‘No one ever rings me, and it really hurts… I feel sick with loneliness’

Tell Me About It: ‘My therapist thinks I could be neurodiverse’

PROBLEM: So, life is short. I have been having therapy for the past 26 sessions and my therapist thinks I could be neurodiverse. I went for a test to see if I was on the autism spectrum, but didn’t as it turned out – though it doesn’t prove I don’t have it. Loneliness has always been with me, and I have always felt lonely. I have lost so many friends due to my own social clumsiness. I know many of you won’t be surprised that I probably do have the condition. No one ever rings me, and it really hurts. There’s little interest in my art and I feel totally cut off from people and the art world and I don’t know who to turn to. I feel sick with loneliness. It’s all my fault.

I find holidays a lonely time and I only have my wife. She knows about my problems, but she doesn’t really know how to help as she is alone for most of the time too. I messed up many friendships and I lost a close friend while I did my MA and I still hate myself for what I said to her. It’s eating me away bit by bit. She forgave me, but I know she never wants to be friends anymore as I never hear from her. I wanted to do an MA for two reasons – one, to learn about my practice and, two, to make friends and build a wealth of contacts. I only feel I achieved one.

This is because I upset my friend and it’s too late to fix it. It’s all my fault and the good vibe around my art and my relationship is almost entirely absent. I don’t sleep well anymore and feel so lonely. Nobody contacts me unless I contact them first and it really hurts. Every day, I feel that there is less and less interest in my art on Instagram and social media and I feel I am losing more and more friendships. I am pushing 50 and I won’t be around forever.

ADVICE: The starting point for any change is the self-awareness that something needs to happen, and you are clearly suffering enough to push you into taking action. It is good that you are having individual therapy, but perhaps it is now time to move to a therapeutic group so that you can engage with others and get feedback in a safe and controlled environment. A weekly group would give you the opportunity to have your theories of self and life investigated and you will know that there is always another week to return and check out your last interactions. (Search Group Analytical Therapy on the internet for options close to you.)

It takes courage to join a group, to open up your fears and self-criticisms for discussion, but the payback can be enormous – an experience of having your whole self totally accepted, challenged and never, ever rejected. From the way you speak about your friends, this might offer you the depth of experience that you are missing and help you to know how to be around people.

You sound angry – at your ex-friends and the world – for not reaching out to you and perhaps this influences why people give you a wide berth. We tend to be very reciprocal with our interactions and if you, even unintentionally, give out resentful vibes, you tend to get the same back. Do you actually like people? If the answer is no, then you will need to work on this, to pay attention to the other person and try enjoy what you observe. At the moment, you are appearing to pay attention to the idea that they are withholding friendship and if this is the case your engagement is doomed by negativity from the start.

It can be hard to focus on others and their needs when you are feeling so lonely and depleted yourself but sometimes it takes a crisis to get us to shift our patterns and create change. You caused hurt to your college friend and this may have been caused by your inability to connect with where she was at so this is your starting point – find out where a potential friend is at by listening, enquiring and showing interest. Your hurt is palpable but may not be obvious to other people so this too must be part of your new effort – when you have transgressed, own it immediately and apologise. Most people will forgive and if you ask for help, there is at least the possibility of deepening the friendship as vulnerability is a key component in lifelong relationships.

Can you embark on investigating neurodiversity with your therapist – knowledge will allow compassion and understanding for your self and there is now a huge amount of research that can be helpful in guiding you towards a path for connection. We now know that about 40 per cent of people are neurodiverse to some extent (see adhdaware.org.uk).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your wife is a huge potential source of support for you (and indeed she might also benefit) in building a community around you, so recruit her assistance and create a plan of action to make your life one worth living.