Loneliness

Yesterday was my 50th birthday...

And it was pretty bad,
(My facebook page doesn't have my real birthdate on it, in case your wondering why you didn't see it....)
Its such a weird thing this facebook...millions of people reaching out to connect and posting about their daily lives to do so...yet what we share is such a filtered edited version of what we really feel and think. Happy bright photos of accomplishments, anniversary presents from caring spouses, clever things our kids have done and for the main part, the only dark bits we share are of wars in Syria and political disasters. Pain a few times removed from the personal.
Facebook, the ultimate social network, is ironically full of clever memes about the importance of learning to love yourself and your own company.
 And personally, I think it's a crock of shit.

I've been posting about my wonderful adventures as a traveling perfumer and artist for months...and it dawned on my last night that I've carefully been hiding how much I've been struggling.
3 years ago my partner of 16 years died. My youngest child left home and I got bullied out of a job I loved.
And I ran away from it all, the loneliness, the loss, the sheer awful emptiness of losing all the things by which I defined who I was.
I ran away in the desperate attempt to find myself again. And yes, I've had some great adventures along the way, but it's also been incredibly lonely.
I'm in a new town where Ive only been living for a few months, and I have made some acquaintances, all nice people, but it hasn't been long enough for them to be close friends.
And my real old friends and family are a few thousand kms away.
I spent most of it in a ceramics class I'm doing as part of my midlife artistic crisis and my kids all rang during it to try and sing happy birthday to me, and I couldn't answer the phone.
Because I knew if I did I would burst into tears.
And then I'd have to explain why.
And then everyone would say "Oh how wonderful, are you having a big party?"
And I would cry again.

My boyfriend it seems forgot about it altogether.
 Yes I have a boyfriend. But it's one of those "I don't want any kind of commitment or to be responsible for your wellbeing in any way shape of form because I broke up with my wife last year and I'm trying to find my long lost youth and freedom" midlife things that somehow leaves you feeling more lonely than if you were completely on your own.
So I spent a lonely day on my own trying to hide my red eyes from strangers and not focus on how shitty I was actually feeling.

Anyway,  amongst my self-pitying tears, it got me thinking about loneliness.
It's one of these horrible shameful hidden things we don't talk about.
We see it all around us all the time without wanting to pay attention to it.
On the playground in the face of the kid no one wants to play with who sat sadly on the sidelines.
Its the person at work who wears drab colours and never gets invited to the office parties.
The widows and widowers who quietly potter alone in the house after their partner died.
Till one day a neighbor discovers they took an overdose of their dead spouses leftover pills and it was days before anyone noticed.
Humans are not geared to being alone.Our biggest drive is to connect from the moment we are born.
We define ourselves by what group we belong to: Our family, our friends, our village, our sports team, our political preference, our race, our sexual preference, our religion....and also the land itself, our physical sense of "home".
Who we are is defined by who we belong to.
And without them, we don't really cope.
Aboriginal people here always ask when they meet you: "Where you from? Who your people?".
They rarely go anywhere on their own, and will leave hospital against medical advice with drips trailing from their arms because they "miss family and want to go home!".
In all societies, being shunned and cast out from your tribe is the ultimate punishment.
To be forced off alone. To be isolated.
We do this in our modern prison system to. We punish people by locking them away from normal society. and within prison, the ultimate punishment for bad behavior is an isolation cell, further deprivation from company and belonging.

Our modern society seems to create loneliness in so many weird and hidden ways...
You can be intensely lonely in the middle of a city surrounded by thousands of people. In fact I have at times felt lonelier in cities than I have sitting out in chasm here in the desert with no other human for a few hundred kms.
Because it is the sense of connection that makes or breaks you.
I can feel connected to the land and at one with the trees and the rocks and the birds....and totally disconnected from the thousands of people who I don't know and who don't know me in a city.
You can feel total connection in a workshop with total strangers you've artificially opened up to about your childhood nightmares...and totally isolated within your own family when you are hiding a secret you feel they can never understand....
But birthdays, like other social significant celebrations, have a horrible way of magnifying how isolated you really feel.
Christmas is a notorious date for a spike in suicide rates. And I'll bet if you looked into the statistics, you'd find that birthdays and wedding anniversaries of lost loved ones are similar triggers.

They are the days that celebrate your connections.
Where your clan, your tribe, your group comes together to celebrate and feed back to you how much they love and care about you. And if you don't have the connections to celebrate, the loneliness can be unbearable.

What saved me were the gestures of connection... the new acquaintance who'd gone to the trouble of leaving a packet of special wool for me to open on my birthday along with a handmade card.
Another who brought in a tub of mulberries tied up with a bow. And of course the phone calls from my kids and mother, even though they made me feel more alone because they are so far away.

I finally ended up ringing up one of my best friends late at night, another woman without a partner whose kids have grown up and left... and we both sat there crying about how lonely we are... and how desperately we want a "home".
 I don't know what solution i will find for my loneliness...maybe I'll manage to put together some kind of  monastery for eccentric pagans out here in the desert where we can form a new kind of crazy caring community.

But I do know that yesterday reminded me of how important the simple kindness of caring about someone else can be...the little gestures that can be far bigger than you might think.

Sometimes the difference can be ....mulberries.



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