Throughout my high school years, I tried so many ‘plans’ to make friends, that I ran out of letters in the alphabet to name them with thrice over. I failed time and time again, but the disappointment never stopped being as bitter as it had the first time. In Scotland we spend 6 years in high school (you can leave after 4 but I stayed until the end), and over the first five of those I experienced so much disappointment in my social life.
It seemed that every group of friends I ever made eventually became annoyed and angry at me, for having what they termed ‘temper tantrums’ but were actually meltdowns; for not conforming to social expectations; for just being ‘weird’. I went from group to group like a stray cat visiting houses for food only to be turned away again and again. Everyone else seemed to me to ‘belong’ somewhere – so why could I never find a group willing to accept me?
Some of the friendships did work – for a while. I called it the Eight Month Mark, if I recall correctly – after eight months of making friends with someone, that person would dislike me and never wish to speak to me again. Perhaps by the end, and I’m really not impartial enough to judge the accuracy of this, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the time approached eight months, perhaps my anticipation of the end caused me to self-sabotage. I really wouldn’t know.
In my sixth and final year of high school, I finally found a friend who lasted past eight months. She and I are still friends even though we now live greater than 80 miles apart as she stayed at home and I left for university. It’s coming up on four years from when we first made friends, and that in itself is a miracle. I finally found someone who accepted me for who I am, but it was a long time coming.
Eight months into that friendship I did grow somewhat paranoid, but somehow it didn’t chase her away. But even so, up until very, very recently I always thought that something would happen to tear our friendship apart. I was so worried, because in the back of my mind lay the thought ‘you’ve always failed before, you’re destined to fail again. Nothing ever changes, you’ll always be alone’. And it was wrong (for once).
Since beginning university, I’ve made more close friends who actually accept me for who I am. I spend (probably too much) time with them every week, and I don’t even have to fully mask around them cause the real me doesn’t seem to scare them like it scared so many in school. I’m close with them to the point where I’ve trusted them with secrets I don’t usually tell anyone. I even live with a couple of them, instead of living in student halls, which is something I never thought would happen.
But even given the time when the thoughts in the back of my mind were proved wrong, still I cannot let go of this fear that something will happen to destroy it all. I keep imagining that some of them are angry with me, or conspiring to leave me out cause I wasn’t invited to something – even when the event in question happened at 3am while I was asleep. I can’t get rid of these intrusive thoughts, even when I’m begging myself to stop and just believe that miracles can happen.
Because this is a miracle. A fairly large group I feel comfortable with, that I don’t have to mask around, who actually like me? The stuff of fairytales, my younger self would believe. It’s beautiful and magical and so utterly improbable that even thinking about it can give me a profound sense of joy. I cherish this friendship so much, and it is more than I could ever have hoped for.
But it seems I’m still not able to believe in miracles. I still think everything is going to fall apart and I can’t stop these thoughts recurring over and over. It’s long since past eight months, but still I cannot stop with this fear. Still I cannot stop but think it’s too good to be true. And I am terrified I will self-sabotage again.
The legacy of my time in high school is my eternal mistrust of everything good that ever happens to me. My past is so littered with disappointment that I am incapable of believing I will not be disappointed again. Some people miss school; for me it has permanently damaged me, made relationships with others so much harder than even it was for my autistic self to begin with. I don’t think I’ll ever stop worrying, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully trust.