religious group or choir or an animal shelter's dogwalking team or a park's chess boards or just a local coffee shop or nearly anywhere else. Try a few things, pick one, and go there at least once a week. It's complicated by personal needs, like, I have auditory processing issues so I strongly avoid bars or anywhere overly noisy, resources, like, obviously if money is a concern then some shop environments would be a bad idea, and local availability, like some remote places won't have much to choose from or you might run too high a risk of running into past abusers.

But once you find a thing you can become a regular at there are a lot of benefits, especially for non-neurotypical folks. You can focus on the one thing and learn it really well or have a really standard routine, like a regular order at a coffeeshop. You can have nonverbal days where your presence, being normal, is accepted and not challenged even if you're not able to do words, because you'll have a role that you can stick to. Socializing can be simpler, because people who are interested in spending time with you can know you will usually be at x place on x day at x time so they can meet you. And being reliable is a really desirable quality in a friend, even if that friendship is very mellow and all you do is share an outlet in a cafe and sometimes talk about the books you're reading. Transportation can be simplified because you'll always be going to the same place at a similar time so once you get it ironed out it's standard. And when you find someone you're interested in befriending there, you're in a familiar environment without a bunch of distractions to trip you up.

From your previous question and this one, I get the impression that you're doing a bunch of proactive things for yourself right now and looking for direction. That's awesome! I do wonder if you might be putting a lot of pressure on yourself at once, though. The things you're asking and worrying about are things that are confusing and really difficult for anyone, let alone someone like yourself with so many difficult problems to contend with on top of it all. Worrying about a life of loneliness is like, top human concern, right alongside being scared of dying.

But the thing is, people respond to kindness, and kindness is about treating other people with respect and thoughtfulness. Having a "social life" is kind of a crapshoot, but making personal connections with others is something that comes from being focused and deliberate with your kindness and the reciprocation thereof. From your question it's very clear to me that you have all that in you, and that's incredible considering what you've lived through so far. I think that the answer to the title of your question "is there any hope for me to have a social life?" is a definite yes. There is definitely plenty of hope. You do need to apply yourself to it, and be in an environment that's conducive to it, but it's absolutely possible.
posted by Mizu at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2018 [21 favorites]

You sound a lot like me, so I'm answering from that place. In fact, I am dreading a social meeting this evening with someone because of the difficulty of conversation starters. She's a wonderful person, and someone I would like to know better but it's very difficult! But I am about a decade older than you, and I've had some time to figure things out so I'm not just cancelling our dinner hang out, even though I really really want to.

Instead, I'm going in with prepared conversation starters. She's planning a trip, so I'll ask her about that. I'll ask her about the last trip she just came home from. And if that runs out, I'll ask what fun foods she's tried lately. That will probably get us through the hour it takes to eat dinner, and the next time I see her it will be much easier because we'll have conversational things to return to from this time. I only eat out at places that I've either been before or have their menu online so that I can practice saying what I want to order. And if that still fails, I just point at the item on the menu and that works just fine. "I'd like this [point at thing], please" with a smile.

I do most of my socializing in known environments, because not having a bunch of new things around me makes it easier for me to communicate verbally. I also have a lot of friends who know sign language, which is often easier for me than using my mouth. If you haven't explored that, try learning a few simple signs and see if they're easier than talking aloud. Youtube is great for this.

I've talked before about learning to make small talk and socialize with reality TV, and that's still something I really think has helped me out. Shows that are less competition focused are better for this. (For example, MTV's The Real World is more helpful than MasterChef. Big Brother is playing right now and you can watch episodes online and that's pretty good!) I also think I was really hard on myself in that comment. I'm now more comfortable with how I communicate naturally - a lot like you! - and have stopped trying so hard to change that. I am better at directed problem solving communication, and that's ok!

I would look into meetup groups hosted by ASAN or AWN. Autistic groups hosted by autistic people are really used to people who talk in circles or only in directed ways or express things sideways. However you communicate is good and awesome! Find other people like you who don't think it's weird, and stop judging yourself for it. It's ok not to communicate like neurotypical people. It's ok to communicate Like You. Once you take the pressure off to be "normal" it becomes a lot easier to talk with people and develop strong and healthy relationships. I know you aren't diagnosed, and I'm not internet diagnosing you. I'm just trying to let you know where I have met and spent time with people who communicate in weird ways, like me.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:20 AM on July 24, 2018 [13 favorites]

Reiterating what other people have said about shared activities. Knitting or any other kind of crafting groups (but knitting/crochet are most common and easiest to find) might be a good fit too. There's not a lot of conversation expected at those, so you would have plenty of time to warm up to the group.

Since you express yourself well in writing, I'd also suggest some kind of online community that has an in-person component. For instance (using the knitting example), join the message board for your local yarn store, get to know people there, and then (or concurrently) show up to events. Or IRL MetaFilter events?

Another idea: volunteering with animals (since you seem to be an animal lover). My daughter and I are both very shy, and one of the things we enjoy doing is walking dogs and caring for cats at the local shelter. Interaction is not expected there, but it could certainly happen.

These activities are also public enough to keep you safer from those who would try to take advantage of you.

You sound like a gentle, kind, interesting person to me. Quiet does not equal boring. You just need better people around you.
posted by missrachael at 11:25 AM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you 100% can have a social life, yes!

It sounds like people in your life have been assholes, which is like, a lot of people unfortunately. I totally agree with the suggestions that you find a low-key group that doesn't require a lot of conversation, or conversation that is focused on learning a skill like crocheting, knitting, sewing, embroidery, weaving, or really any kind of skill that you might be interested in. I sometimes find it easier to interact with people if we're both focused on some kind of project and have that in common.

Also, having read some of your other posts, etc, I think that one of the biggest strengths you have in this area is that you are putting yourself out there and you are really keen on honing your social skills and figuring this out. You have a lot of motivation and drive to make friends and that is one of the biggest parts of doing it. When I had first moved to my current city I had no friends and met a woman who I just very much wanted to be friends with. So I awkwardly said to her, "I would really like to be your friend and I think we'd make great friends." We are still friends, 10 years later this year. She is one of my closest friends in my city.

SO - people will forgive you for being awkward! I am living proof of that. You can do this!

Also if there are any Metafilter meetups in your city, check them out! Metafilter people are good people.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have found support groups to be a relatively safe place to learn and practise social skills, although they can also have their share of victimizers so you have to be careful as well.
posted by windykites at 1:46 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing that there are a lot of assholes out there, including a lot of people who are very skilled at concealing that side of themselves until they think they have found someone they can abuse. Even neurotypical people have a hard time spotting these folks (case in point the Chump Lady blog, which also has good advice for everyone on "fixing your picker").

So you are not alone and this is a common problem for lots of people. Learning how to spot red flags (especially the subtle ones), knowing what your boundaries are and how to enforce them are all critical skills for you to work on to keep yourself safe. I agree with Stonkle and encourage you to bring this up with your therapist as soon as you can. Also, when people show you who they really are, believe them and also realize that's who they are. Their behavior is not your fault. They are responsible for their behavior.
posted by jazzbaby at 2:42 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Gently, I think a good place to start here would be to find something outside of your disability and challenges and past that interests you. You know, a hobby. It could be anything--crafts, plants, even reading. Maybe you already have something like this--it's hard to tell from your question.

Point is, it's easy to build an identity around our challenges, but it's also a very limiting way to live. I've been there--it's not fun. It's lonely. And friendship is largely built around shared activities that we enjoy. The less of these you have, the harder it's going to be to find people to spend time with.

I also second whoever suggested volunteering at an animal shelter. Point is, expanding your own world and going out and doing things and exploring new interests--even without the express goal of making friends--is going to expand your social circle.

Good luck.
posted by Amy93 at 6:29 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe a mindfulness meditation group? People sit around saying nothing for a half hour or a couple hours, and after a while you start seeing the same people and feeling comfortable with each other. Check with your therapist, though - I read something the other day suggesting that meditation might not be good for some people who have had trauma.
posted by matildaben at 8:48 PM on July 24, 2018

I haven't seen any suggestions of looking at local library programs. Ours has several things going on per week,from book clubs,where you have a built-in conversation piece, to yoga, to day trips.
posted by kellyblah at 3:11 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The people who have abused you by telling you that you are boring and not cut out for a social life are wrong. And it is abuse to treat another person that way; I am sorry that you've gone through that. The way that you have written your question makes it clear you are a thoughtful and interesting person. I know it can be frustrating to feel that you don't come across that way in person, I feel very similarly and agree that it's not enough to have online friends and communities even if they are as wonderful as Metafilter can be.

I have struggled to make friends, but I have found a hobby that made it easier. For a few years I was increasingly afraid to leave my house and I had trauma from people being very cruel to me. (I am a fat woman with a friendly face, which makes me an easy target.) I tried book clubs and being more outgoing and going to events and I found that to be very overwhelming and then I would feel ashamed because I didn't get anything out of them. I am happy to say that once I started volunteering to walk dogs at the local humane society I found my life changing. If that is something that appeals to you, or if there is another volunteer opportunity, I would recommend that.

For me, volunteering gave me a way to reframe the activity from "scary activity where I might fail to make friends" to "I am doing something that I am passionate about, I feel a sense of pride that I am volunteering for a really great organization, and I am not going to shame myself if I don't make any friends." It gave me a place to be every Friday night and a routine. Just having one thing that felt good outside the house, and having people generally be very friendly with me — and having something to talk to them about in a very low stakes way, which is just talking about the dog in front of us — it opened my world up in a way I didn't expect.

I don't hang out with anyone that I volunteer with, so I haven't exactly made friends. However, I do have people I am friendly with and who I really enjoy spending time with when we volunteer at the same time. It is a social activity that I can rely on. It is a community for me and it also gives me something to talk about to people when they ask what I'm interested in. And it led me to some of the memories of past trauma to quiet so that I could try new things. (I also joined a very low impact yoga group for bigger bodies that meets once a week, so now I have two things to go to, which helps me feel safer leaving the house. I have made friends through this class.)

One more thing. This may not be helpful to you, please ignore it if it is not, and send me a MeMail if it is helpful and you want to talk further. I see from your profile you are in WA. I lived in Seattle for a long time and people are very unfriendly in that area. I moved to Portland (OR) and I was very surprised to find that the constant stress I had when out in public was reduced greatly because people are more friendly and open here. I carry a lot of wounds from the way that I was treated in public when I lived in Washington; I moved away from Seattle because I realized I was not able to feel safe there going out in public as a fat woman. I have met many people who have told me they have had the same experience. I don't know much about your particular city (I don't want to share it here since I think that might be against Metafilter rules) but I am almost certain it would be similar to Seattle in how people react to anyone outside the norm. I'm not sure if this paragraph is helpful, but it was actually someone telling me something similar that helped me stop feeling so bad about not making friends when I lived there.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I never thought I would be someone with a lot of friends. Until a found a nerdy hobby I enjoyed, I had a small number of close friends. I had some horrible experiences with meeting new friends that made me very wary of new people. I've had so-called friends treat me in grotesque ways. I know how damaging that feels.

I found a nerdy gaming hobby and it all changed. I met a ton of new, kind people. All of us have some social awkwardness or other quirky traits. In this social group, it's perfectly fine to state at your phone when with other people or to say odd things. Last weekend I was out to brunch and I couldn't remember the word for sour cream and just said to my friend that I didn't like this "white stuff." He didn't mock me. I can tell these friends that my brain isn't working right and they understand and support me.

I've never felt so loved by a group. I can't even put into words the kindness I've been shown. We have been with each other through the worst and have supported one another.

I think you can make friends and find people who will love you. I recommend finding something that interests you and meeting others who share that interest. My recommendation is to find a hobby or interest that's slightly out of the ordinary. It could be a social justice cause, gaming, community building, old cars, bird watching, choir, comedy, alternative lifestyles, etc. Go to events and meet the people. As some said above, become a regular in one of these groups. You can find friends and you are deserving of love. (Memail me if you want details about my particular nerdy hobby.)
posted by parakeetdog at 8:59 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

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