Loneliness makes us more capable of true intimacy if ever better opportunities do come along. It heightens the conversations we have with ourselves, it gives us a character. We don’t repeat what everyone else thinks. We develop a point of view. We might be isolated for now, but we’ll be capable of far closer, more interesting bonds with anyone we do eventually locate.
The School of Life
I’ve always been lonely. I think it’s part of the very fabric of my character, as it seems to have permeated every stage of my life. I used to be embarrassed about admitting it – doesn’t it ooze the idea of the unwanted/the misfit/the pitiful – but for many years I have been working on accepting it.
I think that loneliness is very much central to the complexity of humanity. How can we be anything but lonely when we are born alone, die alone and really truly can anyone really understand us? And for that matter can we ever truly understand anybody else? Part of the rich tapestry of life – we are actually all so terribly interesting. And if we are all really lonely then surely that doesn’t make us feel so alone.
What I do know is that false company, false rainbows and false activities are a waste of this precious life and a one way street to misery. I ditched them long ago and I’m so grateful that I did. The phone didn’t ring so much, the party invitations dried up and there were a few hairy moments when people didn’t like the direction I was going in. I had to hold very very tight at times and keep my eye on the prize ahead – to live an entirely authentic meaningful life and, is Maya Angelou’s words, to live it with some style.
I spent 10 years working on myself – yup that long this internal stuff is hard hard work. I unwrapped, unpeeled, ditched, burnt all the messages that I didn’t want anymore. i went deep, and then when I was brave enough deeper still. I wrote, and wrote and wrote. I meditated and meditated some more. I spent years reading every psychology, philosophy, theology book I could get my hands on. My late husband once challenged the guy in the local Waterstones to” find one self-help book in here that my wife hasn’t read.” – to be fair he did, but it was a close run thing.
And then my daughter died and so did part of me. I had to start all over again.
But the work I had done permeated really deep and was a fundamental part of me learning to live again. They say you can only be as happy as your unhappiest child. I think that’s right and I’m still not exactly sure where that leaves us bereaved Mothers.
So there was me smugly thinking that all the work I’d done would kind of cushion me in this lockdown. I’ve made friends with loneliness and reframed it as an essential part of my creative mind. To be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever met a writer or other artist who shies away from being alone. I think the trick to all this is in the wording – alone/solitude good. Lonely – not so much.
But this lockdown thing presents a whole new challenge me thinks. As the external landscape has temporarily disappeared from view, the vaults of my mind seem to be swinging open again. And in there, for me at least, is a whole load of messy bits that could do with a good tidying up again. Above all else I feel the whispers of the past calling me again – back into the choppy waters of grief.
And so I will stay a while as I know so well that to do anything less would be a very bad idea. The School of Life (wonderful organisation) says insomnia is the revenge for all that we try so hard not to resolve in the daylight. I think the same applies to depression, unhappiness and loss of purpose/joy – our subconscious is such a powerful tool it will keep shout and roar at us until we stop and take notice.
I revisit so much of what happened with my daughter and I try and sit with the pain again and again. Sometimes it’s jagged edges soften a little, but other times I just have to take the stabs again and again into my heart. You see the pain of the loss really is equal to the strength of the love and it never goes away. But you know what that’s ok I never want it to. And this time I find myself planning a little gold pendant that I can wear around my neck, next to my heart, with her name on it. And that feels a really nice thought. And off I go again into the normal cadence of another day.
It’s all ok. It really is.
So many of us have our own griefs and losses don’t you think? Not always of a person, sometimes of a dream, a missed opportunity, our youth, our potential. This life thing is a tough gig. And maybe with all this space, your mind too is starting to crack open and invite you deep within….. terrifying/thrilling/inviting all at the same time.
Julia Cameron, one of the original self help gurus, says in her beautiful book The Artist’s Way “it feels like now is a good time for people to find their inner lives.” I half envy some of you who may just be starting out. You’ve got a cracking adventure ahead ..
In no way do I want to divert from the horror of this pandemic, of the lives lost in the most dreadful ways. But is it not also holding a giant mirror up to us all and our mad mad lives. Recent research shows that only 9% of people want to return to their pre-Covid lives. Whatever were we all doing that makes lockdown seem so appealing. Madness.
For me I have lived a gentler, quieter life ever since my daughter died. As I’ve said before it changed me at such a fundamental level. My brain was rewired then for kindness, compassion and connection. So strangely the more I let go of things, the more a beautiful space emerged where so many other things could grow and flourish. It was like I had stripped back some land and could now choose which crops to tend to create my life. The life I wanted to live.
I often retreat from the World to write and it gives me the deepest pleasure of almost anything else. And the more I have found my authentic voice, the more people talk to me, write to me, make friends with me. This all happened because I stopped listening to outside voices and instead made my own voice my best friend. So just as I was making friends with loneliness, I now have more connections with so many people across the World.
I also don’t mean to dismiss the pain of loneliness – and I am fortunate in so many ways as I so often choose this way of living. My heart literally breaks for the people who are trapped into lives where they have no human contact. Shame on us all for allowing any other human being to feel like this.
There’s this great new book out (I highly recommend it) Together: Loneliness Health and What Happens When We Find Connection by Vivek H Murthy. He repeats some of the dismal statistics on loneliness such as a 2009 study that showed the health impact of loneliness is the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A 2013 poll showed that 76% of GPs in Britain said they saw between one and five patients a day whose visit was primarily driven by loneliness.
In my desperate times there have always been those magical people who just showed up and don’t go away. They haven’t tried to fix anything, they are just there and have walked beside me until things got a little better. And they are not always the people you expect – one of my greatest companions had been a work colleague I’d found an absolute nightmare. Another lesson there – let go of judgement – we really have no idea what other people are going through.
So like so many of my musings I come back at the end to love. To love, compassion and connection. If we all keep just showing up for our family, our friends, our community, I think that’s about as good as it can get. And just maybe so many more of us are being reminded of the real magic of this funny old life.
Please keep writing to me. I absolutely love hearing your thoughts and stories.
With all my love,