When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago, it was almost impossible for me to talk to people, let alone relate to them.
If it wasn’t the constant anxiety and paranoia keeping me from engaging, it was the burden of having an 800 lb. gorilla that nobody understood hanging over my head.
How could I possibly get on anyone else’s level when there was this immense self-stigmatizing diagnosis of being crazy sitting on my shoulders?
I was a singular unit among the normal people. I had never met anyone with schizophrenia before. I had no experience with anyone who had mental illness and to say it was scary knowing that I was crazy would be an understatement.
I was afraid of the label, I was afraid of the stigma if I ever told anybody and most of all, I was afraid of my own thoughts.
I can remember thinking early on in my recovery how boring the real world was if all the things my mind had been telling me weren’t actually real. There were no conspiracies, there were no missions, and there was nobody actively judging my every move.
As boring as it was, it was also a bit freeing.
My main issue was and always has been, though, that people were thinking evil things about me.
Slowly, over the eight years that I’ve been recovering, I’ve gotten better. But that has only been with a great deal of patience and practice.
Just like recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction, it takes serious work to relearn not only how to interact with the world but to feel like you are a valued part of it.
My first piece of advice for relearning how to relate to people after a major trauma would be that you have to try to put yourself out there.
Start small. Even the tiniest interaction, such as buying a candy bar, can provide a good base. You have to learn how to do simple transactions like this. It’s impossible to exist in this world without that level of comfort.
Talking to people is a requirement. You don’t have to have a perfect, confident conversation with everyone. But if you work at it and get better at interacting with people, you’ll eventually get to the point of feeling like you relate to them.
Just keep practicing. It might take years to get comfortable talking to people again. Once you do, though, you’ll feel much better about them.
There are two other things to keep in mind: One is that you need to relax. The other is that nobody outside of your family and close friends really care that much about you. If you remember these things, it’s much easier to get by without worrying that everyone is out to get you.
When the worry isn’t there, it’s much easier letting the conversation flow. Once the conversation starts flowing, you learn to relate to people as human beings with thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you can learn to relax when talking to people, you won’t be bogged down by hilarious insecurities and anxieties. I know it’s hard, but you can do it. Just keep practicing.
Try not to worry if you don’t have a perfect conversation every time. With more and more practice you will get better and you will feel less concerned about what people think.