When I was in college, I spent a year in Germany, and it was the loneliest period of my life. In a country where I had no support network, didn’t speak the language, and was cold all of the time, I could find little purchase for love or joy. I was so depressed that I pushed away the only people who I could feel close to because it was all I could think or talk about.
My parents could see me struggling, but did not know what to do. Neither of them had been to therapy before – they could tell I needed medical attention but didn’t know who to ask. My mom talked to a friend who was a therapist, and her advice was this.
“Feeling alone is a fact of life.”
I’m not sure how I was supposed to take this – I felt a two-pronged response, one of which was “what a relief, this is normal,” and one of which was “wait, so this will just recur until I die?” But it was the solitary piece of advice I received, so I repeated it to myself, time and again.
Since leaving Germany in 2010, I’ve never felt quite that alone again, but I have dipped in and out of periods where I felt completely disconnected from anyone. When, in 2015, I broke up with my boyfriend and moved into an apartment by myself, and realized I had severed ties to anything that felt like a family structure at all in Austin, TX. No roommate, no partner, just me.
I still live here. I still feel a terrifying sense of disconnectedness sometimes if I focus too much on what roots and guides me, emotionally. I grasp for an answer that is not there.
Yesterday, at a party, I mentioned that I’ve been feeling socially anxious lately, and strangely self conscious about my physical appearance.
“I would never have guessed that,” a friend replied. “That’s not what you project at all.”
In general, I think I’m scared to tell people what is really going on when I am sad, or anxious, or depressed, for fear of pushing people away. I think of the times I have allowed myself to be pushed away by depressed friends, and it frightens me, so in general I try to downplay fears or anxieties as normal. Part of me wonders if it IS normal. Are my feelings of sadness or disconnectedness unique, or are they part of the human experience? If I am doing this good of a job of concealing my constant fear, is everyone else just doing the same damn thing?
But I do wonder, if it is normal, if we are all frightened or alone or scared, why it is that we feel so alone to begin with. If there’s a through-line that connects all of us, and that’s a sense that our own misery is unique, that in fact gives us a pretty huge jumping off point for human connection.
I feel that I am currently in a place where I wax between feelings of disconnectedness, of being unmoored from some central quell of love and belonging aside from my family thousands of miles away, and of being blown away by the seemingly limitless love, goodness and humor that my friends have to give. It strikes me that my heart has so much room for so many more good feelings than I have found a way to fill it with. I always think about that dumbass figure that humans “dont even use 70% of our brains” (which is evidently fairly arbitrary) and I wonder if in some way we are blocking ourselves from feeling 70% of the love and unity we could.
I feel like I am someone who is relatively willing to be vulnerable at all times, and yet I’ve just stuck my toe into the ocean of vulnerability I feel that I could explore if I allowed myself to trust-fall into real feelings of love.
I don’t want to die like this, in this middle-ground between honesty and illusion; if I am searching for a life purpose, I wonder if that’s in fact the answer – a lifelong quest for connectedness, in which my fulfillment necessarily brings about feelings of warmth and fulfillment for others.
I guess what I’m saying is who wants to get lunch?
Photo by Leah Muse Photography