So what does it feel like to be included?

So what does it feel like to be included? It’s a rich, rewarding connection. Inclusion feels like the kind of acceptance that I dream about, where I can just be the best version of me and have that be all right.

The hard part is remembering that I’m included. I can’t always do that and I don’t always trust it. Negative symptoms tend to scrunch all that insider- ness into a ball and toss it in the wastebasket. The only way I know to avoid those feelings of sadness and loneliness is to address them directly with my friends when we’re together. Not to focus on any one thing, but to look at the big picture head on and try my best to stay in the moment. Not hyper- vigilant “in the moment”, but right there in the sweet spot where I can sense that I’m on level ground with my peers and not some peculiar person for the sake of peculiarity.

I need to feel a part of something. When I can’t find that feeling, I need it to come from without. If my friends and family trust me to stay integrated enough to communicate my needs and wants, then I’ve done the hard work required to complete the loop. If I need to work harder, then that’s okay. It’s also okay to ask for what I need. That can be a challenge, because I shortchange myself all too quickly, assuming that I’m only seen as mentally ill. It’s a private tug-of-war, but most days I can win that internal struggle and come in from outside. Sometimes I can accept acceptance. Those are the better days.

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