I spent this past Saturday morning in the emergency room of Charlton Memorial Hospital, suffering from a panic attack so severe that the entire top half of my body had gone numb and was shaking uncontrollably. One IV of Valium and a chat with a social worker later, I realized that the vast majority of my stresses and anxieties spring forth from the fact that I have significantly low self-esteem. And looking back upon the previous 25 years of my life, it's pretty easy to see why.
I've always been driven by a desire to make people happy. It does my heart good to see folks having fun and smiling. So one of my main efforts to bring a little more sunshine to the world has been through humor, and that goes all the way back to when I was a kid. But my sense of humor was unappreciated in grade school. Kids singled me out as weird and stupid as early as kindergarten, and for the next twelve years, I was the one kid in school whom everyone unanimously despised, teased, and tormented. Despite my best efforts to reach out, nothing changed. So eventually, I decided that the only way to make my classmates happy, as I so yearned to do, was to sit down, shut up, and not bother anybody. That sort of clashed with my natural desire to befriend people, so as you might guess, my public school years were awkward, to say the least.
By the time I got to high school, I had pretty much conditioned myself to believe that my peers would never accept me. And since I was beginning to notice girls, that really amped up the game of tug-of-war going on in my mind. The first girl I ever asked on a date ended up burying her face in her hands in humiliation while her cadre of friends laughed me out of the cafeteria. Weakened by years of rejection by those who I'd hoped I could be friends with, I immediately lost my nerve for dating right then and there. The only girl I ever "dated" in high school was a friend of mine whom I had to beg to ask me out, and even then, she wouldn't even hold my hand, let alone kiss me. We were just two people who hung out together who happened to be of the opposite gender. That was enough for someone like me, of course, but then she dumped me. Yeah, that hurt - the first girl, nay, the first person I could get to stand my presence for longer than a minute, and she didn't want to be my girlfriend anymore.
I tried to ask out more girls in college, and being so socially inept due to years of being shunned by my schoolmates, I completely blew it each time. By now, I was utterly convinced that no girl on earth would willingly go out with a tall, skinny, pale guy who drew cartoons and could quote The Simpsons and Mystery Science Theater 3000 freely. The girls of the world deserved better than me, I thought. But at age 22, through a miraculous stroke of luck, I found myself in the company of a girl who was so interested in me that she began making out with me mere hours after we first met. Sure, she smoked cigarettes (as well as a few other things) and she had no career prospects and had dropped out of school in ninth grade, but what the hell? I had a girlfriend, dammit! Somebody genuinely loved me! That was all that mattered! ...And then two months later, she had an emotional breakdown and dumped me, saying something about how she needed to get her life back on track. I have no clue if she ever did. To this day, I can't even be 100% sure what she saw in me.
I tried playing the field again, and struck out with another girl. Lamenting my situation to an old friend of mine from college, she agreed to set me up with a friend of hers. And thereby hangs the tale of the single most emotionally draining relationship I've ever been in. For the first couple of months, it was great. But I still couldn't completely shake my feelings of awkwardness, the nagging doubts that had built up for two decades and made me so insecure. Then something happened. I won't go into too much detail, but it ended up with me very painfully confessing my feelings about my self-image to her...and let's just say things were never quite the same afterwards. By now I was so utterly convinced that I did not deserve the privilege to interact with other human beings that I remained on tenterhooks throughout the entire remainder of our relationship, believing that this could not possibly work but still trying to keep it going out of fear of being alone again. Naturally, the entire thing eventually imploded upon itself, and after my third straight failed relationship, I was pretty much a complete and total wreck.
For the past nine months, I've existed in a sort of ennui, looking at and talking to other people yet not daring to get too close to them emotionally, out of the belief that I cannot possibly make it work. So self-conscious am I about my ability to do anything right that I've begun experiencing pangs of anxiety on a semi-regular basis, which of course finally manifested itself in the nerve-wracking explosion that put me in the hospital two days ago.
They say one of the most important steps to get over this sort of thing is to discuss it openly and honestly with other people. And frankly, I'm sick and tired of shutting myself up in my dinky little apartment all day out of the fear that nobody wants to be my friend. I want to get past this, to see the good in people and to trust humanity again. I want to be able to reach out to someone without being plagued by the notion that they'll just chuck me aside like all the kids I knew in school did. And I won't give up until I succeed.