Haunted at 17: My Story
In honour of the release of 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, she has been running a series-type thing on her blog, Distraction no. 99, where she and other authors have been discussing what haunted them when they were 17 years old.
I know that I'm a little slow on the uptake here, but I saw so many of the wonderful posts that Nova Ren Suma has been tweeting and blogging and I wanted to write one. I knew I had something to say. I could feel it inside me. The reason this took me a while to get out, though, is primarily because I couldn't think of something that really haunted me at 17.
Warning: Long, personal post ahead.
See, I'm only going on 19 this spring, so I didn't think I was far enough removed yet from 17 to really know the connection between feelings or events that would be what haunted me. And then I was aimlessly scrolling through Twitter, watching conversations and comments flow by when it hit me. I know what haunted me at 17 because it still haunts me today. I'm not haunted by ghosts. I am the ghost.
At 17 I was, and still today I am absolutely an introvert. Don't get me wrong, I love having friends and spending time with them. Companionship feels wonderful. But I am simply too shy and too self-conscious to put myself out there. I stop myself from joining in conversations all the time because I feel like either I'll be interrupting and bothering the people having it, or else I'll have nothing of value to say and that these people will then look down on me. I am afraid to approach people because I so often don't know what to say without making a fool of myself. And I am TERRIFIED of making a fool of myself. I have missed out on a lot because I was afraid. Afraid of looking stupid. Afraid of being the one person in the group who doesn't "get it", or has the wrong opinion. I have felt like this for years now. And this fear pushes me directly to the background.
When I was 17, I was in high school. All throughout high school I was slowly retreating into my shell of self-consciousness. I had already drifted apart from both of my childhood best friends (though not completely at my own fault), which I find myself regretting all the time. At 17, I could count the number of people I truly considered my friends on one hand. I wanted to make more. I TRIED to make more. But nobody ever really responded to my efforts. Probably because by 17, I had already established myself as a bit of a recluse. In senior year, I showed up with my best friend at a Halloween house party that I had been off-handedly invited to. People were genuinely surprised to see me there. That same best friend told me one say that someone at school had asked her "Does Jessica even go here anymore?" I remember thinking to myself, "How did it go this far, that people don't expect to ever see me outside of school? That people don't even know I still go to this school? How did I become so invisible?" Because I wasn't friends with the "party/popular/fun people" before 17, and I was too afraid at 17 to even try to become a friend of theirs. They each had a friend group already. Why would they want me in it? I had convinced myself that I had nothing to contribute to any of those groups.
Now, at almost 19, not much has changed. I rarely make friends in my classes because I'm so afraid of introducing myself to someone and having them think I am a complete idiot, or any other number of terrible things I could be. I have had 10 university classes so far. I have made one friend. She was the one to start the conversation. She was the one who first suggested we do something together outside of class. I was surprised when she did, because I still feel like "Why would she want to spend more time with me?" I cannot tell you how many things I've changed, how many times I've kept my mouth shut, how many tweets or Facebook updates I've typed out only to never post them. All because I am terrified of being THAT person that everyone talks about with disgust or in mocking. I often feel lonely or left out and wish I had more friends to spend time with, but the ironic part is I am pushing so many potential friends away by willingly fading out of their line of sight. It's my own fault. I don't want to say something wrong, so I say nothing at all. And saying nothing means never getting noticed. It means nobody gets to know you. And it is something I struggle with.
Every time I send off a tweet (I use Twitter as my example because it is so relevant nowadays as an easy form of communication with pretty much anyone) to someone or as a response that then doesn't get an answer, I feel awful about myself and think "Why did I even bother? They don't care about my opinion anyway. Why should I or my useless thoughts matter to them?" And this is not the fault of the person I tweet at. They don't have any obligation to respond to me. Tweets get lost in the craziness of Twitter. People are BUSY. I KNOW that most of the time, they're not purposely avoiding my message to them. But it feels like they are, because the part of me that thinks I'm not worth it tells me so. And every time it happens, I feel more and more invisible in my own world. This invisibility has not just come from Twitter. This feeling has been with me for years, and at 17 it made me turn my back on the "social world" of high school. Junior year I was still trying. I tried to talk to people in class. I tried to take part in events. I went to my boyfriend's senior prom. And then, in my senior year, I stopped trying because I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere. I went to that one Halloween party, and that's it all year. I spent every one of my spare periods in the library. I skipped my prom. On graduation day, I got photos with, count 'em, three classmates. That was how far back I had pulled myself. Because I was scared and I was insecure. I still am, and today it dictates every move I make.
That little voice inside me speaks to me still, saying "Don't say that, it's dumb," or "Nobody cares about _____. Shut up," or even, "They're only inviting you because you're bothering them and they want you to stop." Every day I deal with that voice telling me what is okay for me to do and what is not. And right now, the voice is telling me not to post this because you'll all think I'm begging for attention. But I will post it. And honestly, knowing that I will indeed post it has my stomach in a knot, because I am genuinely afraid that people will read this and think "She just wants us to feel bad for her." But I don't want that. That is not my intention here, and please believe that. I'm just being honest about why I hold back. Why I don't appear to be as friendly as I want to -- as I truly am, deep down inside. I want to be your friend. I am just scared to show it because I don't think I know how to.