Sunday, October 6

Personal Post Conference Thoughts - October 2013

Conference this year was most of what I asked for. President Uchtdorf gave a passionate talk about reaching out to others. Elder Holland spoke about depression, mental illness, and learning empathy for those with major trials and pain in life. And, among others, Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks spoke crystal-clearly about the eternal nature of morality and the Church's unchanging stance on homosexual activity.

I felt loved, understood, vindicated, supported, and uplifted in a thousand ways.

But in the wake of an amazing experience, I find myself now wondering exactly what I am going to do to apply the principles I learned. And, instead of looking for answers to the questions (and requests) I made of God, looking for what I should do.

It didn't take long to identify something. And yet...

Some of you know that I have a really hard time reaching out to people. Even when they reach out to me. This has been a painful realization for most of my life, and a constant reminder that I have room for improvement.

Part of me hurts when I think about trying to reach out to people. It makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry, because I am sooooo miserably bad at this. Either that or God always intervenes to ensure I come running back to Him. I don't know how it works with other people, but I've got to be horrible. I'll finally get up the courage to ask someone to be my friend, and 19 times out of 20, they'll say no. Or worse (and more common), say nothing and ignore me. Really. In maybe 5% someone that I approach will actually respond positively... and even those relationships don't last long. It's not the rejection that hurts persay... but wondering exactly what it is that I'm doing wrong... with no way to know how to fix it.

I know some people who would be willing to be friends, but another issue is that if people aren't involved in my day-to-day (or at least weekly) life, I forget major things about them. I forget their names, their professions, where they are from, what they like to do, even how I met them. On a good day, I can easily remember half of the names of my mission companions.

When I finally get some type of positive response, I let relationships fall flat because I don't know what ingredients to add to them. I'm terrified of doing something that will lessen my chances of getting closer to people.

If I could trade this struggle - the frustration and sorrow and bewilderment and unknowing and pain and overthinking and fear and incredible unmet longing - for anything, some days I would. I'd trade it for intense, permanent, physical pain. I'd trade it for numbness of mind (I'd probably be a drunk... more likely a suicide... if I didn't have the gospel) if that were an option. I'd trade it for blindness, or deafness, or lost limbs, or paralysis... I'd trade it for anything that I can imagine - even all the rest of the trials I've seen rolled into one.

This isn't meant to be a "woe is me." Just background.

Most of the time the part of me that tries to connect with people is quietly absent. I can serve, give, teach, and meet the needs of others, but I relegate my social needs to my relationship with God because anything else is too painful. And they're not going to be easily met anyway; even when people care about me, breaking through to get me to feel their love... yeah. That's not likely.

Compound the fact that now I'm at a stage of life when people around me already have close friends. They don't want me as a friend. They've known people for years and developed relationships... and science has shown that you actually only have space for a certain number of close people in your day-to-day life.

So right now, as I feel pressure from God to try to reach out again and develop relationships with people, I honestly feel sick. I don't have a slew of people to try with anymore. I'm not a BYU student; I work from home; I don't meet anyone new except for sometimes people through North Star, some of their friends, and the new people in my ward.

And then when I finally convince myself that I'm going to do it, when I get up the courage to act, I don't know what to do. I don't know how to be someone's friend. I know how to be a counselor, a teacher, a mentor... I know how to listen, to help people answer hard questions, to spend time with someone doing anything at all... but I don't know how to help someone have fun or relax from life.

And I find myself wondering if I really have anything to offer as a friend to people who seem to (at least on the outside) have their lives together. Including the people who were part of my life when they had major needs.

I don't know.

I'm sure that some of the people I know will read this and then immediately try to assure me that I offer plenty in our relationship. But the fact stands that, in all the things I've been able to learn or in which I've improved, this still stands as a glaring crater in my life. Yeah, part of it isn't my fault. Maybe most of it. But it's still there, still painful, still resistant to everything I've tried to fill it in. 

So I guess it's understandable that, after a glowing session of General Conference, taking honest stock of what I face in life would bring me back here to its edge. Wondering what else I can do, feeling the pain start to wake up again to give me nightmares.

I should have brought this question to Conference with me. *sigh*

I don't know what to do. Which means it probably won't work. Maybe God will give me some ideas. Either way, the pain is back... and I'm going to keep trying.


  1. The one bit of your post that struck me as most unusual was the idea of asking people to be your friend. In my experience friendship is seldom that formal or official. People just interact with other people and once they reach a point where they enjoy talking to each other and don't mind the occasional get together or favor they both just assume it's friendship.

    So one possible reason that people say nothing when you ask about friendship is because they're not used to the idea of having to officially begin and define friendship.

    Of course, I can understand how the idea of friendship being based off of unspoken mutual assumptions would be frustrating to an autistic.

    So I guess my only suggestion would be to not try so hard to define an actual friendship relation and just try to casually interact with the people within your life. If someone is willing to talk to you on occasion and you participate together in some sort of group activity one or two times a year... that's a friend. Perhaps not a burning passionate friendship, but a valuable friend nonetheless.

    You may also want to consider expanding your concept of friend to online relationships. As a strong voice within the bloggernacle you're in a good position to interact digitally with other faithful Mormons who really enjoy writing. Anyone that you communicate with via the Internet on even a semi-regular basis is also a sort of friend. Once again it's not a deep burning friendship, but it is a friendship.

  2. "I'm sure that some of the people I know will read this and then immediately try to assure me that I offer plenty in our relationship."

    Yep, you predicted that one accurately David :)

    The other day you called me. We talked for 45 minutes or more. You shared your genuine thoughts about concerns and hopes you have for the future. You were totally real. As I think of all the meaningful conversations I've had with great friends, that phone call with you was just as enjoyable and open and connected as with any other friend. Really. Sure there have been times when even 'deeper' connections have been made... with my wife, with a sibling, with my best friends. And as I look back on my life and think of those other times, guess who shows up. You again.

    Yes, I understand. I really do. Just because the connection is happening on my end doesn't mean you're feeling it on your end. And that has to be painful... and lonely. But all those times you try? Here's some feedback from the receiving end: with that call you made last week your friendship connected. Just as it has on many other occasions. Even if you can't always feel that it does. Isn't that the definition of faith? The substance of things hoped for? The evidence of things not seen?

    I had a similar experience with conference. It felt like the most wonderful conference ever. And there were so many answers. So much hope and reassurance. But then I woke up this morning and I'm asking myself, "now how do I apply all of this and not just lose it?" It seems as if Satan alerted his devil's workshop to go into overtime to make sure all the people whose hearts were uplifted or even changed over the weekend don't benefit from it permanently.

    So thanks for writing this post David. For reminding me that all the love and understanding and reassurance I felt over the weekend is still accessible today when I'm facing the realities of life's challenges... and was feeling a little low. Because what seemed for a moment like a conundrum, or paradox, is suddenly clear, with a little perspective from scripture. When I come unto God by prayerfully watching conference, He gives me all kinds of hope. But He also shows me my weakness, to help me with the requisite humility. And His grace is sufficient. If I humble myself and have faith in Him, according to His word, He will make weak things become strong. And so it ever is. The greatest challenge, for me at least, is to hold on to what I already know is true once the rubber hits the road. And like you said, just move forward.

  3. David - you reached out to us to have us over after Priesthood session! And it actually helped me more than you can ever know. So thanks :-D I think you're further along than you think!



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