At arm's length

In medical school, I remember quite distinctly the day we talked about personality disorders. We discussed schizoid personality disorder. These are the folks who prefer solitude. They are lighthouse keepers or wander the desert. This is in stark contrast to social anxiety disorder, where a person is unable to interact with people, and this inability causes great distress.

I remember this because it was when I realized that I have made some terrible decisions in my life, choices that I am not proud of, in order to wake up in the morning and not shoot myself.

I was recently forced to do a lot of introspection. This is something that I am relatively comfortable with. I keep this blog, I write in a journal, I feel like I am pretty in touch. But surprisingly, putting a voice to my inner monologue was quite horrifying.

In my life, I've had my fair share of romantic disappointments and failures. Couple this with other issues with intimacy and relationships growing up, and somewhere along the line, I decided that I could not take it anymore. I made the quite conscious decision to hold the world at arm's length, to distance myself emotionally from all this turbulence. And without that horror, I've thrived. I've done well in medical school and residency, and I feel like I've managed to accomplish quite a bit in my life.

But it comes at a steep price. Sure enough, I have not had my heart broken in a long time, and I haven't felt that pain again, but the problem is that the pain and joy come from the same place. I have cut myself off from a world of happiness, because the risk of pain was unacceptable.

And I've watched life pass me by from my little castle, with all interlopers thwarted by the high walls and deep moat. And actually, if I am really honest about it, women have tried, some trying pretty hard, to get inside. And rather than welcome them in, I have put up more walls, and closed myself off.

This distance has its pluses. I can unflinchingly deal with most patient interactions. I've had people cry, people yell at me, the whole gamut of emotions, and I have been able to be empathic, and none of it hurts me, because I don't let them get close. They have to work on my schedule. I can deal with patients in convenient 15-20 minute chunks. They open their doors to me, but it isn't reciprocal.

It's too bad that joy and sorrow come from the same place, and that it is our greatest loves who can hurt us the most. I just don't know if I can risk it. I don't know if my heart can take it. I so desperately want to be loved, but the thought of me loving another person is absolutely petrifying.

I portray to the rest of the world a man of confidence, an outgoing and gregarious guy, but at heart, I am none of those things. They are adaptations so that I can operate in this extroverted world. And I think of how wonderful it would be to meet a girl who could cut through all of this façade and get to know the real me, and not this face that I portray to the world. She would tell me, "Hey, it's okay. This is safe, you and me," and I could finally, finally let my guard down.


TigerLily46 said...

It's never really safe, honestly. You can be with the kindest, most genuine person in the world and you will still worry that it will end. It has nothing to do with the other person. It's all in your own head.

Still, when you're with someone who really does make you happy, letting your guard down doesn't feel like peeling off your own skin so much. It's more like you're asking them, "Are you sure you want to know what's behind door number three?" This is with a lot of giggling and the secret hope that the person will not only love you despite your quirks, but actually love your quirks.

Before all of that, though, dating as an adult is like wearing a mask. You're Ifinding, a doctor with a stable job, a photography hobby, and a tendency toward introspection. That's all she needs to know at that point. If she's real, she'll want to know what you like to take pictures of, and where you go when you get lost in thought. I think you have to go through some of those type of dates before you figure out what you want. I bet you think you know, but you may be surprised by who you fall in love with.

I clearly just need to call you. This is too long.

pam said...

Hi Ifinding. I just stumbled upon your blog recently, but I've already read a number of your posts. Thanks for your honesty and your willingness to share your reflections with the online world.

I'll be starting my first year of med school in the fall, and I find some of your posts very inspiring. Others have stirred some serious introspection.

Thanks again! Please keep writing. :)

Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you feel. I'm the same way. I desperatly want to be loved but love scares the hell out of my. I keep the world at arms length because I've been broken before and I just can't break again.

faith said...

I stumbled upon your blog when your post Where's your stethoscope? was one of the results I clicked on when I was trying to come up with gift ideas for a friend who is in med school. That was 3 weeks ago. I've been slowly going through your posts since then.

Reading this, it had a resounding effect on me. I'm the one on the other side. The one who was held at arm's length, and tried very hard.