Thursday, October 29, 2020

Pandemic Ponderings: Loneliness and Togetherness

Hello, Invisible Audience.


I have to admit, I thought I’d be speaking with you more than I have been. After all, I’m home more and my days are less busy than they were before. Nevertheless, I’ve gone strangely mute, even as I’ve craved connection. At first I thought it was me, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Have you been lonely, too, Invisible Audience? Because the pandemic is wearing on me, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels this way.


For a long time, I thought I could externalize my feelings. Once the election is over I’ll feel better. Once we have a vaccine I’ll feel better. Once I finish my novel I’ll feel better. Once the world stops tearing apart at the seams, I’ll feel better. And yet here I am, just days before the election, and something has come undone, in a good way. But just because it’s come undone now doesn’t mean it wasn’t a son-of-a-bitch to get here. Damn it.


I can summarize it now, after having mucked around in knee-deep manure for most of the last couple months. It summarizes easily in just three simple words: I am grieving. The tears, the sleepless nights, the weepy talks with friends and standing in the shower to try and sluice off the pain all condenses into a single sentence: I am grieving that I have spent the pandemic alone, because I did not have the presence of mind to become part of a hippie enclave before disaster struck.


I am somewhat making light of the situation, but make no mistake: to realize how much I crave human companionship has been no small discovery. It turns out the concentric circles of socialization I had were essential to keeping me grounded, including everyone from the baristas who sometimes know my coffee order but not my name to the students I taught to the friends I had at the coworking space who have since moved their desks into their homes and holed up with their families. 


A friend gave me a book to read a couple months ago called Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, by Vivek Murthy. It basically talks about how loneliness is the underlying reason for many of the illnesses and health issues we see in the modern world. It talks about loneliness at different levels – intimate partner; small group or family; and community – and how you can feel complete in one of these areas and lonely in another one, even if you have people that stand inside that particular circle for you. It took me forever to read this book because it was painful to read. It did not make me feel less alone to read about all the health issues that arise from feeling alone. Especially when those issues were manifesting in real time: headaches from too much screen time; hip pain; fatigue, despite a much less demanding schedule.


Resentment rose to the top of the many emotions that kept me awake. I wanted to blame others for this, but in reality there is no one else to blame. In truth, I chose to live alone. I have chosen the life I live and the people within the world I populate. In my opinion, Together and other similar books don’t talk about a specific piece of the puzzle that is paramount to my survival: it is connecting with the right people that matters. It is feeling seen and validated by a very specific subset of people for me that makes me feel like I belong. This is why my circles are smaller and why I live alone: just having someone in my space is not enough. It has to be the right someone, who I can love as they are and who can love me as I am at the same time. 


A lot of years ago now, I realized that I was unhappy and I made a decision to seek a new way to be that made more room for me—for more people to see me, and for me to see myself. Well, that process is still underway. I think my grief and loneliness now, in the middle of a quarantine and a pandemic, has come from an idea I had that I should have figured it out by now – that my decision more than 10 years ago to change what wasn’t working should have led to a happily ever after that would have found me surrounded by a group of people who got it, got me, and were all living close enough and were interconnected enough that we could quarantine together for a pandemic that came about and lasted longer than anything most of us could have imagined or expected. 


Here’s the thing: I’m not actually alone. Yes, I live alone, but every day I have conversations with friends who check in on me and I on them. I have cultivated an enclave that spans the globe, and I’m not just talking about people I only connect with on social media, either. It is true that I am craving human touch, but that does not mean I am not experiencing love or tender care from others, and vice versa. It just means it looks different today than it used to. Ironically, it just took a lot of time by myself—and reaching out for support and getting it from those very people—to figure that out.


I’ll tell you one thing, though: I will never take hugs for granted again after this is over.


Love and touching kisses,