So I went on the aforementioned youth retreat this weekend, acting as a chaperone for the female contingent of the group. It was nothing less than awful. I felt like I was in my junior year from hell all over again, surrounded by pseudo-friends having fun but feeling overwhelmingly lonely, left out, and suffocated by sadness, dark thoughts, and homesickness. I was four hours from home in the middle of nowhere without cell reception. There were a couple friends on the trip but no real time to talk to them. It was an odd mixture of constantly socializing in a way that quickly overwhelms any introvert and not really having an extended or meaningful conversations at all. It was a constant flurry of activity and shifting from one place to the next, one person to the next, one topic to the next. I found myself both longing to have some time just to be by myself in a small, quiet space and also to be able to have a real conversation with someone who I trusted.
I missed my family and cosy, familiar home. I grew weary of the loud music, screaming kids, and overzealous youth pastors. I was simultaneously annoyed and made to feel self-conscious and inferior by the extroverted antics of the adult leaders and teen attendees surrounding me. At first I merely rolled my eyes at their constant attempts for attention, self-centered shouted conversations, and sometimes-insensitive semi-egotism. But as the weekend went on and I heard these people praised more and more and compared their own confidence and ease of conversation and bearing with my own quiet, easily overlooked presence and anxiety over whether I was doing a good job connecting with the kids, I grew increasingly unsure of my own worth and the validity of my judgment of the value of a more thoughtful character as compared to the shallow self-centeredness of many outgoing people. After all, the other youth chaperone may not have known a third of our names by the end, but everyone kept saying he was such a great guy and the kids always talked about how funny he was, so maybe I was the one who needed to change.
I don't do well in small groups situations, only one-on-one conversations (and with that, only certain ones where I feel comfortable. I grew increasingly frustrated with how my words would almost always be drowned out by the infinitely louder people. I felt stupid for being homesick and not having a good time on a short light-hearted little trip that everyone else was raving about. I felt bitter seeing other people my age paraded on stage to praise them for using their talents to serve God when I had for years done the same but with little recognition or fame and opportunities to expand my work closed to me. I grew increasingly insecure, socially anxious, and self-hating as the weekend went on.
Because it was a church-related event, the organizers brought in Christian colleges to advertise and the commercials were a painful reminder of my lost dreams, stoking the flames of bitterness over what had been denied me when I had a sincere desire and adequate talent to serve God and be involved in the community but was rejected over and over. I thought God was supposed to honor our desire to serve him but he seemed to be rewarding those who didn't really care or were not particularly sensitive or kind or passionate with the opportunity instead, like the loud people who got all the friends, attention, praise, and opportunities to do what they wanted while quiet people were written off as not having much to say.
I was stressed out by the pressure to over-analyze my spiritual life and moral performance and commit to taking actions to ensure my further spiritual growth. I was disillusioned with the misplaced focus of the speakers, emphasizing certain moral behaviors rather than focusing on a relationship with God and a need for his help. I was frustrated with the canned, contrived culture that had been forced on the faith I grew up in. I was confused and all in all very lonely. I felt suffocated, pressured from all sides, isolated, etc. I even scraped myself with a something to bring me out of the overwhelming fog of emotions and felt the slight tinge of a suicidal mood at one time or another. Then I got mad again at how hypersensitive I was being in light of everyone else's happy-go-lucky vacation attitude.
How do I address these negative feelings? How do I feel confident that I have a valuable place in this world? How do I feel assured of my worth as a unique person in spite of a lack of popularity? If only I could remember and fully believe that no one else can play my part. I am slowly starting to accept myself and advocate for who I am, but sometimes that is difficult to do in an environment where people place a clear value on the opposite traits of what you have and assume you have nothing to contribute b/c of your shyness and talk over what you do say.