Same Old

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Recently I checked back in on the SA forums that I used to read regularly and interact with people somewhat more than I had in other online communities where I am mostly just an observer. It’s always strange going back to places you haven’t frequented in a long time, I often feel a strange mix of familiarity sadness because a lot of things don’t change much. There are some people who have been on those forums longer than me (I registered in late 2007), are older than I am and are still stuck in life situations they hate. I don’t want to sound like I’m being down on them because I am very sympathetic to their problems and goodness knows I’ve let things hold me back a hell of a lot, but when I read their posts it’s like looking into my own future and this is what depresses me. It is the reason I stopped going there about 2 years ago. Back then I felt like I had moved on quite a bit from the person I was in 2007/8 – I had a semblance of a life. Now though, it seems as though I’ve slid back into the same old state.

The last few years were very eventful in one way or another. I reached low points for sure but I also had probably my biggest achievement in graduating from university. This was very important to me, although it may not seem like much of a triumph to a lot of people, I found it extremely hard work both academically and emotionally. My graduation ceremony itself was one of the very few times I have been proud of myself and I was happy to be there.

It has been quite a few months since then and in that time I’ve kind of slipped back into depression and withdrawal from life again. For various reasons I haven’t been able to find a job and it’s beginning to feel like I am right back where I was in 2007. There is probably too much on this blog already about how much I hated the job I mercifully had to leave in January 2007. It was genuinely the worst time in my life, I hated the people there that made me feel awful. I hated working afternoons until late at night. I hated the 1hr30 it took for me to get there. There has never been a time when I was more anxious than the months I worked there and I am constantly filled with dread when I read job listings and they remind me of that. It’s hard for most people to find a job in this economy but lots of other things are holding me back even more. Even though I have a degree now I just don’t feel confident in my abilities and I know that there are so many people more knowledgable and better equipped to deal with things than I am.

When I left the place I worked over the last couple of summers, the boss said that I could come back if I wanted to and I did get on OK there (at least compared to the previous job) but I don’t know if I could go back now. It’s been so long since I left uni and I haven’t got anything to show for the last few months, I don’t know if I could face them because I seem like such a failure. Again, I have done the same stupid thing by putting it off for so long until it becomes harder and harder to deal with. I should have known months ago that I would not get a better job and gone back then but now it has dragged on too long.

I’m going to leave it here for now but hopefully I will have another post up soon and won’t leave this site abandoned for months at a time.

End of an era

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Wow I’ve been out of the loop for a long time. I guess I haven’t been in much of a writing mood for the past couple of months, perhaps because of all the work I had to do on my dissertation kind of burned me out.

Finishing university was a big event for me. It’s taken me much longer than most people, after my first attempt ended in failure it was probably the start of my mental health beginning it’s lasting impact on my life. That was a very difficult time for me, I was pretty much still in the same place mentally as when I was at school/sixth form. Most of the same people were still around me and I didn’t feel like I could express my true self without being open to further ridicule and I felt trapped being around those people. I’ve written about this at length before so I’ll spare you the details.

The university where I completed my degree (starting 4 years after I left the first one) was in a different city and I made a clean break from the poisonous people who previously made me feel terrible. I won’t lie, it has been a difficult process. Moving away from home was a big deal for me and although I struggled, I am very glad that I did it. The entire process of studying was made even more difficult by my anxiety and depression. It’s hard to explain or expect other people to empathise with how hard it can be to deal with even basic things like making sure you have food to eat. There were many occasions when I would go without meals or sneak out and buy a sandwich or something because I daren’t go into the kitchen when other people were around or I was afraid other people might be there.

I constantly felt like I was swimming against the tide to try and stay on top of the workload especially in my final year where I had to keep regular attendance for certain workshop sessions that involved robotics equipment that I couldn’t do at home (which was my usual standby for missing workshops. I didn’t like the demonstrators or anyone nearby to see my work). This was my second attempt at the final year, remember. I already had a very lucky reprieve after I completely messed up in 2010/11 when I should have finished. There was real pressure to get things right this time and fortunately my depression, which was probably my biggest obstacle in previous years, was not as bad this time and I managed to cope reasonably well.

The problem I gave into so many times before was worrying about a workshop session (in the computer labs) and barely sleeping all night, then waking up and finding it easy to justify missing the class to myself. I’m sure this feeling will be familiar to some of you. I fell into the trap so frequently at college that I ended up only attending 2 classes all semester for one particular module as things began to snowball and my poor attendance weighed on my mind. “He’ll want to know why I wasn’t here the past 2/3/4 weeks” I would think and then rationalise missing the class again. Thankfully I managed to keep this largely in check this year and I only missed one robotics workshop and a small number of other sessions. Overall this year was probably my best attendance.

I feel very lucky that I managed to pull this off when it mattered most really. If you aren’t familiar with the British university system, a bachelor’s degree typically takes 3 years, the first year doesn’t count towards your final degree classification and it’s usually all based on how well you do in your final year by using everything you’ve learned to write a dissertation or create a project (this is a very general description). Everything pretty much rode on how well I could do this year. My second year grades were lacklustre, I scraped a lower second (2:2) so I needed to improve this time.

My final grade was an upper second (2:1) which is the 2nd highest you can get, and although it’s not spectacular I was very pleased that I managed to get here at last after all the troubles I’ve had. It’s been a challenging journey and my anxiety & depression has literally threatened my life at times. The period I spent in hospital, or rather the time recovering from what happened – I don’t remember much of when I was actually there which is quite disconcerting, was a constant struggle and mentally exhausting in itself. I worried that I had done irreparable damage not only to my brain but also to my relationship with my family. I still have issues with the latter but it is a relief that I have not destroyed my mind.

So, good news on the academic front. I hope you’ll allow me a long entry as it has been so long, but quite a lot of things have been going through my head since I last updated.

I had barely finished my last exam when I discovered that my dad had been admitted to hospital for heart problems. My mum had known a couple of days earlier but didn’t want to panic me before my exams which I am thankful for now but I was annoyed at the time. It came as a big shock to me because unlike me, my dad has always been very active and still cycled to work and back 6 miles each way into his sixties and he’s not overweight. He ended up needing an angioplasty to widen the arteries but he has recovered very well since. I went to see him in hospital the day I got back from moving all my stuff home and it was quite difficult to see him like that. He is not an emotional man, though he’s not cold either, he just doesn’t give much away but when my sister and I arrived he had tears in his eyes.

Even though it wasn’t life threatening, it is impossible not to think about death when it comes to hearts. Dealing with the realities of mortality is hard to cope with. Being back at the hospital, the smell and suffocating heat, brought back the vague memories I have of being in there, and the trips we took each day made me think about how difficult it must have been for my family to make similar trips to see me. I was hardly coherent for weeks and I dread to think what must have gone through their heads seeing me like that. It was very hard to see my dad in a vulnerable state and this was compounded by the guilt of what I put everyone through with my own actions.

Things have been relatively quiet since he got to go home (he’s been out a while now, I just didn’t want to write about it before I knew he was better) but recently I have started to feel like some of the old depressive feelings are creeping back. If anyone has been reading this blog for a long time, you’ll remember that my sense of purposelessness was one of the main catalysts for my depression back in the days before and just after my diagnosis with clinical depression and social anxiety.

Back in 2007 I was unemployed and had no real prospects. I didn’t have good enough qualifications to do anything in the computing field that wasn’t helpdesk oriented and after my utterly disastrous time doing that at my first job I had no intention of going back to that. It was the absolute worst time of my entire life, I actually felt worse then than I did when I attempted suicide strange as it may seem. Going back to university gave me a goal and arguably more important to either the pressure I put on myself or I mistakenly ascribed to my mum (I haven’t decided which it is, but it’s probably a combination) it meant I wasn’t “unemployed”. I mean, yes technically I was only working in the holidays but the rest of the time I was doing something useful. This is over now of course and I am back to the same situation.

I’m getting quite tired now, it’s gone 3.30am but I will finish this train of thought tomorrow, I promise. Thank you to anyone that’s still reading and thanks for your comments.

University Goings On

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I bumped into my project supervisor in the hallway yesterday and he said we need to talk about my project, with which I am woefully behind on the work, and I think he said he would email me or asked me to email him, I can’t exactly remember because I was overcome by anxiety. Anyway I just sent him an email explaining the situation and that I was struggling with earlier work but have made a real effort to try and  catch up, and my attendance is much better this year (I’ve only missed one session since the start of the semester) so hopefully he will be understanding. He’s not a strict person, more one of the younger lecturers who seems to like to communicate with us on our level if you know what I mean. He’s also been made head of my specific course so I’m hoping he’ll have a look over my records from last year and realise I’m not making things up. I did do some project work this weekend but I still have a lot to catch up on.

The classes I was taking before Christmas had very hard assignments but time I have more of a handle on what’s going on and my grades have been alright so far so I’m hoping that I can dedicate more of my time into the project. I say time, but really it’s mental effort that is my problem. I have no real shortage of actual time, it’s not like I’m trying to juggle work with any kind of social life like most people, but honestly most days just making it into university and managing to eat some food is extremely mentally draining on me and I don’t feel up to work. I know that sounds pathetic but those things really take it out of me. When I have days off and I don’t have to worry about going out and getting food, I can work for hours but those days are few and far between.

This is a stupid incident to obsess about, but a few weeks ago I tripped walking down some stairs and hurt my ankle but what concerned me more than that was that people saw me and it must have only added to my appearance as an awkward weirdo. I don’t know if any of you have seen the film A Beautiful Mind, but I feel like the main character in that (besides the hallucinations and mathematical genius haha) in the way that people regard him as an outsider, a strange character that is a source of humour for them. Sadly I don’t have the academic aptitude to make up for that.

I don’t know what the point of this post is really, I’m just feeling a bit down and I kind of miss having the people who used to read and comment here to talk to. I’ve lost contact with almost all my friends from the social anxiety sites and don’t really have anyone to talk to who can relate any more.

On a scale of 1 to 10

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Back again. I scheduled this one because the last post already went over 2000 words and I don’t want to bombard anyone who still reads this site with too much in one go.

Something that has seemed weird to me during the process of trying to deal with mental health issues is trying to apply any sort of scale to how depressed you are feeling. Whenever I had to go to the consultant psychiatrist he would always say without fail “On a scale of 1 to 10 if 1 is down in the dumps, how do you feel?” to which I would usually give my stock answer of 6 because honestly I find it impossible to do.

You might think that the lowest I have felt is in summer 2009 when I tried to kill myself but the truth is that I didn’t even feel that bad compared to times in the past or since then. I find it impossible to put a number on this, it doesn’t feel like a simple continuum. People have tried to find out from me what caused me to try and do that to myself, they seem to think there must have been some event that pushed me over the edge but there really wasn’t. I hadn’t planned it on that specific day, it had been months since I had made the preparations for it and I can’t even remember what was going through my head that evening.

To me it seems like a combination of things makes up how depressed I am. The usual stuff like a sense of hopelessness and lethargy, general sadness, feeling trapped and the big one for me: whether I can see a way out of it.

The time when I’ve been at my absolute lowest was when I was working at my first job. I have probably written about it before but there were several reasons why I hated it so much. First of all I had to work from 1.30pm til 10pm which meant I barely got to see my family, and since they are the only people I really talk to this meant that I would essentially go all week and hardly speak to anyone at all (although that’s not a lot different to my current situation..) because they’d gone to work in the morning and went to bed either before or not long after I got home from work. I hated the job itself, never realised how much I couldn’t stand phone calls especially with angry customers until then. The people I worked with, with the exception of a couple, would make fun of me every single day from the moment I got in the door because of how quiet I was and I couldn’t talk to them at all. I hated them.

Due to me not being able to drive, I used to have to leave the house at 12.00 to get there on time so it would be hours of each day spent in the place that I hated more than anywhere, counting down the minutes til I could at least escape for a while and sleep, which was the only respite I had. Because the only time I got to myself was late at night, I didn’t really have a chance to do anything that I wanted to do. Even if I had some kind of social life before, it would have gone out of the window when I started that job.

I can’t express how much I detested it even though I was only there for a few months. If I had to go back again, there’s absolutely no way I could cope. Towards the end, I would have to try my hardest to stop myself from crying or having a panic attack before I left the house to go to work and while I was there I had to hide in the toilets on numerous occasions to try and compose myself. It was an open plan office so there was no hiding from anyone during the day.

If you think that I felt worse then than I did when I tried to kill myself then you can get an idea of how bad it was.

The thing that worries me most is that I will feel like this wherever I go. The overriding feeling is that there is no escape from it. When I was there, I could see no end in sight, all I could think was that I had 40+ more years of that to contend with. I remember telling my sister at the time that I felt as though I had nothing to live for, nothing mattered to me. All I wanted to do was get out of there at the end of the day. Knowing what I know now, I have to ask myself is that kind of life really worth living?

Two Thousand and Twelve

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I remember a time when it seemed like I was aching to write a blog post every day and I even had some queued up at one time, although they were usually to express my depression and general sadness about everything. Things seemed so out of my control back then, I was consumed by suicidal ideation and spent a truly frightening amount of time thinking about death and ways to kill myself. In the back of my mind I still think about it and if I’m brutally honest I still think that’s how I will end up going but for now it’s not my immediate concern.

I had such difficulty concentrating on university work as you can probably imagine given that I wasn’t even sure that I would live until the end of my course (and ended up doing my hardest to try and make sure I didn’t). It’s amazing that I managed to struggle through and make it this far. As I think I said in earlier entries, I’m resitting the final year but once again I’ve come up against a lot of problems that social anxiety exacerbates. Just after new year I had to do a mock job interview with two staff members. In a way I was at an advantage because I’ve had several real job interviews before and some actual work experience to talk about. I thought about myself when I was the same age as my classmates and how horribly inexperienced I was, this would have been a terrifying prospect but thankfully it didn’t cause me too much bother this time despite having to wait out in the hallway for one and half hours before hand.

It’s strange to think about this and look at the situation from the perspective of my ‘normal’ classmates. This was a nerve wracking situation for most people (as interviews normally are) especially since some of them had not experienced one before. I was nervous myself but not even close to how nervous I was about something which seems positively relaxing to others, a workshop where we had to work in groups.

It has been a while since I tried to break down the thought processes behind some of the situations I find anxiety provoking for anyone reading who perhaps doesn’t know what I’m talking about so here goes. For my software engineering class the lecturer said we had to get into groups of 5 or so to work together coding a piece of software. We’d be using a technique called pair programming (or group programming as the case may be). This involved one person acting as the ‘driver’ and writing the code while the other(s) are ‘observers’ and watch, trying to catch any errors. The reasoning being that it eliminates bugs and mistakes. You are supposed to change roles regularly so everyone gets a turn at doing each. Now this might sound harmless enough but here’s how my mind deals with it:

  • I only know 2 people in the class, one of them is not there when the lecturer asked us to get into groups and the other already has a group. I’m assigned to a group along with some people who hadn’t turned up (it was the last lecture before Christmas). I start to worry that because I don’t know who these people are I won’t know how to find them when I go into the workshop after Christmas and where to sit. I know this sounds crazy but I hate not knowing where to be, physically.
  • Obviously there is the usual stuff about being awkward around strangers and worrying constantly that they think I’m weird etc.
  • I can’t stand having people watch me write/type. My grades have suffered in workshops before because I’m afraid to ask for help because I hate people looking over my shoulder while I’m working.
  • I don’t want to bring the other people’s grades down if I am not good enough at the project. Conversely,
  • I don’t want to be the only one who knows what to do because I don’t have the mental attributes to take on any kind of leadership role in groups.

After burying my head in the sand about it for a couple of weeks I decided to try and find some of the people in my group on facebook and try to remember what they look like (I find this difficult for some reason) and luckily when I went back after the holiday I found out who a couple of them were because they were waiting for their interview at the same time as me.

OK that was a long and pointless rambling story but this is the kind of thing that I get caught up with regularly during university. The other problem I’m having is that I haven’t done enough work on my final project and thus haven’t got anything to show my supervisor and have avoided arranging a meeting with him for weeks even though I’m supposed to see him once a week really. This has turned into a vicious circle because the longer I put it off, the more work I should have done to show him so it just keeps escalating.

I keep saying to myself that I should email him and say I’ve been struggling with the workload of the other modules (which is true) but I am afraid that my excuses are starting to wear a bit thin with them. After all I have already had the very rare privilege of being allowed to retake the final year when in almost any other case I would have failed, and even that was thanks to me calling in every possible favour from doctors and the university disability/mental health people. I don’t honestly feel I deserved the second chance.

There is a disconnect, on one level I know that I am on thin ice, there are no more second chances but in another sense I can’t face up to things and talk to anyone who matters about it, hence another long winded blog.

I’m not in such a bad situation as last year, I haven’t had to request any extensions and I’ve passed the work that I’ve submitted so far. A lot of this years grades depend on exams and I’ve got a much better attendance this year (hardly a feat compared to my sporadic appearances last year) and I’ve taken decent notes. I can cope with exams, another strange situation where I seem to be calmer than other people. I’m lucky that I don’t find exams to be too stressful.

I really hope I can turn this around and pass my degree. It started off so positively but the step up in difficulty both academically and on my mentality has been tremendous. If I can pass it will probably the biggest thing I have achieved, in my opinion. Sadly even this thought isn’t enough to spurr me on to believe in myself and get things sorted.

It’s incredibly difficult to describe the kind of ennui to people who have never experienced it. I’m veering off on a tangent here but bear with me. Sometimes you see a sportsperson who has the talent to do well but you can tell they just don’t want it badly enough to be a real success. I don’t think even the most driven and talented people are immune to this. The horrible news about Gary Speed and the brutally honest article by Dean Windass really resonated with me. I don’t really know what to make of it all, on a one level I hope that people become more aware of mental health issues and how they can affect even people who you would think have no reason to feel that way but on another more selfish level I can’t help but feel that I will probably end up the same myself.

(footnote: I wish I could bang out a thousand words this quickly for assignments…)  

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Just to break up the wall of text a bit…

I haven’t looked back because there’s some very depressing stuff there but I seem to remember I started this blog before I began my degree (I imported the first set of posts from a social anxiety website where I used to write a blog before it closed) but back then, around late 2007 early 2008 I was at a very low point (this reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to write about ‘scales of depression’ but I’ll save that for another entry to stop this post becoming novella length), I was coming up to the point where I’d been unemployed for a year and my psyche was still scarred from how traumatic I found working at my first job. I was completely without direction and because my mental problems were undiagnosed, my parents (or more specifically my mother) were not not as sympathetic to my situation as they might be now. It seemed like there was nowhere for me to go in life. I would spend ages, weeks, without leaving the house. I had no real job prospects what with my aversion to telephone calls (probably still my number one anxiety thing also apologies for the number of parentheses) limiting the number of IT related jobs that didn’t require a degree severely. I have no other real skills and all my life I’d been working towards a job in computing but reality had kicked my teeth in about that.

If you look back through the archive you can probably find where I wrote about finally getting the courage to go back to university after my first terrible experience and moving away from home which up to that point had been unthinkable. This was a big step but to look at it from another angle, all I have really done is delay the inevitable. It’s creeping up on me again, the time when I will have to find a full time job and I honestly don’t know if I can face the 9-5 grind every day being constantly assaulted by anxious and depressive feelings and poisonous people.

 

*warning: suicide discussion*

You might wonder why I think it’s so impossible if I managed it for a while before even when I didn’t have any mental health support, I’ll try and explain. I don’t know if there is a proper psychological term for this phenomenon but perhaps some of you reading this might know what I’m talking about.

The first major instance I can recall properly is from school. When I was in school I never skipped any classes or avoided school completely even though they were some of the toughest times and I would literally be in tears many nights dreading the next day of torment. You may wonder why, but I was never one to break the rules back then. Although I knew you could do that and probably get away with it, I never really thought about doing it. This changed when I started sixth form (for non-UK readers this is from age 16-18 when you do classes to prepare you for university. It is not mandatory) and I began to skip many of the most stressful classes because there weren’t many repercussions for doing so. This sort of unlocked the floodgates. I went from being the person who always followed the rules to getting in trouble for bad attendence and I think this marked the start of my extreme avoidant tendancies.

The same thing happened throughout college, my first attempt at university and so on. When I think about my first job now, I wonder how I managed to keep going back every day. Of course I was scared of what my parents would say if I wanted to quit, more of their disappointment than any anger, but back then it was unthinkable to me. Now however, I don’t think I could hack it at all. This is where my problem arises because just like how I discovered I could cross the line into skipping classes, I have discovered suicidal thinking and the ultimate escape from the pain. I want to make it clear that I’m not thinking about doing it now but since I crossed that line it is no longer an unthinkable course of action.

If I was stuck in the situation where I had to take a job like that where every day I hated each second being there and despised the way people made me feel, struggled to fight back the panic attacks every day before going, I don’t think I could promise anyone in good faith that I wouldn’t try to kill myself. The problems arises in that I think a lot of jobs would make me feel this way. I can’t rely on my parents forever, I’m already too old to be doing that and when I’m in dark moods I wonder what reason there would be to hang around once they are gone. They are not immortal. I don’t think I am cut out to be an adult in this world.

I should probably leave it here. Thank you if you read all the way through, I’m going to try and do more regular but shorter updates instead of dumping an essay here every couple of months.

Acedia

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noun \ə-ˈsē-dē-ə\

Spiritual torpor and apathy; ennui.

Though I’ve not been so badly affected by the serious symptoms of depression recently, the general lack of enthusiasm for pretty much anything is still here and has been for some time. For almost my entire life I have been interested in and loved using computers. If I could have carried on the vast enthusiasm and dedication I had towards the subject into my current studies I have no doubt I’d be in a better position, grade wise.

I suppose it happens to many people, that they lose the passion for the subject they are studying but it is quite a dramatic fall for me. It’s not that I hate computers but I just don’t find myself wanting to learn more programming languages, keep up with new technological developments or any of the other things that I used to avidly do. I still spend 90% of my waking hours at one, but it’s not for the pure technical exercises that I used to do. Even when I was in sixth form (the 2 years prior to beginning university) the people I associated with (I no longer think of them as friends) and I used to always be looking for ways to make our IT projects more complicated and we’d get frustrated with how much more we knew about the subject than any of the teachers. I owned hundreds of magazines, read countless websites and posted on tech forums.

Depression has the effect of making you lose interest in things that you used to enjoy, and I can safely say that is the case with me. Even earlier in this post I almost recoiled at typing the word “love” because it seems such a foreign emotion to me now. There isn’t really anything in the world that I can say I thoroughly enjoy or love. I love my family of course but when it comes to passion for any sort of hobby or interest I can’t think of anything for which I’d use such a strong word to describe my feelings toward.

In the very rare occasions when I’ve been asked what I have been doing, over the weekend for example, I honestly don’t know what to say because to anyone who observed me I really wouldn’t appear to have done anything. I know it’s bad but I sometimes make things up just so I don’t appear to be such a complete weirdo.

I keep thinking about those things the therapist gives you where you write in what you did for certain hours of the day etc. Mine would be completely full of “sat around at the computer, not working.” for the vast majority of the time when I’m not at lectures. The amount of time I am isolated away from any form of human contact is beginning to worry me. If I didn’t go home at weekends then I would literally spend months at a time saying little more than one word replies to people. It can’t be good for you, but there’s very little I can do about it.

One thing I do like is listening to music but again it is a solitary activity for me. I can’t stand being asked what kind of music I like, I’ve always hated that long before I knew what social anxiety was, I’ve always found that a bugging question. I don’t know how to respond, are they asking for certain bands/artists? The main thing I worry about is that if I try to describe a genre or name some band that they think is embarrassing then I’ll feel like an idiot because I’m no good at defending myself or my opinions (in person at least).

Anyway that paragraph was meant to lead to a point… A band I like is playing in my home town in a couple of weeks and I really wanted to see them because it’s likely they won’t play there again and it’s quite a small venue and I don’t have to travel far. Of course the problem is that I don’t have anyone to go with. I have been to a gig on my own, roughly this time last year actually, and it was ok but I did feel strange being the only person obviously by themselves. I bought a ticket anyway but I am still in two minds about whether to go or not. Because of the timing, I’d have to let my mum know since I’d be coming back to the house afterwards but I know she’d want to know who I was going with and would probably think I was weird for going on my own if I told her. I’m hoping she’ll assume that I’m going with one of the couple of people I knew from an SA website that I occasionally see in town.

Oh well, I’ll let you know what I do.