Friday, August 7, 2015

Loneliness and Connection

Recently I read an article on loneliness that was forwarded to me by psychologist and life coach Dr. Eric Maisel. I took a writing course with Dr. Maisel and have found his books on creative stumbling blocks and their antidotes to be on target with my experience of the creative life. His daughter Kira Asatryan, also a life coach, wrote this particular article, 4 Disorders That May Thrive on Loneliness. In it, she posits that if you suffer from depression, social anxiety, addiction, or hoarding it may be worthwhile to consider the loneliness factor. Let's face it: in our modern society, the ability to achieve real human connection is often hindered by our fast-paced lifestyles. And the connections we do have through social media tend toward superficiality.

Before moving to Arden, I had experienced many periods of deep loneliness. Probably the most pronounced period came after college. While at the University of Delaware, I lived in the Belmont Honors House. Inside a huge house that used to be home to the president of the university, I lived with nineteen of the most intriguing and inspiring minds on campus. Today I keep in touch with many of them. They live all over the world and are tops in their fields. I loved living in that environment. Sure, I had to wait in line to use the bathrooms, but I wasn't lonely. Not ever. Then I graduated.

Mark and I got married within months of my graduation (which I completed a year ahead of schedule). Soon I landed a job as a CAD operator, designing fabric on second shift. We worked in shifts because the design computers and the software were so expensive back in the late eighties, early nineties that we need to run them at all hours to make full use of the investment. On my shift, I worked with two other co-workers. I never saw my new husband who worked first and third shifts as a computer operator. None of my high school friends had graduated from college. I had nobody to go out with and was too tired at 11:30 PM to even consider it if I had. We had few people besides our relatives who we saw with any regularity. I didn't realize that this wasn't normal adulthood. I daydreamed about recruiting people to live in a commune just so I would have people to interact with during the daytime hours. This was 1990-4, before we even had email to stay in touch.

I joined a step-aerobics class with a bunch of grandmas who were available in the morning hours. I took up knitting and watched soap operas before work. My favorite soap of that period was Another World. I was so caught up in the characters (Anne Heche as twins Vicky and Marley, etc.) that I would dream about them. If one the actors from the show was in Soap Opera Digest, I would buy it and read it over my dinner break at work.  I would go to the mall on Mother's Day Weekend when cast members made special appearances. One time, I even won a script signed by the cast of Another World. I kept it on a shelf with the video tape containing the actual episode. (Boy, could I work a VCR.) To this day, this is the only time I have ever won anything in a drawing. The characters on that show were my friends. I had no idea just how much I clung to them during that period of my life until I looked back on it. Was I depressed during that period? I don't think so. My rich inner life kept me from that. I also knit some mighty fine sweaters during that time period.

I gained more ties after we had kids. We joined a church. We got connected to the World Wide Web in 1995 a year after our son was born. I started working day shift which was much more amenable to social interaction. Still, it wasn't until I moved to Arden that I began to see what a boon community could be in a person's life. Now I have multiple close friends within walking distance of my house. If I go three days without seeing one of them, it would be highly unusual. I see other neighbors at dinner nearly every week October-May when we go to Arden Dinner Gild, and I have so many other venues for human contact that sometimes I have to lock myself inside my house for a day to have 'me' time. I was so starved for human interaction, I don't think I could ever imagine wanting that before. In my previous life, if someone had suggested an outing, I would go. I didn't care where we were going--or even who it was with. I get to be discerning now.

I have compared living in Arden to being back in the Belmont House. So many interesting people who live so close and make themselves available. Always something to do and someone with whom to share the experience. And I don't have to share a bathroom with anyone except my husband and daughter. It is a chance to be alive and to be grateful that I am living in this place with other awe-inspiring souls. I think back to that young woman with only her soap opera for friends. I don't feel sorry for her, so much as I wish I could give her a hug and take her out for lunch--because I have something really big to tell her. The woman who was head writer for Another World during those early years of my marriage lives in Arden, perhaps a half mile from our house.

I knew that Donna had written for the soaps. She is a Facebook friend, and we have friends in common, but I am not the rabid daytime fan that I was twenty-five years ago, so I didn't linger on the fact except to note that I had yet another fellow writer who lived in my village. I only recently made the connection to my past world when she posted a Throwback Thursday photo on Facebook. I saw the photo which prompted me to research exactly which soaps she wrote for and when. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the woman who authored "my friends' lives" lives across town from me. I know it is just the universe winking at me, showing me a "then and now" moment, a thread of connection through time and space.

There is lonely, and there is relationship. That human connection is available to us, in real world terms. Sometimes, we just need to turn off our screens and find it.

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