I’ve been a pretty big asshole. Now I try not to feel bad about that, everyone has their moments. Generally, those “moments” last for years and years. It often takes an epiphany to snap out of it, and more likely, it takes dozens of those over the course of your life. I’ve not been fully cured of my asshole-ness, and most people reading this are in the same boat. But when a significant, life-changing event happens, it can set off a whole lot of those realizations at once. If you have several of those events in succession, it can give you a weird, social whiplash as it upends every way you interact with those around you.
It wasn’t long between the birth of my first daughter and the loss of my brother. The reactions from it were nearly opposite. When my daughter was born, I drove myself inward. After a less-than-stellar family life growing up, I was determined to do better for her. I stayed home a lot, tried to spend time with her, and really focused on my family. Family and friends poked in, and I welcomed them, but more out of obligation than real desire to interact. I was set on just making sure I didn’t mess this up.
Incidentally, the lack of sleep that comes with a baby also screws up your social skills a bit. I talked about little besides her, and I lost track of simple concepts a bit quicker than usual. Most of my gray matter was focused on “how to keep this thing alive”. All things considered, that was a fair use for it.
At first, my brother’s death kind of continued that trend. I sunk into myself, only really dragging myself up because my daughter needed me. I talked to my family a bit more, but again it seemed more out of obligation. I had to make sure there were no regrets if something happened tomorrow. Our life had become the depressing news article you usually skip over, and we wanted to make sure we were prepared if it happened again.
The funny thing is how those around you pitch in when something awful happens. I hadn’t been a great friend in years. I drifted in and out of contact with those that used to be closest to me, preferring my time alone. I had grown up with a lot of autonomy, and living with someone seemed to fulfill my quota for human interaction, so I valued those few moments I had to myself every week. I tried to avoid making commitments on my time, and when I did, it wasn’t uncommon for me to break them. Few things are more satisfying to the introvert than canceling some plans.
But in a lot of ways, those friends rallied around me. They brought us food when we were having trouble, they listened to my utterly depressing stories, they were willing to spend time with me, regardless of my mental state. It made me realize how liberating it was to take some time off of being dour- to see some friends and do something fun. It became vital to take the time to be ok with what happened, to let myself be happy for a bit.
I’m trying to make changes, though they’re not always easy. I have a regular game night that I go to every week, and in stark contrast to the past, others have had to cancel more than me. This doesn’t mean I don’t fall on old ways from time to time. Those old neuroses are still around, joined now by a good few others. There are days or even weeks where I don’t want to interact with others, where I want to retreat all over again. It’s an ongoing struggle, but one worth having.
It’s worth taking the time to connect. Whether it’s friends, family, or even just co-workers, you never know when those relationships will end. Whether it’s from tragedy, disagreement, or inaction, it’s best not to be left with regrets that can’t be fixed.