Dear Carolyn:

I'm 18 and, all throughout school, I've had a hard time making friends. I can think of mitigating circumstances, but ultimately it's just that I'm uncomfortable talking to people. Both boys and girls have stretched out hands of friendship, but I can't ever seem to return them. I just freeze up and feel terribly awkward. I have a loving family and my life is pretty satisfying otherwise, but sometimes, I'm so lonely I can't stand it. Even though it's probably my fault. I don't care whether it's a boy or a girl -- I just want to be close to someone. I've seen a psychologist and it didn't really help.

-- Lonely in the 'Burg

For treatment to work, a psychologist also needs to see you. And be competent. You don't always get that on the first try.

I'm not one to believe that happiness is finding the right diagnosis, especially when you might just be really really shy. But even though your combination of being otherwise functional and having no social skills can describe every person who's ever sat behind me in a movie theater, the severity of the loneliness you describe does suggest your shyness may have crossed the disorder border. Social phobias or anxieties, as well as ailments on the autism spectrum, can all interfere with the way you approach your peers.

To find the right specialist, enlist the help of a school counselor or your regular doctor.

Be honest about how you're feeling, and say you'd like to be screened, if only to rule out a medical cause for your isolation.

In the meantime, take a low-tech approach as well -- get involved in a regular group activity that aligns with your natural talents and interests, which will allow you to be around people in at least a semi-comfortable context. If nothing else, these two deliberate, active steps might help improve your sense of control and therefore confidence, which almost always bears fruit.

Dear Carolyn:

I've been struggling with depression for over a year now. Only within the last six months have I sought treatment for it. In that time, my relationship with my boyfriend of three years has fallen apart. He acts distant and fearful to commit, and I'm afraid he is no longer attracted to me after seeing the ways I've behaved on my worst days. I feel I've been doing my part trying to get better, but I don't feel like he's pulling his weight.

The last thing in the world I want is for my depression to ruin a once-amazing relationship. How can I start to build his trust again?

-- Distraught

You're already doing it, like you said. (And I know how tough it was to haul yourself in for help, so I'm doing "the wave" for you at my desk.)

Whether it's enough to win back his trust isn't up to you. Nor can you afford to get caught up in a struggle to win him back. Hard as it would be, losing him is the second-to-last thing you want, at best; the last thing you want is Depression II: The Sequel, and preventing that demands your full attention on the business of getting well. If there is any love left to salvage, trust that your good health will save it.

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