Episode #203 - Alone in the Chapel

November 12, 2023 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 203
Episode #203 - Alone in the Chapel
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever felt alone?  Have you ever felt excluded?  Have you ever felt isolated as thought no one understands you?  You are not alone.  Because we experience life through the emotions of mental illness, we often connected differently to others and that can create those feelings of isolation.

Episode #203 – Alone in the Chapel.  Have you ever felt different?  Have you ever felt like you don’t belong?  Do you have only a few friends and even fewer deep relationships?  Do you struggle to fit into your ward, community and even your family?  You feel isolated even surrounded by good people and friends?  Are you far more comfortable at home than anywhere else?  You are not alone in your feelings.  I admit to having very limited close relationships.  I can count on one hand the number of relationships I would consider deep and lasting.  I have moved wards more times that I care to mention throughout my life and admittedly every ward I have encountered has felt different and strange, almost as though I didn’t belong.  Now those who know me and are listening might find that comment strange.  I mask my feelings very well.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t develop relationships and friendships.  And this doesn’t mean that those people in those wards were not wonderful people. And I consider many individuals as friends but I failed regularly at developing those close relationships that last a lifetime and longer.  I have often wondered why I feel so isolated among such good people.  Why is it I feel like an outsider everywhere I go?  How can one feel so isolated in a room full of people working towards zion?   The natural inclination for me was to say that I just lived in unique places with unique communities and wards.  However, you can only say that so many times before you begin to think that it might not be the different places and people and that the unique one might be you.  Until recently I have never quite understood why I never felt like I fit into a group of people.  Why I struggled to create deep relationships.  Why I have never felt normal around really any group of individuals.

Now the first thing I realized is that I couldn’t blame my past experiences.  I grew up in a wonderful location in the Pacific Northwest with wonderful people and a good ward and community.  I attended public schools and did well academically.  I didn’t suffer abuse or any serious difficulties during my youth that would be considered problematic.  Like Nephi I was raised by good parents and a wonderful church community.  Yes I did have serious anxiety and then bipolar difficulties during that timeframe.  And, of course, it is easy to place blame on the illness.  But for me that didn’t fully answer the question.  Yes, I had mental health issues.  Yes, they affected my life and some social skills.   But I couldn’t understand why I felt so different from others.  I have struggled with this problem my entire life even when I have spent significant time working to correct it.  Until more recently when I discovered something about how we interact with other people and how we come to feel connected and included.

If you have listened for any period of time to my podcasts you will hear me say a couple of idioms that I particularly like.  The first is that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  And the second is birds of a feather flock together.  The first idiom speaks more to the idea that we build our view of the world and our genetics from our parents and other closely related individuals.  And that is important when considering mental health from a genetics and coping standpoint.  But that is for another time.  The second idiom is what I want to relate to our inability to connect with other people and feel isolated.

The idea of birds flocking together is often a reference to the idea that our mind tends to connect with people with whom we have shared experiences.  We also tend to connect with people who are of a similar educational, financial and cultural background.  Meaning simply that our mind looks for people like ourselves to share a connected experience.  If you think about the relationships you do have, you will often share a host of similar experiences, backgrounds, cultural ideals and life events.  We naturally gravitate toward people with whom we can bond over life experience.  That is what our brain understands and knows.  I have said this many times our brain does not like the unknown.  When we meet people significantly different from ourselves, our brain struggles to fill in the blanks.  The greater the divide in experience and culture the greater the difficulty for the brain to comprehend and to fill in those blanks.  If we bond with someone who shares a great deal of our own culture and experience, our brain already has our personal experience and information to fill those blanks.  We naturally distance ourselves from the unknown because our brain is built that way.  It is easier for the brain to use its limited computing power when it already has a history built it can use.  You can call this a relationship bias.  You can call it whatever you want.  It doesn’t matter in the sense that you are simply stating the natural tendency of the mind.  What is important is that you understand how the mind works its magic.

One of the most important elements the mind considers when it works through its process of deciding who and how to bond within a relationship is emotional connection.  Actually, this is probably one of its most important indicators of whether you feel comfortable with someone or not.  Emotional connection contains several elements but the most important is a shared emotional experience.  A shared emotional experience means that two individuals share a common emotional journey in life or a portion of that life.  For instance, two individuals who have lost a child will bond over the experience, even when the children might have passed away by different means.  They will bond over the emotion of the experience rather than the specific details.  You find this in a variety of experiences and emotions.  The truth is, the more aligned your emotional experience is to the other person, the greater the bond will likely be.  In fact, emotional experiences can and often do outweigh some of the other feathers such as genetics and even culture.  People with very different backgrounds going into a war will often experience a deep bond not because they share similar cultures or backgrounds but because of the emotional bonding that occurs when two individuals face similar trauma.  Trauma shared together can create deep and lasting bond of friendship and concern for another individual.  It is the emotion of the experience not the experience itself that causes the connection.

So now let’s consider someone’s emotional connection when affected with a mental or emotional health difficulty that has been more long term.  Mental and emotional health problems color every experience with a set of unique emotions.  When you struggle with mental health, your emotional experience at something as simple as a church meeting can and often will be very different than most people.  The truth is that your emotional experience with every small, large, simple or complex event or experience in life will be very different than most people.  You will possess a very unique set of emotions that are not shared by most people.  In fact, most of your experiences will not be emotionally similar to others who share the same event.  This emotional difference caused by your illness is one of the major factors in feeling isolated, different and excluded.  Not only are your emotional responses significantly different but your brain will struggle to comprehend what others feel.  When this occurs you feel emotionally isolated even when you are surrounded by individuals who care for you.  When you feel this isolation, it can be difficult to feel loved, included, or part of a group.  When you don’t feel connected by similar emotions, life can be very isolating.  

This feeling of isolation can and does bleed into every relationship including spousal, familial and even our relationship with the Savior.  Not only do we feel isolated but our emotional state often causes us to retreat into a self-care mode.  When you are suffering through an episode, developing relationships is not going to be your first priority.  So in addition to feeling isolated, we tend to isolate ourselves physically.  So now our isolation feels both physically and emotionally real.  And to add to our already struggling mind and heart, our relationships often break down because we spend so much time in self-care and feelings of isolation.  It is not that we don’t desire relationships, it is that we cannot maintain them easily.  It takes a unique friendship and person to maintain a relationship with someone who feels isolated and often isolates themselves due to self-care needs.  Generally, speaking most relationships work on a reciprocal basis.  Meaning that we get out of a relationship what we put into it because the other person in the relationship tends to reciprocate our efforts. So we have a great deal of obstacles working against us as we build relationships.

I have experienced this most of my life.  It has been rare to find someone who understands mental health issues and has had experiences similar to mine.  So naturally, I have had few close relationships.  What has helped me is to understand why, to understand the mechanics of the brain.  Understanding why I feel the way I do and why I struggle with relationships has been eye opening in many ways.  The first thing I have noticed is that I don’t feel as isolated.  Filling in the why question with a solid answer has provided genuine relief upon my mind.  I feel better about the relationships I do have and maintain.  Although I admit that feeling better about the problem and finding a solution are two different objectives.  Because the mind is built in a particular way to specifically search for common emotional ground, the solution requires some retraining of the mind.  The first thing that the mind must begin to understand is that different doesn’t need to feel isolating.  When you understand that everyone is likely to be very different on an emotional level, then you can train the mind to think in different ways about your relationship.  You can allow for differences and use what connection you do have emotionally to feel less isolated.  You can recognize that most individuals will never fully understand what you feel.  Rather than feel as though a group or individual is isolating you, you can understand that you are and will be different emotionally and that their seeming isolation is really your mind telling you that you don’t share many emotional experiences.  That is ok.  While the mind is built to naturally tell you that you share limited experience, it doesn’t stop you from building a relationship.  Will that relationship be limited in some ways?  I believe that it will.  That is natural to our minds.  But understanding the natural tendencies of the mind provides opportunities to close the isolation gap you feel and to bond with individuals in different ways.  The key is to recognize that isolating feeling for what it is.  Isolation is your mind telling you that you don’t share many common emotional experiences.  That the person in the relationship is not trying to isolate you their mind is just working in the same way.  Their mind is telling them that you don’t share many emotional experiences.  When both people understand this, then the isolating feeling on both sides tends to drop dramatically over time.  However, it takes time and recognition for the mind to accept a new perspective, especially with relationships.

One difficulty I have noticed with my feelings of isolation is that it tends to bleed over into every relationship and that includes my two most important relationships, that of the Savior and my wife.  When we feel isolated emotionally and we spend significant time in self-care mode our isolation can create significant walls and barriers.  When we feel isolated from other relationships, it can tend to cause effects upon our relationship with the Savior.  It is not a matter of choice that we do this, it is a matter of the mind and feelings of isolation running through all our relationships.  This can and does create a barrier to feeling those accepting, merciful and loving feelings extended to us by the Savior.  We can feel unworthy when we are not.  We can feel as though we are not loved, which is not true.  We can feel that perhaps others are more important than ourself, which is again not true.  These feelings are simply a coloring of our relationship with the Savior by those feelings of isolation.  When most of the people you meet do not share your emotional experiences, it can lead one to feeling as though the Savior does not understand what we feel.  Again not true but as I have said before what we feel is often what we experience as truth.

Now normally, I would provide some type of remedy or at least some good advice but I admit to being more in the middle of this problem than having passed through it.  I still struggle with relationships.  I still struggle at times with the feelings of acceptance even from the Savior.  Yes I understand that it is a problem of the natural mind because of my past experiences with mental health.  But that only provides some understanding and comfort.  I know that the path through it is to rework my understanding and to acknowledge my feelings of isolation for what they are.  Yet I am in the midst of that process and while I understand some small ideas about how and what to do, I have limited experience.

I do know that one small thing can help in the process, because I have experienced it.  When you build your first deep relationship with the Savior, you can build upon that relationship to create others.  Even when you build a good relationship with the Savior there will be times when you feel isolated, unworthy and excluded due to mental health emotions.  And you should expect those feelings as false as they are.  As you build that relationship with time, understanding and emotional connection, you will begin to expand into developing relationships around you with others.  At first they are likely to be more superficial but as you do continue to work through those feelings of isolation you will begin to feel more accepted and included.  You should expect the process to be difficult and at times it will feel hopeless but as you include the Savior in those relationships you will begin to view others as he does and come to understand them in new ways.  While you might not share similar emotions, you will begin to more fully understand that every person struggles with their emotions and difficult experiences in their lives.  When you have a reasonably solid foundation and relationship with the Savior, you will be able to extend yourself into other relationships. 

Again I admit to still being in the process and right now I am not sure I see the end results.  But I do know that as we commit to a relationship with the Savior our lives will feel far less isolating and excluding.  We will feel more love and desire to bring others into our lives and to help them to see how the Lord has provided for us.  I hope that as you battle the demons of emotional isolation that you will find a true friend in the Savior and that through him you might extend yourself to others who are struggling as you do.  Until next week, do your part so that the Lord can do his.