As I’m sitting in Alabama thinking about the years behind me and pondering those to come, I feel obligated to share another piece of my story. A few weeks ago posted about how I struggled and eventually won in my war against a depression that deprived my life of joy for YEARS! Literally from middle school until my first year of college will forever be remembered in my mind as a year of difficult fighting. A year of tears and YEARNING to find my place in this world where everyone around me seemed to easy fall into friend groups and find their places.
If you struggle like I did, first go read the other post [which you can find here] about what I had to do daily until by God’s hand I eventually escaped. As stated though, I did eventually get out of the cycle of depression and discover once again what it felt like to breathe the air of freedom.
For those of you who don’t know, I want to educate you for a second on depression and I’ll do that through a short paragraph about a character named Daniel Jackson [Yeah… Me.]. After I want to give some steps I took upon getting out that really helped me learn to make friends again.
To the Daniel with depression, life was in a constant state of drastic limbo. One day the sun shone as if it was shining just for him. He felt confident to talk to just about anyone, expressing his opinion on a controversial topic and even hanging out in the lobby of his residence hall with other freshman he didn’t know. Shoot! Maybe even in a state of euphoria, he would ask a cute girl on a date from time to time when he felt confident. But those days, no matter how great, were always clouded by a knowledge of the future. Daniel, in the back of his mind, no matter how much fun he was having, knew it wouldn’t last. The energetic, easily humored mood always faded. And on the bad days it literally felt as if the sun existed for every other single person except him. During these depressive episodes, it seemed like there is absolutely nothing he can do. He sat with his closest friends and yet couldn’t seem to feel a connection with any of them. He stood in a group of new people and couldn’t crack a smile about anything. He ate lunch alone, because he KNEW [even though it’s not true AT ALL] that no one would care about him enough to eat with him. To the people around him it made no sense. “Why are you so unhappy?” they would say. “Why don’t you just STOP being sad?” In moments of rationality, Daniel reasoned with himself that people did in fact love him. If he needed to, he understood that certain guys had his back. Yet, the feeling remained. All joy is sucked from the world for no reason and Daniel felt stupid. All he wanted was to hide, feeling sorry for himself that no one looked for him, while the whole time knowing that he hid on purpose. Yeah. That was me! Depression in my life was awful… I mentally acknowledge the whole time that what I was feeling was irrational but my body didn’t get it. To someone with depression, it’s as if the light has turned off in your heart, and you YEARN for someone to care enough to ask you about it, but you feel so alone that you wouldn’t dare reach out lest you talk to someone who doesn’t care enough to press sit down and listen. It was really hard.
BUT I GOT OUT! OH HAPPY DAY!!! But unfortunately, even though I escaped depression, that wasn’t the end of it all! Sure, the FEELINGS of friendlessness were gone, but I had spent YEARS convincing myself I was alone… Doing this… well… it hurts your friendships a great deal. So even though I was now able to communicate with people, my body was still used to running away whenever I got into an awkward situation I couldn’t handle. Seriously. I could not handle situations where I had nothing to say. I won’t say this as a general rule but I have a suspicion on this one that this is a common characteristic of depression. A literal FEAR of feeling awkward to the point of wanting to cry.
I did not know HOW to build strong, lasting friendships with people and so I would often just shy away from any situation that involved lots of people, loud noise, or a topic I didn’t fully understand. It was just easier to hang by myself in my room than face the reality that I was behind socially. I wanted to know people but didn’t have the skills to do it.
So what do you do?
Right now I want to get real practical. For those of you who struggle with this one, zone in. And for any of you crazy extroverts who doesn’t struggle, ZONE IN MORE! If you ever obtain a friend who is in need in this area, I PRAY you will remember what I am about to advise. If you struggle with making friends and are already finding ways to counter your depression [a.k.a. you literally are just awkward around people for no apparent reason besides you just don’t know what to do], I’m going to suggest a book and then I’m going to tell you what it says. Read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Tonight, go on Amazon and buy it or get someone to get you a late Christmas present who you bought lunch for a few weeks ago. I had already figure out a lot of these things myself but it was still very much worth the read. So here is what I know:
1. The key to making friends is knowing how people and conversation work.
Humans in general want to be known! There are very few people who want to be alone all the time. So, if you want to have close, life-changing relationships, you have to first understand people. So, personally, I made a decision one day that no matter how awkward I felt, I was going to stick out any conversation I found myself in. If it was in a group and I had nothing to say, I made it into a class. I studied HOW people talked to each other and WHY. I watched body language and turned it into a science of sorts! Yeah… I know this is weird but it’s what I needed! When you don’t understand how to build a computer, you don’t just make it up as you go or you’ll NEVER figure it out. You read the manual, study the charts, and learn how to get form point A to point B. IF YOU STRUGGLE IN CONVERSATION, you MUST become a student of it.
Now, what did I learn?
2. Intently listen to learn about people
At the end of life, people want to know that they were significant to someone. Everyone wants to know that they belong. It’s so important that in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [Huge psychology study], Maslow placed the need for acceptance as the THIRD most important thing humans need, only behind food and shelter. Watch how people talk to one another. Listen to a story. Person 1 will say something like, “This weekend I saw the COOLEST MOVIE!” Now, stop for a second and think about it. Person 2 has an option. He can either acknowledge what Person 1 said [“No way! What did you think about this part?”] OR he can turn the conversation back towards HIMSELF [I saw that movie too! I THOUGHT…”]. Watch. Statistically speaking, I find that way more often than not, people revert to talking about themselves. People want to be known. So, if you want people to know you, spend a good bit of time getting to know them.
3. Physically and verbally like people.
This is a lot like the first one but with a twist! My sister Abby is one of the most visually loving people I know. You walk into a room full of people and whether she knows them or not, she will BUBBLE with excitement to see them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five-year-old or a grandmother. If they have a face, my sister is going to smile at it. The crazy part though, is that every time she does this, she is GENUINE about it. She simply loves to see and connect with people. So ya know what? EVERYONE KNOWS HER! And more crazy than that, most everyone likes her, too! When she listens to you, she really listens. And when she talks to you, it’s almost always with excitement. How could you NOT want to talk to her? So, my third tip is to be genuinely interested in people to the point where when they see you, they want to talk to you! To close this point, one quick example that’s in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is that of the canine species. Why do people love dogs so much? I mean, they chew everything up and slobber on you. They eat your food when you’re not looking. But you love them? Why? If you want people to like you, physically and verbally like people. Dogs are “man’s best friend.” They are always happy to see you and because of that, you are happy to see them.
Not too hard to understand. I personally want to be around people who are happy. I love to counsel people when they are down, but it’s tiring! So if you want to have people interested in what you’re doing, Think about why you enjoy you’re life, and then smile about it. What blessing are you thankful for, even if it’s just the smallest thing and hold onto that! Then, when someone asks what you’re so happy about, be open about sharing.
5. Remember names and use them often.
This goes back to number 2. People want to be known. It’s simple but knowing someone’s name when they walk up and using it shows that you CARED enough about them to remember them. To all those people who struggle to remember names, stop it! Even if you have to repeat someone’s name thirty times in your head during a conversation [Like in the Hallmark movie I watched last week], do it! Learn the names! And at the end of the conversation, always use the name one last time. “Well Janice, it was really nice to meet you.” [Girls walks away. You begin speaking to yourself.] “Janice. Janice. Janice who knows Spanish. Janice. Janice.”
6. Give honest compliments to people.
Who doesn’t like to be told that they are awesome? I certainly love it! [BTW Don’t feel obligated to give me compliments… unless you just really want to] Everyone loves to be told they are doing a great job. So whenever you see someone doing something awesome, verbally tell them! Or write a hand-written note. Either or. But let people know why they are great and they will want to be around you more.
WOOH! I could keep going but for now I’m going to stop myself. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you and hear your story. If you have trouble connecting the way I did, there is SO MUCH HOPE! So don’t give up. Do NOT give up. Shoot me an email. I used to cry at weddings because I thought that I would forever be alone. Now, even though I’m still single and certainly no extrovert, I go weddings and SMILE, knowing that even if I MAY BE unweded forever, I am still 100% alive in who I am and I have people I can turn to at any hour for help.
P.S. I really don’t know what to make the featured image of this post so it may not have one for a little while… Any suggestions? OH! As soon as I get home I’m photographing that book! But for now it’ll be two of my really good, goofy friends, Shanda and Kline. Two of the MOST enjoyable people I know. And because of how I have grown in the past few years, I am SO happy to say that they are two of the people I will keep up with forever.