SOCIAL DISCONNECTION: "I WAS AN ASSIGNMENT TO THEM . . . AND IT WAS THEIR JOB TO BE NICE TO ME."
Alexa experienced social isolation and feelings of low self-esteem that echo the sentiments traditionally found in depressive states. At times, Alexa felt that she was inferior to those whose affections she sought. As a child, she had been very shy. “I was very sensitive and, and then did not want to insult anyone and I was quiet, fright- and shy, so shy. And so quiet right through childhood.” Therefore, bridging the gap of social disconnection had proved difficult for Alexa, a young girl in a new country. She feared she might inadvertently offend someone if she expressed disagreement, and many opportunities for communion were lost as a result of her hesitations:
If somebody said something that was contrary to what I believed, and and I wanted to say- but they’re gonna they’re gonna get insulted and I’m a young girl and how could I open my-? And then I would contemplate how to say without- and before you knew it was time they left and I never said a thing.
As Alexa sank further into subjective darkness, this shyness took on a quality in her mind that served as evidence of her inferiority. Any connection she felt to others or any instance of kindness from others felt disingenuous, and it served as further evidence that she was somehow Other or less than. In her mind, the affection and attention she was given were motivated by pity instead of sincere appreciation for who she was:
Well I guess I was bright but . . . for the longest time after after I ah got ill . . . and throughout my childhood because maybe I was shy I realize now, but when I would get sick I knew that people were super nice to me. Nicer than ordinarily. And sometimes they are to shy people and people who are who are kind of you know, meek and and I felt that I was- that they were that way because I was different . . . but I was really special ed. special . . . and that’s why they were special to me.
I asked Alexa what she meant by “special ed. special,” and she elaborated, “Like I was retarded. And I was slow. And that’s why they were so nice to me.” When people showed her kindness, it was sometimes difficult for Alexa to experience it as genuine. Instead, she often felt that people were nice to her out of a sense of obligation, as if she were really a burden and people only begrudgingly paid attention to her:
Every time I would get sick, people were nice to me because . . . I was an assignment to them and and and it was their job to be nice to me. And to be special to me because this was part of their evolving and they were way ahead of me, and uhm, they got compensated for being nice to me. But I I am sincere and I would get attached to them. And I would love them. And I thought nobody truly was a friend to me. That everybody that was nice to me was nice to me because they had to be nice to me. And it was their job to be nice to me so that I would learn. And and I was always felt that I was being taught and that I had special teachers in my life who were learned who were who were who were decent in many ways, but at the same time very distant and they were cold but pretended to be warm to me and pretended to be loving me and liking me but in reality it was their their job and they pretended.
Their affections felt insincere. Alexa alluded to suffering many losses in her life—more than most people experience—and although she did not elaborate on what these losses were, the absences left a bitter feeling in their wake. As Alexa characterized it, she “felt sincere love . . . for them” but in her mind when people left “they were glad (to) forget about” her. “And some people have forgotten about me that were very close to me and and I and I exaggerated that but they were glad to be rid of boring and stupid and and eccentric Alexa. I had low esteem of myself.”
When Alexa was not well, this sense of disconnection became exaggerated and she suffered a profound sense of alienation from those around her. Social bonds were severed as Alexa’s capacity to trust diminished. Alexa mistrusted the affections and intentions of those around her, and her suspicions extended to include negative appraisals of their character, benevolent nature, and ultimately of their basic identity. As a result, Alexa felt an overwhelming sense of separateness despite her desire to be close to and connected with others. Even her family members and those closest to her posed a potential threat to her safety:
The people that I most loved when I’m not well I did not trust because I felt that they wanted to hurt me and I don’t know but I still wanted them around. And when I when I started getting the episodes of getting ill, I had my mother sleep with me on the floor I didn’t talk to her but just the fact that she was there, she was there and somehow deep down I knew that she was okay. But at the same time I didn’t trust her. It was weird. It was li- like opposite feelings.
This all-encompassing social rupture served as a major impetus for Alexa’s numerous episodes of flight. She did not understand what was happening to her and could not trust those around her to help guide her through the terror she felt. She said, “I had to look for some place and someone who who’s going to understand me, who’s going to help me, who’s going to explain this.”