The Empty Box

By April 25, 2018Blog

For some, melancholia seems to follow the forecast. I know for myself, when the bleak weather comes, I withdraw. My usual feelings of loneliness seem amplified. I’m not diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, I’m just alone. It becomes more pronounced when the rainy season rolls around. Those long, gray days have a way of driving the point home.

The loneliness piece comes from feeling like an outsider, even when I have a few friends that I see on a semi-regular basis. When we part ways after a good hangout together, I immediately feel a profound loss. My aloneness ratchets up and I feel empty. All the earmarks of depression are there, yet I don’t feel truly depressed. Alienated might be closer to the feeling, and even that’s not quite it. I face this loneliness with some anxiety, so I try to fit more sociable activities into my routine, especially with friends. But as soon as they’re gone, I’m gone.

Sometimes I let myself believe that my mental illness has robbed me of love, careers, family, and friends, yet I know that—while it may be true—it’s nothing to get mired in or gloss over. Those experiences are in the past, and they may have had devastating consequence at the time, but, trite as it sounds, every day is a new day, with new opportunities to make a better future. It’s just true. Still, I let self-stigma dictate my emotions. I think to myself that I am unloved, which I want to believe is not the case. The constant loneliness just makes it seem so.

Being mentally ill, having this diagnosis of schizophrenia, seems to be the sticking point. Some might want to contest that notion, but they’re not taking my experience into account. They might offer advice like “Cheer up!” or “This, too, shall pass,” but such sentiments only serve to exacerbate the loneliness. I wouldn’t expect a person with cancer to feel any better if I told them to “Look on the bright side!” Yet when I open up to someone and tell them I feel alone, that’s what I hear. They may have the best intentions, but that kind of support doesn’t help.

I try to text or call someone every day, but often to no avail, because when the moment of contact passes, so does the feeling of connection. I’m alone again to live with my unquiet mind. It’s like a psychiatric version of object permanence—the belief that something continues to exist even when it can’t be seen. Without object permanence, things have no separate, permanent reality. It’s something we develop as infants, a product of working memory. It’s why Peek-a-Boo no longer works past a certain age. The child knows you’re behind the curtain, when they used to think that you’d disappeared. So do my friends cease to exist once I hang up the phone? My mind tells me, “Yes,” therefore I have no friends.

My desire to be with people is strong. I want to get to know them as I get to know myself, and yet there’s a concern of how I’ll be received when I disclose my diagnosis. To the uninformed public, the word “schizophrenia” seems to provoke more fear than understanding. It carries with it years of stigma, from images of horror movie stereotypes, to coverage of mass shootings. As far as the media’s concerned, when it comes to such negative imagery, I’m the Big Bad, and yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m afraid of monsters, I’m not one of them.

My medications can flatten me and leave me void of motivation and pleasure, but this isn’t simply a medication issue. It’s part of my psyche. I’m hardwired to view the world from a solitary perspective. It’s a trauma-related issue. I learned to question trust as a child.

This puzzle won’t solve itself. I need to work it out. There are measures I can take. I can open up more in therapy. I could work harder to let go of self-stigma. I can reach out to my friends and touch base with them, maybe include myself in their plans, possibly believe in something more enduring when the moment inevitably passes.

I know that this problem is symptomatic. I can let logic dictate the answer. Otherwise there’s nothing in the box marked FRIEND.

I can’t let that be the case. I comprehend the science behind why I see an emptiness. I understand the dynamic that produces my anxiety. I know from therapy that my friends might believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. There’s something real and tangible inherent in friendship. It’s more than Peek-a-Boo.



  • smileandrelax says:

    HBJ, object permanence is a notion that one learns to trust when one’s caregivers are reliably present. It’s a 20th century concept, preceded by several millenia’s worth of testimony that suggests *trust* may be developed at *any* point in life or at *any* age. The world’s ancient religions actually are replete with stories of humans whose ability to trust was compromised but who – through trials and tests in life not so different from your own – managed to acquire faith, hope, and trust.

    Furthermore, my personal experience with the Jewish, Catholic, Christian and Buddhist traditions is that each is intimately familiar with the gnawing emptiness you describe. Yes, HBJ: people fill their lives with social connections to assuage that empty feeling. Yes: reliable caregiving in infancy should engender greater ease in later life developing trusting relationships. But consider the opportunity inherent in your experience of emptiness… what is left is a chance for intimacy with yourself, the very same self you must lead others to if you are to experience truly deep intimacy.

    When I am alone I share myself with myself, relieved that I can be trusted to love who I really am, to comfort myself when I am nervous or scared, to accept my flaws along with my strengths. My own self approval has become foundational in my life, allowing me to withstand other’s disapproval or disinterest and to direct myself to people and activities I find worthwhile. It’s an ongoing practice and when I ignore my needs and feelings too long I pay for my ignorance with relapses.

  • Phillip R K says:

    Bleibst du mir. Wir sind immer freunden.

    Always friends my friend

  • Monica says:

    Another one of the good blogs HBJ — it truly does amaze me that you continue to, right on time, write about the subject my son and I have been discussing so reading your blogs always lights our way!!!! Thank you again and I say it every time: your words=our gift

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