“I wonder if someday I’ll be a priority for someone.”
I don’t exactly blend in. I never have, even back in high school when I really wanted to. I covered the body I hated with black T-shirts and baggy jeans and hoped I’d blend in with the crowd, but something about me always managed to make me stand out. After decades of trying, I quit. I am who I am, and there was no point in trying to pretend to be anyone else.
Who I am happens to be someone who likes having bright hair, cat-eye glasses and vibrant retro-inspired outfits. Needless to say, I stick out in a crowd. I’m the kind of face friends and strangers alike tend to remember, even if all they’ve done is follow my tiny profile photo on Twitter. I’m awash with compliments from friends who love and support me: I’m funny, I’m pretty, I’m smart, I’m easy to talk to, and the list goes impossibly onward. So why do I feel like no one sees me?
My day can be going completely normally then all of a sudden the weight of my loneliness settles on my shoulders and pushes me to the ground. I may suddenly notice someone I’ve been messaging all day has been messaging other people but not me. Instead of getting jealous or rationalizing that they must’ve missed my message, I feel immediately worthless. Sometimes I lay in bed at night and stare at my ceiling while my brain decides to replay every mortifying moment I can drum up. They’re small things, things the other parties involved probably don’t even remember, like the time I thought a birthday present was for me when it was actually for someone else at the table, and everyone paused to talk about how sad that was. Or the time I accidentally sent a personal email meant for my partner to a coworker. In the grand scheme of things these aren’t that big of a deal, and that somehow makes it worse. Then I start beating myself up over how big everyone else’s problems are – how dare I get so upset about things that are so small?
More than 10 years ago I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I have depression. Rather than this providing an easy answer, it complicates things quite a bit. Even when medicated and seeing a therapist on a regular basis, I have to figure out my feelings in relation to my diagnosis. Do I think I’m invisible because I’m depressed, or am I genuinely being ignored? What’s a real feeling and what’s the disease? Is there even a difference? Anyone who’s been through grief knows how difficult it can be to sort out your emotions when you’re not exactly on even footing to begin with.
But you don’t have to have a depression diagnosis to feel like no one sees you. While time has given me the opportunity to learn more about who I am and the opportunity to love that person, in my early twenties I wasn’t quite so kind to myself. I felt invisible all day, every day, and I had no idea at the time that my actions were part of the problem.
My value, I thought, lay in what I could provide other people. A ride to and from work. A space on my couch when someone’s power was turned off for non-payment. One time I took a flatmate to the grocery store at midnight, even though I had to be at work by seven, just because she had a headache and needed to buy some caffeine.
I was always telling myself I just had to give a little more – just a little more of myself and they’d see how great I was. They’d want to keep me around and remember me because I was so… helpful? Selfless? My brain never bothered to fill out the rest of that sentence, and maybe that was part of the problem. I was so caught up in making sure I was memorable that I hadn’t bothered to think about what I wanted to be remembered for.
It took a while, but I found my footing. I figured out who I was, who I wanted to be, and I started to set boundaries. I ended up losing a lot of friends, but can someone who only wants you around as a glorified doormat really be called a friend? I still feel invisible more often than I’d like to, but figuring out how I want to be valued has lessened the occurrences.
Still, in those darker moments, I find myself wondering what I have to do to be remembered. I wonder if someday I’ll be a priority for someone. And then I tell myself that the only way I’m going to find out is by doing the one thing a sense of isolation never wants you to do: reach out.
It’s a constant battle that I don’t always win, but it helps to know I’m not the only one fighting it.
Comment: How do you cope when you feel unbearably alone?