Monday, May 25, 2015

Ever Felt Lonely? Me Too.

A few nights ago, I had a vivid dream. I arrived to a party full of people in my community, people whom I admire and enjoy, people I feel some connection to. As I made my way through the party, nobody spoke to me. When I started a conversation, it quickly puttered out. As the dream progressed, so did a sense of being irrelevant, not wanted, no longer part of this community--my community. I had taken too much time away and was no longer needed, no longer wanted.

I spent several wakeful hours that night sick with profound, almost physical lonliness, despite my husband sleeping peacefully not a foot away.

Lonliness is a visitor I've had many times in life, though gratefully it's been awhile since its last visit. Likely due to the creep of loneliness back into my life, I've been thinking so much about connection lately--how we get it, how we sustain it, how we keep investing the energy instead of taking our connections for granted, letting them gradually peter out without our noticing.

My work is an extrovert's work. I spend my days calling and e-mailing, creating professional connections, asking for meetings. I spend half my time on the road, booked with meetings over coffee and lunch, meetings in offices or me sitting behind a table at a conference, smiling and doing my very best to connect connect connect. My job requires me to be social, bubbly, gregarious and charming for hours and hours, usually interfacing with strangers or near-strangers.

And then at the end of the workday, when ordinarily I'd be returning home to my husband and my people--the people whom I love and who fill me back up--I instead go alone to my hotel room, unwinding and passing the time until the clock turns to morning and the extroverted push begins again. Because I am an introvert, this push asks much of my resources, leaving me at the end of it close to comatose and in desperate need for lots of alone time to recover. The balance is not perfect, but it's been workable. However, six months in, I realize the predicament it creates, whirling all my energy into connecting with professional contacts, saving very little for connecting with the people who create the web of my life. It is not particularly conducive to balance.

I think a lot of us do this, albeit with different paths. We get busy, we move to a new town, we're working late climbing the professional ladder, a family member gets sick, we fall in love-love, we buy a house and dump every free minute into renovation projects.. I think there are a lot of rabbit holes we can fall down that all, at their ends, leave us isolated and craving intimacy, craving connection. Most of the time, it really feels like a fall, making it difficult to realize where we're going until we're there.

This feels vulnerable to write about. I have a nasty habit, honed over many, many years, of assuming everyone else has the intimacy, community and connection they want, and that it is me who is broken, that I am the only lonely one, that at my core I am not desirable. Logically, I know this is not true. Emotionally, at 3 o'clock in the morning, it feels soul breaking. Emotionally, writing about it feels like outing myself as the wackadoo who doesn't have any friends, solidifying that status indefinitely.

But, as a very wise (and very loved) friend would probably say, in vulnerability is connection.

I bet more than one of you knows exactly the feelings I feel. I hope more than one of you feels comforted by the reminder that we are not broken, but rather human.

There is a skill taught often in my work called "doing the opposite," which essentially (listen up--I am about to save you so much money on therapy) is doing the opposite action of what you feel like doing. For example, instead of deciding I'm destined for isolation and will never ever ever get the human connection I want and thus should probably just give up and buy a few more pairs of black leggings (6 just isn't enough if I'm really going to commit to this hermit thing), I reach out. I send messages of love to those I love, I set up coffee dates and walking appointments and start planning a gd birthday party. Trust me, in the moment, this feels like the absolutely craziest, scariest, borderline humiliating thing to do--after all, when we are deep in that rabbit hole, it's hard to remember what it's like to be anywhere else. But we trust. We remember that once, we felt differently, even if just for a day. That is what we hold tight to. That memory is what becomes our guide.

Loneliness--any pain, really--is...painful. It is human, and it is painful. As with it all, we must be patient and do what is most loving to ourselves. There is something to be taught here, unpleasant though it may feel in its moments.

My lesson? Be deliberate with my energy. Save some for that which feeds me. Remember to notice what's going on in my days. It's okay to mess up--I'm still learning. I imagine you are, too.

Off to buy some ballons. Birthday parties to plan and all.

Till next time.


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