“Do not set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.”

Repeat after me: asking someone for space does not make me a horrible person.

I’m not a very social person. I need a lot of time to myself or with people I’m close with to just chill out and relax. I much prefer to hang out at home reading a book, playing a game like Animal Crossing, or cross stitching. Others thrive on socialization, and prefer to be around people all the time. That’s fine too, but it’s not for me.

If I date someone, this is something I make explicitly clear (unless they’re like me, and just get it). A guy I dated listened and told me he understood. I learned quickly that he, in fact, did not understand.

As much as I may not like to go out, I know that I can’t exactly avoid it. I have classes to attend, soon I’ll have clinical placements to attend. I’ll have presentations to give, appointments to attend, and various places to go. I’m actually writing this from a public library right now.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m actually dealing with my social anxiety or not, or if I’m dealing with it in the right way. Certain things are worse than others: public speaking ranks highest for it, while booking an appointment ranks pretty close to the bottom. Knowing that, I essentially choose my battles: if I have a presentation that day, chances are I’m going to go home later on and go right to bed, and hanging out with someone afterwards is just not something I’m up to doing. Sometimes I push myself to do things I don’t want to do: going to certain events on campus (usually smaller ones, I tend to avoid crowds if I can), going out with a group of people I may not know that well, etc.

All of this context will make sense soon, I promise.

As I said, I dated someone who didn’t understand this. He didn’t understand because he’s the complete opposite: he thrives on socialization. He introduced me to his group of friends super early, and most of them were really nice people, but it was overwhelming for me. He wanted to see me the next day and I had to explain, again, that I needed time to myself because the night before was exhausting.

This pattern pretty much continued through the duration of the (short) relationship.

Here’s the thing though. He tried to make me feel guilty because I wasn’t meeting his needs. There was no compromise here: essentially I needed to put aside my own mental health and emotional well-being just so I could meet his socializing needs. Honestly, I tried to make more of an effort because I thought “maybe I’m not trying as hard as I could”. But my efforts weren’t enough and that conversation came up again.

Ever had pneumonia? Sucks, doesn’t it? The logical thing to do when you have it is to rest, take your antibiotics (if prescribed), and just to take it easy. Pneumonia sucked all the energy out of me, and I’m pretty sure my family was worried I was going to be sent to the hospital because my cough was so severe.

Apparently, though, pneumonia isn’t a good reason to not go out; rather, he wanted to come see me and take care of me. I didn’t need to be taken care of; I needed rest.

This is about the time I finally stood up for myself, with encouragement from my best friend (because apparently he had to get her involved), and told him to give me space, and I would message him when I feel better. I don’t think I could have been any more clear, unless I held flashing lights and sirens with a sign saying the same thing outside his house. Did he give me space?

No, of course not.

Unsurprisingly, we broke up.

And he still wouldn’t give me space.

He would message me on Facebook every couple days, and I would reiterate that I still need space, and that leaving me alone for a day or two is not what giving someone space means. The pattern continued, and he started telling me personal things: he was lonely, he wished he could be with me, he met someone, he might break up with this someone because of reasons I’m not going to go into, and that he hopes he can be with me again someday. That last one he said while he was in a relationship with a new person.

Like I said, I couldn’t have been any more clear when I said I needed space. I blocked him on everything I could think of, and told him to not message me again. In my mind, red flags were going up everywhere, and flashbacks to my first ex harassing me for a year came back. I was on high alert.

When I let my guard down a little bit, he messaged me on Snapchat (the one thing I forgot to block him on) and all of that came crashing back and I was furious. But apparently I’m the crazy one for saying I’d go to the police if he contacted me again.

I was on high alert again. I was actually afraid I would run into him: the bus I take home goes near his street, he knew where I lived, he knew where I went to school (and while I know the campus shared with Durham College was a decent size, I was still afraid he would show up). When you’ve been harassed in any way in the past, those same feelings stick with you, and even if his actions weren’t malicious (they came off as him just being downright clueless), they were still enough to scare me.

I haven’t talked to him directly in months. He randomly messages my best friend, usually with something that’s just considered socially inappropriate given the context, and that usually triggers anger-induced heart palpitations in me (which is what prompted me to write this all out).

Repeat after me: asking someone for space does not make me a horrible person.

I’m open with my mental illnesses and my experiences in hopes that it inspires someone, anyone, to seek help if they are struggling. I’m open with it with people I meet in hopes that they’ll understand why I do things the way I do them. Most of all, I’m open with it so if someone gives me a negative reaction, I can go on in my life without them. There’s still too much of a stigma out there, and self-stigma inside of me.

Personally, I don’t want pity; the take away from my experiences is simple, and summed up in one sentence.

Do not sacrifice your own mental health and well-being for the benefit of someone else.

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