‘Tis with deep and sincere regret I pen this note, dear reader, but I cannot bear to keep this from you much longer – I must confess that I have been come upon by an immense sense of melancholia. Having been pricked, bit and bled by needle and leech alike at the hands of well-meaning physicians, I fear I have indeed succumbed to this ailment of the humours.

Yours to the very end,

Sometimes, it is infinitely easier to assume an eccentric persona than it is to be simply your own self, honest and clear and true. I imagine, if I were some long-suffering regency lady, I’d write a missive such as the one above to ease my heart, covering my reality in flowery language. But I don’t have to send wax-sealed letters by messenger pony to make myself heard, I have to set my hands or tongue to work and say or write what it is I must say or write. Honestly and clearly. So I’m trying.

The truth is that I sometimes feel so irreparably alone I feel paralyzed with terror. Most of the time, I feel it at the edge of my senses, I am aware of it but also at peace – I tell myself, this is how it is and there is nothing to be done. But at other times, loneliness sinks its claws into me and doesn’t let go for days on end and I feel inside-out, adrift and foreign. An alien presence, around others and within myself. I struggle to put it into words that aren’t laughable or ridiculous. My life has been mostly privileged. I know, intellectually, that I am not so different, but I can’t quite convince myself. There’s a nugget of doubt wearing away at me.

Around other people, that nugget of doubt grows to the size of an orange, skin and all, heavy in my belly. It’s as though I sit behind a glass partition, me on one side and everybody and everything else on the other. I ignore it. I interact and communicate and laugh and converse as if it isn’t there. Then, as I leave, it follows me home to remind me it was all a farce. I do not belong, it reminds me, I am wrong and will always be misunderstood.

It’s not that I don’t have friends or meaningful relationships. I do. I love these people fiercely. But inside me, there’s a void nobody can reach. A sense that connection, true connection, is impossible. There’s no door to pass through, and inside, nothing to see. In my therapy group, we do exercises to get in touch with our inner lives and our bodies and our selves. I go through the motions like an automaton, waiting to feel something, some impulse or flash of recognition. I concentrate and listen. No signal gets through.

When my friends and loved ones give me attention or show their appreciation, I struggle to truly accept it. I say thank you. I send heart emojis. I return the compliments to the best of my ability. But their words don’t truly reach me, I pick them apart and find it easy to think it’s untrue. That I am not and can not be good, or good enough for that matter. People are nice as a courtesy. They don’t know they’re wrong about me. Only I know the truth of my inadequacy. Sometimes, being treated kindly is the most difficult thing – It reminds me of my own self-loathing in a strange way. It’s horrible. I feel like a bad friend on top of being a bad person.

It’s been easy to escape into a world of academia, where nobody cares about your feelings, it’s about doing good work and about engaging intellectually. Intellectualism is easy, because it’s safe. A good paper is a good paper, and getting an essay sent back with exclamation points in the margins is as close as I’ve gotten to actually liking myself. Because it’s about doing and thinking. It’s not about who I am as a person (repulsive, as we’ve established) but what I can accomplish despite it.

It’s also very easy to write about face cream and eyeliner. It all orbits around the self, it is not part of it, so therefore I can accept it. Similarly, being rejected or misunderstood for your work rather than your person is a walk in the park. You can redo work. You can’t redo your self.

I’ve been able to compensate for my wrongness by being good at things. But I don’t know if I can ever be just good.