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February 28, 2005 |

Post to the Host:
What advice can you give to a guy who's lonely, depressed, anxious, insecure, and painfully shy? I'm 21 years old and never have had a girlfriend. Sometimes I feel fully unable to communicate with others adequately. It's not that I don't talk with others, I do. I'll joke around with people and even talk about interesting things like good books. But that doesn't seem to be adequate. I feel like I'm trapped in Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" longing to express myself but finding no words to do so.

Hopeless in Ohio
(would rather not have my name be used)

Dear Hopeless,

The phrase "lonely, depressed, anxious, insecure, and painfully shy" describes exactly how I felt for months when I lived in Copenhagen back in my mid 40s and it didn't help that it was winter and dark and rainy. The whole situation made me feel stupid, in addition to l.d.a.i.& p.s. I had a perfectly nice place to live and people who wanted to be my friends and yet it was a big struggle, day after day. One thing that helped was writing: I took time to walk around and look at things and write down what I saw, and everytime there was a social occasion I tried to write it down afterward and to get outside my own misery and describe the scene, the people, and who said what (as best I could, I was struggling with Danish at the time). This felt good, like I was making an attempt to get loose of the depression, and one attempt spawns another, and soon one is swimming. And isn't this what George Willard did in Winesburg — he observes and writes down his impressions and though he blunders through romance and feels deeply lonely and disconnected, people seem to look to him as a sympathetic listener and confide their stories in him. In just this way, your anxiety and insecurity and shyness comprise a sort of asset — instead of learning how to impersonate strength and confidence, you encounter people unarmed and though this is painful, it's better than being a bozo whose true self is hidden under a layer of cool. You don't want to overcome these painful feelings — they're a true source of strength — you simply don't want to be managed by them and live in a panic. I can't give you specific advice, not knowing what your situation is, but I do think you should keep talking to people, not letting your fears dominate you, and when you see someone you want to know better, make yourself do it. And don't beat up on yourself. Other 21-year-olds around you may not seem to share your insecurity, but they do, they really do.

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