I’ve been back in Nashville for three weeks now, and I can’t say that I’m not happy with my decision to return. I’m close to my family, and I’ve been able to reconnect with people I haven’t seen – or even talked to, really – in years. My new job is going well so far, even though the majority of it has simply been onboarding, and I’m looking forward to my future in my medical career.

But there’s this little nagging thing inside my head: I’m lonely.

After years of reflection, I know I’m an extrovert – shocking for those of you who know me well, of course – so my natural inclination is to reach out to strangers and to relish the company of big groups of people. I even want to date again and get involved in as many social groups as I possibly can. In Louisville, I was very insular, staying at home and avoiding events … you know, generally focusing on myself and going through the healing process. I was okay with this lifestyle for the most part, but I figured I’d pull myself out of it when I was ready. What happens, though, when you don’t know if you’re ready or not?

Even if I’m telling people the intimate details of my life, I don’t view it as being vulnerable with someone. My struggles with depression and anxiety are simply facts about me, nothing I’m ashamed of, and even discussing the dissolution of my marriage is just telling a story, not unlike my fiction. It’s the emotions and the deeper connections that sends me into a panic spiral. That means I’ve grown attached, devoted, and well … that royally fucked me the last time I allowed that to happen.

It’s not that I don’t want that closeness again. Shit, I crave it, even in a platonic sense. Over the last two days of my training, I attended what I thought would be a glorified corporate retreat, complete with acronyms, platitudes, and useless bonding exercises with the others who were forced to be there with me, but it turned out to be an incredible experience where I actually got to know some of my coworkers in a way that made me feel a strange combination of fulfilled and uncomfortable. I left feeling energized but also drained, like I could curl up in a ball and sleep for days. I only slept for ten hours, but I woke up in a mania: joining groups on Meetup, making new profiles for Tinder and Hinge, looking at all the Facebook events I could attend … and then I spent the next several hours feeling overwhelmed by it all.

I mean, how do I begin this again? How do I start to see people as blank slates, without the immediate projection of fear and suspicion? How do I train myself to keep from assuming everyone is trying to manipulate or con me? I can barely go on a date with a complete stranger without thinking, “Yeah, you’re full of shit. What do you actually want from me?” My roommate, who has known me for the last almost 20 years of our lives (hi, we’re old now), asked me if I felt the same way about him, and I didn’t even hesitate: “Yep.” But all of that shit is on me. It isn’t fair to punish people for someone else’s cruelty, and the logical side of my brain recognizes that. There’s just so much baggage that I’m rooting through, trying to figure out what’s useful and tossing out (or working through) what isn’t, and somehow the useless, damaging bits manage to find their way back into my suitcase from time to time (LOL all the time). It’s exhausting.

I’ve learned some tricks and exercises to combat all of this, a lot of it stemming from acknowledging my behaviors and searching back for their roots. But those tools are only as beneficial as my ability and willingness to use them, and that’s where I’m at an impasse. I’m standing right there, just a little outside the doorway, but I’m having a hard time entering, frozen and holding some sort of casserole maybe. Am I ready for this? Or do I just take the damn plunge and actually start my life again?

Goddammit. I don’t even know.

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