by: Heather Fawn
An honest take on a life thronged by self-imposed isolation….
I live a life that is not for the faint of heart.
It’s not that I choose to live this way, it’s just the way my life has played out. The amount of social isolation I have somehow created for myself is truly a liability. Today, I realized that unless I have some kind of emergency situation, there is only one person whom I can text or leave a message for who will get back to me right away. Or, at worst, within 24 hours. I understand that my friends have busy lives, and my lack of geographical presence has created a dearth of interdependence, but, in a word, my life is lonely. It’s very empty. My inability to pretend has created a vacuum where my immediate family should be. I can count many an old friend who would let me crash for a day or two on their proverbial couches, but there is a lack of intimacy between us. Some of these people I have known for over ten years, but most of them are former classmates. A few of us are forever bound by the shimmering memories of studying abroad in Japan, a momentary oasis during our college days.
I know that people who have physical disabilities meet challenges in immeasurable and sometimes very limiting ways. But whatever the legacy is that I have inherited, whatever is within me that creates and sustains a hole where there should be human interaction, filling the space is a tremendous hindrance on my ability to form lasting, meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships. I seem to be without the tools to do anything but be this selective, introverted ruminator, who is often viewed as a back-burner type of friend. Whatever it is that those people you can’t live without are made of, it appears I am made of something else altogether.
This disability is invisible yet insidiously pervasive, and the impact has been undeniable. People ask me how I’ve been able to bounce around from place to place. The answer to this question is simply that I have nothing to hold me back. For awhile, this was freeing. I answered to no one. But life, being what it is, has its moments where your human need surpasses your self-sufficiency. Other people are necessary, and there is no denying that. This is a lesson I have been learning slowly, like some kind of alien creature who doesn’t understand the way life on the planet Earth works.
I could, of course, pontificate on the enormity of doing for others, the purpose that it gives to one’s life and the responsibility we have towards making life easier and more pleasant for our fellow humans. It has absolutely nothing to do with me – it is an ethical idea and an empathetic response to other people. Yes, I have a need, just as all other humans do, to be sustained by the goodwill and compassion of other people. But if I can at least pass this on to the people who are in my life, as well as through my profession, I seem to be in this stasis of survival that keeps me going. My life has sustainability if I am giving back.
I can’t necessarily blame the friends that I have for not being able to fulfill my needs. They have known me for a long time, and they know that I am self-sustaining. Barring emergencies, I am the least needy, the least hands-on, and yet probably the most complex person in their social circles. I, as far as I can tell, don’t ask for much. When I am in a neutral frame of mind, I can enter a room and people won’t notice that I’m there. It’s not because they don’t care – I think it’s because I have perfected not taking up space. The combination of my professionalism at work, my introversion during my downtime, and my reluctance to be frank about my problems with other people have somehow erased my physical presence. Sure, you might notice me, and if I’m in the mood, you might get an earful of something humorous. But unless you’ve broken some kind of film, some kind of barrier or membrane that seals me tightly into the space I occupy, perhaps you will not get to know me.
I don’t know how to change. I need that membrane. Life is incredibly intense and I already feel everything all the time.
But how to stop the revolving door, the constant entrance and exit of people and their assessment of my importance in their lives? I understand that I pay a heavy price for trying to create a life with damaged men – building sandcastles that last as long as they take to construct. However, aren’t we all damaged in some way? How has this created a toxic wasteland where no one can get close? I know people who are less pleasant, less understanding, less tolerable, and less tolerant, and they have people who come to them. I know people with horrible tempers and great friends. I know unforgivable people who have been forgiven. I don’t know how my combination of traits inhibits the formation of real relationships with real people who care about me. I know my self-esteem is actually pretty good, all things considered. I haven’t, as far as I can tell, committed any hurtful or egregious betrayals. I’m an idealist and a deep thinker, and I like to talk about things with substance, and I crave alone time. However uniquely and rightly myself I am, this arrangement is yielding me nothing but early bedtimes and no one to answer the phone when I call.
There’s no point in trying to blame other people, though I have no idea how things got this bad. I just finished pouring my heart and soul into another life plan that wasn’t meant to be, and I don’t have a mother to call and cry to. I don’t have a wise grandmother to ask for sage advice. I am without guru or counselor or close friend who has the time to indulge my heartache. For ten years I have been on an island. Most people go to islands for vacation, for novelty, for something they can’t get at home. And then they go back to their comfort zones. I’ve been more of a temporary escape than a place to establish oneself.
As much as I can appreciate the idea that a counselor could help me tremendously, with all due respect to the good and compassion they inject into the world, they are paid to care about my problems. They are not people who can or should extend any more consideration than the hour they have allotted to me.
Right now, I am living with a friend, and that is definitely a good thing. I am still teaching, but I actually moved to this little town to do something that government budget cuts have made impossible to do for the next year. I am again scrambling to construct a new 5-year plan.
It is interesting to see this friend in her element. A woman who is so much like myself in many ways, and yet she has a little family. A husband who has stood by her for better or worse, and a son who is thriving despite the challenges of his mother and father’s demanding modern work schedules. She has faced her own struggles, but people in this world have deemed her worthy of love and respect. She has earned it.
How many successful choices, I wonder, am I away from a life in which I am deemed worthy of enduring love and respect? Someone like me doesn’t just pay for their mistakes with others with a little heartache and misdirection. Someone like me pays for their mistakes with a wretched isolation that seeps into everything they do. When you take one person out of my life, you are left with a gaping hole, not unlike the ones left by excavation machines during demolition. Well, I am full of these holes. You have to play connect the dots with me to make me look like a human. I’m single, and my job does not come with a network of co-workers. I do volunteer work, but the organization has almost all of their social events in a town that is one hour away. All of the people I met in university are scattered across the globe – like stars in the sky that I can see from the glow of Facebook. It seems for every good thing that I pursue, there is another opposite thing already in my life which serves to highlight how much negative space still needs filling.
For all my twisting and turning, for all my planning and determination, for all my insightful views and bold execution of ideas that seem like they are going to change everything, I am still learning that the “bottom” one can hit has such an awful lot of texture, vivid color, and surround-sound quality. There is quite a bit of “bottom” down here. And no one but me to pull myself out. I learned a long time ago that no one can save me. Nor should they attempt to do so.
I still have my health and my wits about me – thank Buddha for that.
What is the point, one might ask, in writing my story for all the world to see? Well, mostly to, I suppose, express that some people have my life. It’s not in a neat little package, and no one is going to help me clean up my failures. No one can even point me in the direction I should go. I live an endless riddle that self-help books, prior counseling, a great deal of thought, and well-meaning people have, as of yet, been unable to solve. We hear all these success stories about people, all these turned-it-around tales of love and belonging, of wealth and excitement. I can only hope that my story is just a chapter or two away from more friendships, and meaning and, you know, the holy grail of life partners, all of which will bring purpose to my life (because, really, what is the meaning of life if you have literally no one to share it with?). I am, as many inevitably arrive, at that age where what I’ve had so far simply isn’t cutting it.
I still contribute what I can to society, and I try not to be a drain on anyone. But even if I were a rotten mess (or am I a rotten mess?), it would still be my life. I cannot apologize for the state that it’s in, because, quite frankly, I can only speak for some of that. The other is chance or fate or moderate misfortune. I am, of course, endlessly grateful that my car is still running, that I can have clothes and food and shelter. I seem to be free of serious diseases and am entirely able-bodied, which is such a wonderful gift. I have enough money to pay my bills and I am pleasant-looking enough to garner the goodwill of strangers. I am free of serious addiction and I am well-adjusted enough not to be a terror or a burden to others. I have had the good fortune to see some of the world, and study it, too. I have been gifted with above-average intellect (or so I imagine), and a penchant for scribbling my thoughts onto paper. In some ways, I have it good.
But there is no place for me…anywhere. Not yet. Home is where the heart is, but my heart is merely here, inside of me, and I make my home where I stand, I suppose. I have no direction, because my plans keep failing. I followed my heart, I had a plan, and overnight it all dissolved.
Is it funny or is it sad? I really can’t tell. I feel sad, but then I laugh while I am crying, because it all seems so absurd. I think I went down with the ship. I think I was clinging to styrofoam, and I think I was coughed up onto shore. I am afraid to go back overseas because I never did find what I was looking for here in my homeland, and it’s even scarier to wander off into the unknown when you know so few people are able to have your back should you falter once more.
Here, and everywhere else, no one is being paid millions of dollars in a race to find the cure for loneliness. I am worthy of unfaltering romantic love, lasting friendships, a place to call home. I am worthy of enough happiness to make this pain seem like a lazy little intermission. But I won’t stand here with my hand held out. I’m working on a plan to right what went so very wrong. Hopefully the rest will not be far behind.
And not without urgency. People can still love you when you’re young and clueless. But if you get to the point where you are well and truly old, and you’re still stupid, you’re fucked.
I hope I am wising with age, and outsmarting whatever it is that ails me. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Surely my breakthrough is just around the corner…