Tag Archives: fear

L is for Loneliness (and Logic)

Let’s try this again. Yesterday’s L is for post was an aberration. No other way to explain it.

Loneliness is such a difficult emotion. When we are feeling lonely, we are probably also experiencing so many other emotions at the same time: depression, anxiety, shame, frustration, for starters. And, behind all of these feelings is probably fear: fear of being judged, fear that we will never find our people, fear of rejection.

With all of these emotions swirling around inside of us and with a perceived lack of support, we often are reluctant to take the steps that are necessary for connection. When we are depressed and anxious our natural inclinations are to curl up further, to retreat more deeply into ourselves. We may even reject overtures of kindness as “pity asks” if we allow ourselves to believe what our emotions are telling us.

Loneliness is particularly difficult because as humans we are wired to be in connection with others, and yet we are also oriented to danger, evolutionarily speaking. We are constantly scanning our environment, looking for danger. This predilection is what kept us alive and kept the gene pool advancing. But this tendency to look for danger resides in our reptilian brain and kicks in without us even knowing, and it keeps us from reaching toward others.

How do we get out of the place of loneliness then? How can we trust that our friends are genuine and not just reaching out to us because they feel sorry for us? I once had a therapist ask me if I really believed that all of my friends were in cahoots to take me on as a “project.” She asked me if I truly believed that they only called and invited me places because they had agreed that no one else would if they didn’t.

The good news is, we don’t only have our reptilian brain, but also our pre-frontal cortex which is where logic and reason reside. Emotions are powerful, but so are our developed brains. I didn’t have to think very long to realize that was a very unlikely scenario. Did I trust my friends, she asked? What did I know about them? Did this strike me as even a remote possibility? Of course not. My friends don’t have time for such projects, nor the inclination to trick someone into feeling loved. The very thought struck me as absurd. And that’s the thing about emotions—they are generally based on a faulty belief, i.e. “I’m lonely because no one likes me.”

When we are confronted with these unpleasant emotions we can develop tools for coping. First, allow yourself to have the feeling. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, emotions come and go. If we can expand our ability to sit with them and to recognize that nothing terrible will happen if we allow ourselves to fully feel our loneliness, we develop resilience. And we learn that we don’t have to be afraid. The feeling might not be as bad as we imagined.

Next, access what you know. List your friends and all of the people in your life that like you. Coworkers, classmates, teachers, family members, book club members, running buddies. Your spouse. Let the names wash over you, feel the love.

Take action. Pick up the phone, send an email, go for a walk and wave at your neighbors (from at least six feet away and wear a mask). Write a letter. Put up reminders around the house that you are loved. Chances are good that your reaching out will touch someone else who might be feeling similarly. If we can remember that we are more alike than different, we will feel more connected. I know that taking action can be difficult, but trust me when I say that not taking action will not alleviate your loneliness. You have to put yourself among your people to find them, and sometimes you have to do it over and over and over again.

We don’t have to be ruled by our emotions, but neither do we need to fear them. Let yourself feel them, get acquainted, and then take charge. I’ll write more about learning how to recognize emotions and how to work with them in my next blog, M is for Mindfulness, so stay tuned. And for anyone who read my initial and awful L is for post, my most sincere apologies. I let my emotions run away with me.

 

 

H is for Honesty. And Humanity.

If I am to be honest right now, I have a heaviness sitting in my chest. I just finished my weekly personal therapy session and while it was great to see my therapist and know that she is healthy and well, there is also a sadness that I cannot quite describe.

I tried to explain it to her, how it came over me yesterday when I ventured out into the world for the first time in over a week. I had to go get a prescription refilled and pick up an order at the local cidery (yep, part of my self-care). I was at a normally vibrant and bustling intersection, waiting for the light to change noticing how very still it was there. The car dealerships that populate that particular junction were mostly shuttered, and hundreds of brand-new cars were lined up in the lots with nary a buyer in sight.  

The scene felt apocalyptic. I can’t think of a better word, and a deep grief welled up inside of me and I thought “What if this is it? What if we never get back to normal? What if these cars just sit here into perpetuity, unsold, un-driven, rusting into the next millennium?” I wanted to put my head down on the steering wheel and just sob. Finally.

But I didn’t. I allowed the wave of hopelessness wash over me, and then I pushed it away. I had to get home and start seeing clients. I didn’t know what I would able to bring to my sessions, if I allowed myself to break down in that moment, to realize the anxiety and fear I had been carrying as I’ve been soldiering on through this pandemic/lockdown/quarantine.

The anxiety would not go away, though. As the clock raced toward my first session, the more distressed I felt. So, I texted my therapist friends and my own therapist for advice. To a person, they all said the same thing: “Of course you are feeling anxious. We are too. We are human. The best thing you can do for your clients is show up as fully present and just be with them in these strange times.” I asked my therapist specifically if she felt anxious before sessions. Her answer in the affirmative was the most helpful of all. Her honesty, her humanity, shone through in that moment.

And I realized that is what I wanted to bring to my sessions, more intentionally than ever before: honesty and humanity. I cannot sit here and pretend that I’m skipping through this pandemic, successfully using all of my coping skills and shedding the anxiety like so much water off a duck’s back. I feel it. I carry it. I cope as best I can. That is what I have to offer, my humanity.

As we struggle through this strange new normal, I can offer moments of grace, acceptance, and honesty.

F is for Friends (and Family)

(This is a long one, buckle up).

I am happy I waited (ok, procrastinated) on writing my F blog. I mean, so many F words have been careening around in my head these past weeks; I didn’t want to post a blog that would come back to haunt me. But I have to be real, too. I thought about an F word blog. So much is truly fucked up right now. I would have to be incredibly disingenuous to not acknowledge that a lot of life sucks at this moment.

And. Here we are. We can step into that choice I wrote about earlier. So, I chose to forego the F word blog and write about something more uplifting and hopeful. We can say fuck it, and then we can chose to do something about it.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog:  Friends and Family. I am so grateful for my friends (and family—I am so lucky to be able to call my family members my friends: brother, daughters, parents).

This morning I was up early, awakened by my anxiety, scrolling through the headlines (don’t try this at home), wondering what the F? I had the good sense to pivot to last night’s At Home SNL show before I succumbed to my ennui and inertia. Thankfully, I perked up at Kate McKinnon’s RBG workout skit and Weekend Update. I took heart in Tom Hank’s recovery (money and status notwithstanding).

I was busy envying Tom Hank’s typewriter collection when a message popped across my screen:  Easter at your doorstep it said. My friends had stopped by and left a homemade cinnamon roll on my front porch! And a satsuma! Happy Easter to me. I did not go back to bed, Dear Reader. Now I felt like I might be able to remain upright for the rest of the day. Not long after, my youngest daughter texted me a Happy Easter message, and I sent my eldest daughter video of our ancient cat, Mittens (he’s 19). We shared Mittens stories for most of the morning, back and forth with pictures and memories (yes, he’s still alive, but for how much longer?).

I opened my email to find the poems another friend had promised to send me, and Reader, I swooned to read her breathtaking words, so sharp, so wise, so heartfelt. I found myself on the back porch, Sarah McLachlan blaring on the stereo, tears streaming down my face. And suddenly, a large MEOW. Mittens had stalked me. The old guy can’t find his food dish to save himself, but he can track me down to shatter my reverie? And in the next thought, please don’t die on me buddy. We’ve become an unlikely pair of quarantine friends. Whodda thunk it?

The monotony of the past few weeks has been pleasantly interrupted time and again for virtual meetings with folks, groups of friends scattered across the country, with other pals nearby but oh so far, individuals and groups, former coworkers who have fallen solidly into the friend group, writing friends, friends made vis a vis the writing community. Friends from school. Regular emails from my Dad, texts from my sister-in-law who is at this moment taking care of her father through an illness unrelated to the pandemic in another state, chats and messages with my brother as he navigates the repopulation of his no-longer-empty nest as the college kids return, as if south for some interminable winter.

And between the online sessions (anyone else reminded of Hollywood Squares?), unexpected moments of kindness: salmon and grocery deliveries, neighbors with power tools and the willingness to use them to help me out of a literal jam. Friends making and delivering masks and coaching me through the final part of stitching them up.

So much richness. Such gratitude. And yet, there was a time when I despaired that I would be lonely forever, after what seemed at the time, a lifelong tendency toward false starts and unfortunate choices, not altogether bad, even rewarding in many ways, but not what I had imagined. Not always what was good for me, emotionally, financially, physically. Some choices drove wedges between myself and my family. Some choices healed those rifts. Some of the same choices divided me from friends, estranged lovers, and also brought change, second chances, and mended fences.

Building this community took time, long hard looks at myself and a commitment to be different, to be myself, to learn to like myself enough to make sometimes wrenching decisions. It also took a lot of therapy in order to tolerate the pain of many lonely days, depression, self-doubt, and anxiety. It took being brave, taking chances, reaching out, being vulnerable, sitting with my feelings, writing bad poetry (and some good). It took taking risks.

I remember standing in one therapist’s office and she told me to imagine I was on the edge of an imaginary cliff.  “Your life waits out there,” she said. “When will you be ready to jump?”

Eventually, I did jump. Into a vast sparkling pool of friends I call family and family I can call friends. Take a risk, friends. For yourself.