Nanci Burn Reflects on Isolation & Shame


This week's blog post was contributed by 2018 If You Could See Me Participant, Nanci Burn. Watch her wonderful piece in the clip above!


A friend who lives in another part of Virginia comes to Richmond fairly often for various personal and professional events. When they are going to be here, they always contact me with an idea to meet up and socialize. I rarely do.

Another friend is in a nursing facility due to advanced Parkinson's. Every couple of months he messages me, checking in on me and my husband. He never fails to let me know that he would love to talk or for us to go visit him. I don't answer. I've not visited.

My son is not a great communicator. He doesn't like texting so if I text him I get very short replies. He doesn't call much at all. And I don't call him often either.

There are move examples of relationships I have had that I've let languish. And I have ALWAYS done this so I can't blame the pandemic. As a matter of fact, the pandemic gave my tendency to isolate legitimacy, instead of it just being a symptom of depression. I don't keep up with the people in my life. I swear, if my husband and I didn't live together, we'd rarely see each other or speak.

See, I'm aware of this thing I do; that's where the shame comes in. I see the notification in messenger that my friend in the nursing home has written again. Goddess forgive he should call. The ringing that will go unanswered makes my eye twitch - my eye twitches when I'm anxious. Anxiety born of shame.

I received a text from my friend saying they would be here in RVA last week. I got the text on Tuesday. They were asking about meeting up Friday. I knew I wouldn't go, but did I want to tell them no again? This is a new friend who I really want to know better. Yet I excuse myself from every opportunity. So I decided this time would be different. I wouldn't decline the invitation; I would ignore it until the weekend. Isolation AND procrastination? Big ol' shamesters.

Sunday I responded to the text. I don't want them to stop asking, but I don't want to be thought of as a total creep either. But I had to really dig into the issue before responding. I had to look at the pattern and find the origin. Why do I perpetuate these situations that I know will cause me shame?

The text below explains what I found, and what I sent my friend.

"So I'm not intentionally a bad friend. Easiest explanation is that avoiding relationships is a protective device that I now know is born out of childhood trauma (thank you, IYCSM Project!). Blahblahblah. Depression, isolation, stress...the big three in my mental health history. I'm learning more about this but haven't figured out a gentle way to move through it. Forcing myself sometimes works but mostly just makes me resentful and anxious. Letting myself get away with avoidance creates shame. All of this is no excuse for not responding to you. It is only the explanation, and is the preamble to an apology.

Thank you for thinking of me. I am sorry. Please don't give up on me".

So that's the work I'm doing. I'm working with my 13 year old self on this. We know what a good friend looks like and what makes them good friends. By emulating those friends, little by little, we can be a better friend, a better mom. My husband and I retired in January so I have plenty of time to contemplate, soul-search and talk to my inner child, as long as she doesn't want to go anywhere. Don't push it Nance.

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