Easter reminds me of new beginnings. It’s a day almost destined to be sunny and bright. A day where the air starts off cool first thing in the morning, but becomes warm and temperate by noon. Believers dress in their Sunday best in churches, celebrating Jesus’s Resurrection. Later, children hunt for multicolored eggs in green suburban yards. Everyone seems pleased as the honey-glazed holiday ham is served with mashed potatoes and hard-boiled eggs.
It’s a time for families to come together again. Even with the dark cloud of a pandemic looming in the distance, we still manage to find a way to celebrate. I just wish the circumstances were better. I wish I didn’t have social anxiety and that talking with family members didn’t feel so much like job interviews. I wish it were easy to connect with other people–the people I claim to love. The people I call “family.” 95% of my family interaction is basically talking, communicating, storytelling. I mean, how else are we connecting? How else are we catching up? It stands to reason that an inability to simply hold a conversation messes with the ability to connect.
All I really want is to feel close to my family.
I saw two cousins of mine at my uncle’s house–both grown, married, and fathers. If you would have been there, you would have witnessed the most stereotypical American Easter Sunday ever. There was a patio table under a tent with plenty of seats. Coolers with drinks, plenty of food, and kids running in the backyard looking for eggs that were hidden by the adults. Everything was so bright, the sun was warm, and it was a perfect Easter day.
I knew my cousins better when I was just a kid. Back when the Nintendo 64 was cool and the ice cream truck stopped by my grandmother’s house, my older cousins were people I looked up to. They had the best taste in everything. My brother and I liked the video games they played and followed suit. They were funny, they engaged us, they played with us, and they were always the smarter, stronger, cooler versions of my brother and I.
It’s amazing what distance can do. After we moved to the country, there was a gap in our interactions. But you know, that’s life, isn’t it? As much as you’d want to interact with someone you don’t live with on a regular basis, that’s just not reality. Time, distance, and life events always disrupt the status quo. The less you see of someone, the harder it is to pick up where you last left off. And at some point, I no longer really knew my cousins. Even worse, I began to act as if they were strangers. Because we no longer saw each other as often, it felt like there were chapters of catching up to do with nowhere to start. Instead of reading the whole book to get the context, I just skipped to the current chapter and assumed I was no one to them.
When I don’t really know someone well or have been distant from them, it’s hard for me to use the past to justify being social in the present. Once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. I’m not so sure the same can be said of social skills with certain people. It’s certainly not the case with my cousins. It makes me sad that anxiety is the primary emotion I feel when I see them. Why? What am I afraid of? That I don’t stack up? That my life looks unimpressive? That I’m still a single loser? A placeholder human to remain until my personality comes alive someday?
I met one of my cousins and his wife. They married during the pandemic and there was no way for me to attend the ceremony. But I said my “congrats” to both of them and then struggled to talk with my cousin. I don’t even want to describe it. It was horribly awkward and painfully empty. It was as if I were speaking to a total stranger. But he’s not! He’s my freaking cousin! I know him! And yet, there’s so much I don’t know. I hate that I can’t figure out how to be social, how to ask the right questions, how to communicate.
Something profound hit me. As of late, I feel I’ve been getting along with my coworkers. Granted, I’m not completely my genuine self around them–it’s too unsafe. Yet, I do feel a certain rapport, a certain understanding. I can laugh and even make some light jokes. I can talk, share some anecdotes, and commiserate. I would even dare say that my coworkers make my job endurable. I feel closer to my coworkers than I do my cousins. How messed up is that . . .
For most of the party, I just stood there and listened to people. I smiled and laughed at all the right times. But deep inside, I felt like a fish out of water. I’m not close to most of the people that were around me. I felt uncomfortable and exposed. If I looked too bored, someone would point it out. What people don’t seem to realize is that my “bored” expression usually is representative of anything but boredom. That face of mine hides anxiety. It hides sad thoughts. It hides pretty much everything.
I hate feeling this way. I know there is a part of me that wants to let loose and reach outward. There is a part of me that wants to be more than just a shadow. I keep seeing the years pass by and it’s discouraging that my growth as a person has either stopped or is too marginal to be noticed. For all intents and purposes, nothing has changed. I still remain silent. I still don’t talk to people I love. Then, I feel shame for not being social. I hardly take on any weight in conversations, and usually people have to address me before I even speak.
Can I just be honest? Of course, I’m not implying that the above isn’t honest. But I really have to put this out there. A lot of my cousins are married. Some have children. I do feel happy to see the children running around, discovering their personalities, and interacting with each other. But it also makes me feel sad. You see, neither my brother nor I are married. We have no relationships that breach beyond platonic. I don’t feel very confident either of us will marry or have kids.
By itself, that’s not sad. But I feel sad when I think that my parents may never know what it’s like to have grandchildren. They may never have the pride or joy in their eyes that only grandparents can display when seeing their grandkids. Please don’t misunderstand me; I would never marry someone just to give my parents the experience of being grandparents. At the same time, I wonder how my parents feel. Are they sad? Do they feel deprived of a normal and common life experience?
Even if they don’t feel sad, I do. I don’t know the first thing about relationships. I don’t even fully know if I want one or even if I can handle one. Sometimes, I do feel ashamed for being single. But . . . I mean, there’s something that happens to me whenever I think I can be more social than I usually am. It’s like a short circuit in my brain. A wall that I hit that instantly seals me up. You see, my brain prioritizes safety over connection. I am not incapable of connection, but that’s only if I feel safe first. If anxiety is creeping up, I have to escape it before I can even think about connecting. Vulnerability is connecting before finding safety–and it’s the very thing that prevents me from even trying to meet new people who I could potentially date.
Writing, my usual sanctuary, has been difficult. Mostly, I’ve lost the motivation and interest. I know these things happen and it won’t be forever. But creatively, I’ve reached a roadblock. I have finished the first draft a story I want to publish and I do need to focus on editing now. Maybe there’s a certain emptiness when you finish a draft. It’s like, “Where do I go next? What do I write next?” I don’t know. I hate when ideas don’t come naturally and I have to dig just to find a drop of something halfway interesting.
And finally, there’s something else going on, but I can’t talk about it. Not even here. Let’s just say that I believe everyone carries their struggles every day. We’re all suffering. We should be kind to others because we have no idea what they’re truly going through. Reader, if I could take your pain away, I would without hesitation. If it was just a press of a button, I would press it millions of times for millions of people.
I still see the light of Easter despite my problems and I hope you do too. If it hasn’t been good lately, my heart goes out to you. I’m sorry. It will be better.