A Story About Loneliness
“The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness.” —Norman Cousins
I’m in my element when being a social butterfly.
Thinking back to the times that have been the most special, the most exhilarating and the most damn fun, they’re the times when I’ve been bouncing around a room full of good people, just doing what I do best.
Laughter matters to me. Being silly matters to me. Being with good people matters to me.
So how did it happen that I’m at a place in life where I spent Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, my Birthday (and a lot of other days to boot) alone for the last few years?
How did I get to a place where I can go days where the only conversation is between me and my barista?
How did I get to be more alone than ever?
It happened because unwanted change happens incrementally.
The true cost of my decisions has crept up on me over the last 5 years, and I’m not liking what I’m seeing.
I have a chronic illness which means I need to rest a lot. I only have so much energy available to me, and once that’s been spent my illness bites harder than a predatory pitbull at a penguin picnic.
My illness regularly floors me like a spade in the face.
So to manage this I started saying “No” to things.
Like going out after work with colleagues because I know it’ll hit me hard a day or two later.
To going out on weekends because it means I won’t be able to get up and get things done on Sunday and won’t be ready to start another week.
To going on dates because I know I don’t have the time or energy to put into romance right now.
In the interests of self-preservation I’ve chipped away at the edges of my life; each strike of the hammer sending another sliver flying away.
What’s left is smaller, neater and can be put in the corner of the room without it dominating anything. That’s great if the aim was to create something small, inoffensive and entirely unremarkable.
But that has never been my aim, and I’m left with a life that’s been crafted by my own hand, but lacks the texture and richness I love and need.
I’ve noticed the lack of human contact impacting my energy levels, my enthusiasm about things and even how I perceive my own feelings.
The whole thing alarms me and disappoints me, and all of this is potentially more damaging than anything I could set out to do intentionally.
Unwanted change happens incrementally, is only observable over distance and is not benign.
Don’t get me wrong, I have so much to be grateful for and I love so much in life. I’m fortunate to know some truly extraordinary people; I’m lucky that I have a fantastic family who I love dearly; I love that through my illness I’m discovering some of life’s most valuable secrets.
I’m lucky, and I’m grateful.
But I also know that this incremental change will continue unless I find a way to get off the remote island I’m living on.
Staying still won’t stop the waters from rising, and by “keeping on keeping on” the change that’s been imperceptibly underway these last 5 years will continue unchecked.
There is no standing still. There is no treading water. There is no “just surviving”.
I know that an isolated life is not the kind of life I crave or need, and I honestly don’t know what the road ahead looks like or if I can even stay on it.
All I know is this.
When the path you’ve been on has been necessary, but the place it’s taken you to is undesired and unsustainable, you have to open to it.
You gotta embrace where you are. You gotta open to what’s already here. You gotta love the place you’re in first.
This is how I get to make new, better decisions based on the best of me rather than the small, embittered man I could become.
This is how I’m starting.
Want to come with me?
Photo by mislav-m