This has weighed me on for 192 months: the reason for my longtime fear of becoming friends with women. We all have been aware of the fact that there are some women who can be cruel, mean, selfish and destructive. They pay no attention, especially as they have a hand at breaking us apart. Other women, very special women, live rebuilding what their predecessors destroyed.
More than 15 years ago, someone I considered to be my best friend in dental school walked away from me. Abruptly, she sent me an email stating: “I no longer want to be your friend.” Without looking back she passively mentioned that I wasn’t a good friend. I wasn’t a good friend for skipping out on lectures, presentations and having an overall absence in social activities. Little did she know, though was later explained, that my not being present was due to a lifelong battle with depression. In those times, rather than opening up and having long drawn out conversations about my fantasies of suicide, it was much easier to just ‘skip out’ on social obligations, go home and sleep my life away. Depression, in the beginning of the millennium, was still considered a badge of shame and represented weakness. It remained my absolute secret. Back then it did, and today is no longer.
My going home early to cry and to scream after clinic, of course, was taken to be a great faux pax, and could not be forgiven. My past due explanation was not only difficult to believe but also seemed like an excuse. How could I possibly be depressed, when I had spent the day laughing?
The life of a depressive, fortunately or not, is made up of very well structured acts of pretending. Pretending to be friendly, pretending to care, pretending to be happy; most important of those being – pretending to be just like everyone else. Having had my best friend walk away from me, just 6 weeks before graduation, brought about a very difficult and dark time for me. As I was supposed to enjoy the climax of working tirelessly for 8 years, I was in tears. I was sitting in the bathroom avoiding the women whom I previously considered to be my friends; I was hiding out from seeing them laugh, from feeling the cold humiliation, from feeling abandoned. It has been determined thru multiple studies that social exclusion signals the brain in a way similar to physical pain. What I perceived, at that time, to have been an abandonment I carried for years; it left scars with me that were no different than if I’d been physically beaten. Those same 6 weeks of my life, made me believe that I wasn’t worthy of companionship and determined how I’d view future relationships with women. It turned me broken, it turned me lost, and most of all terrified me of any female camaraderie, even in a professional sense.
Until now. I haven’t told this story to many, in fear of being thought of as damaged or sensitive. In fact, the very publication of this makes me shiver for the fear of repercussion and being judged. The idea that these words may see the light of day feels like finally ‘she’ who broke is now confronted and with all being out in the open, I can focus more on the healing process. What has given me the courage to share this, is the fact that we all carry burden and we all carry pain; this in turn affects many of our interactions to date. It takes vulnerability, courage, faith and hope to heal. It takes a tribe, an army of sorts to restore, to deliver a different circumstance, a different reality.
My story continues as I have a split second to make a decision. Unknowingly, of course, at that time, it was the best decision of the COVID infested 2020 and quite likely one of the best I’d make in all of 15 years. Of 40 women who were about to attend an MDIBs (Mommy Dentists in Business) conference, most have pulled out, amidst flight and hotel cancelations. And by most I mean all but 3. I’d be the 4th, notwithstanding the host. The host I’d only been dreaming of meet ing since the group’s inception; a host who had me star struck at the the thought of a conversation. You read it right, star struck. A woman, who had her S#$& together. A mom with a mission and with an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. A woman, unlike me, and in my own mind, unbroken.
My risk would put me back out there, and push the very shy introvert that I am, into an arena of interacting with other women, women capable of abandoning me all over again. The thought of making an attempt at being social normally brought me down to my knees. This time it was going to be different. I was going to try. Not just try. I was going to DeW. There was an air of nervousness about me, but more importantly, I was beaming with pride for having the courage to face my big fear.
Suitcase in tow, I drove to a lovely boutique hotel on the North Side of Chicago. I was fearlessly awaiting for the night to begin. Soon thereafter, with a ping on my phone, a message showed up that another one of the attendees had arrived and was ready to meet in the lobby. Deep breath, the usual catholic cross made against my chest, I went downstairs. To my surprise, this dentist, this woman had rainbow colored hair. I chuckled inside, thinking it took a very special kind to be able to pull that off within our age group and our profession. The giggle had nothing to do with laughing at her… it was, instead, the realization that I’d finally met a real life unicorn; and from the first moments, I knew I was going to like this unicorn. As the next attendee arrived carrying my dream YSL bag we all exchanged the usual pleasantries. We also traded glances, took notes on one another and continued small talk. Waiting with semi-awkward moments a complete set of 4 of us, we got into an Uber and met our host.
Not for a solitary second, would I imagine that in those 3 days together the 5 of us would experience as true and as raw a friendship can be: the best of friends, encouraging one another, sharing deep secrets, fears and fantasies.
That first night, we closed down the restaurant, laughing all the way, wondering where the time had gone. In our newly found secret sanctuary the next day, in a serendipitous occasion we’d dropped our guard. With no preface and without warning one friend shared secrets she’d never made known outside her tight family circle. This opened the gates to all of us sharing what we’d been holding in our hearts maybe even for years. We hugged and cried together. That evening, in our newly created tribe, our new friend taught us how to wink at life and we took turns practicing that much needed skill. Over the next two days, I told these unknown strangers my fears and insecurities. I thanked them. In response, they accepted me. We accepted one another. My fear of abandonment lessened, not just that night, but with every night going forward. For a total now of 254 days.
Writing all of this makes me hurt all over again. It brings tears to my eyes. I had wasted 15 beautiful years in penance for a misguided accusation of not being a ‘good friend’. One interaction, one moment in time robbed me of what could have been spent on meaningful growth in the company of incredible women.
I had been too scared and too broken. Perhaps I needed to stay there, because what came after those 15 years was a truly beautiful blossoming one of a kind relationship with women, who maybe aren’t exactly like me, but women who want to heal themselves and one another. Here is my final truth: I would relive her abandonment 15 years ago all over again. Because what came to heal me, what came to save me was worth 15 years in the making.