Welcome to what feels like day 5,682 of COVID-19. I’m your host, bored and lonely, and today we’ll be exploring loneliness in isolation, but first let’s hear those smooth jazz stylings of Kenny G. *Dododododdododo*
Okay, but seriously, I can’t really avoid it any longer. I haven’t wanted to write about what it’s like being alone right now because I know we are all feeling it. We are all scared and unsure and to put it simply- freaking the f**k out. Except, my blog is about being honest and brave and if I were to skirt around how I am feeling right now, well then it wouldn’t be too honest or brave of me.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this topic it’s okay to put the phone down. It’s okay to take a deep breath where a deep breath is needed. You don’t owe anything, to anyone (except maybe your landlord #rentstrike).
I may have discussed this before, but I am a slow processor. I often get called “the quiet one” of most spaces I find myself in. It’s not because I’m shy, or because I don’t feel like I fit in, nor because I am judging you, or feel superior in any way. Which is all feedback I have received from many people in my life. “When I first met you I thought you totally hated me because you just, like, didn’t talk.” I get it, it’s a fair assumption to make. If there is silence, then there are thoughts to fill that silence. But I promise that’s not it at all. I’m quiet because I am hearing everything you are saying. I am taking it all in, so later I can go home and think about what was said and not only understand my reactions to things, but actually formulate reactions, and not jump to conclusions.
I don’t know when this slow processing thing started, but I used to hate it. I would get so upset when I couldn’t formulate an opinion on a moments notice. “Here is x, y, z- what do you think that means? Sarah?” Then I would be the kid in class with bright red cheeks because I didn’t have an answer. “Pass,” I would mutter, feeling like a dumb dumb. I don’t get upset about it anymore though. I find it to be a blessing really. I’ve seen what can happen when people throw out reactions without thinking it through. How many painful moments could have been avoided if we just took a moment to process instead of feeling a need to fill the air? It’s also handy that I know this about myself now. I can preemptively tell people about this little known fact and there isn’t this, ‘why is this weird girl so quiet?’ thoughts. They can just think that I am weird with an explanation for my silence. I dig it.
All that is to say, my slow processing is etched into every aspect of my life. I’ve been awarded “WORLD’S WORST GOODBYE” before because I don’t get sad in those moments. I was leaving New York to move to Wisconsin, indefinitely, unsure when I would see my friends, and was like ‘welp, this was fun. TTFN.’ Two weeks later, I was sobbing, uncontrollably on my kitchen floor. This gives you an example of how long it can take me to process sometimes. World wide events are no different.
COVID-19 was making sweeping changes across the world and people called to see how I was doing. I would tell them “I feel okay for now, just give me a couple weeks and call again.” Well folks, here we are, a couple weeks in and I actually had to pick myself off the kitchen floor again- snot everywhere, hyperventilating, and scared out of my mind.
When I was little I used to get these stomach aches when I was upset. They were excruciating, like someone was tearing my insides out. I still get those to this day. Although, now I recognize them as my body signaling a need to process some emotion. (That, my friends, is called growth.) I felt it two days ago. My stomach was in knots and I knew what was happening. My brain was ready to process this whole ‘I’m alone in a worldwide pandemic’.
I don’t mean alone, alone because I am lucky enough to have some of the most amazing people in my life. I get texts, FaceTimes, phone calls, social media notifications. However, I am physically alone, and no matter how many calls or texts I get, it is a hard feeling to shake. During my run the other day I had to stop and take deep breathes because my brain decided to show me images of me loosing air, unable to call 911. Hunched over on the side of the road, trying to ease my panic attack, I’m sure people in the nearby building thought I had the Rona and was about to keel. Anxiety has this way of putting images like this in your head and then making you believe they are real.
My anxiety was yelling “WAKE UP DUDE. YOU NEED TO START PROCESSING.” My anxiety was right. So, I talked about and I wrote about it. About what it means to be in isolation without another body to occupy the space with you. Most everyone I know has somebody else, whether it be a family member, or friend, or loved one, or furry pal that is in their physical space. I don’t. People call me talking about the arguments they are having with those close to them and I find myself doused in jealousy, wanting to argue with someone because it would take up my brain space in a new way. Yeah, you read that right, I was jealous of those who are fighting. I wanted to fight, laugh, hug, make-up with literally anyone.
I spent the last couple days in the fetal position, rubbing my tummy to remind it that I am working through this stuff and that we will be okay. What I found in this space of processing is that it is okay for me to be scared, and jealous, and bored. Emotions that I don’t often explore here, but that are just as valid as my sadness or anger or joy. These are parts of myself that I don’t often connect with. I usually put my fears, jealousy, and boredom into the DO NOT SHARE column. They have this negative little connotation that make me feel like they are not good things.
And that’s when I remembered that there is no such thing as good or bad when it comes to feeling. These are just natural human responses. I can be fearful of being alone, jealous that other people have company, and bored because I can’t just go to a coffee shop. Not good, not bad- they just are. When I was able to just feel these things without judgement I could feel my stomach untwist itself. A beautiful reorganizing of the way a stomach should feel.
We should be able to share our emotions without a quick response. We should be able to talk about how we feel without judgement spewing from others words. This includes the way we talk to ourselves. If we feel fear it doesn’t help to quickly respond with ‘that’s stupid’ because all that does is create a disconnect from how you are feeling and how you think you should be feeling.
When I have a patient in my room (or on the phone these days) my number one goal is to try and make this person feel as though they are being heard. I try not assume where they have been or where they are going. I don’t try to think of advice or what my next sentence should be. My main purpose is to listen. To fully hear the words that they have managed to put together and share with me. An honor I never take lightly. I wonder what it would look like if we all did that with ourselves.
When I am feeling lonely and looking in the mirror, instead of saying I am stupid perhaps I listen to that part that feels alone. Perhaps I hold a gentle space for it and let it share how it is feeling. Maybe I even say it’s okay to feel lonely. I could even hold that part of me, gently, and let the feeling waft over us. And may, just maybe, by being heard it feels a little less alone and a little bit more seen.
This is how I would describe loneliness in isolation- devastatingly poetic.
can you hear me?
can you hear me?
can you hear me?
from the top
-of the lungs,
to the depths
-of the belly.