A quick note: I have made a commitment to being transparent on social media. It is not easy for me. I am sharing this post although it is vulnerable for me because I believe we are better when we are real and honest with each other.
When I was in college, I took a classic French theatre course where we studied the play “No Exit” by Sartre. The play is a short one-act made in quintessential existential style (say that five times fast) in which three characters find themselves locked in a room together for eternity, and it is hell. Literally. Sartre’s famous line, “L’enfer, c’est les autres” or “Hell is other people” came from this play. The idea is that nothing is quite as tortuous as being made to see oneself from the view of another. I’m thinking Sartre could put a serious damper on an office Christmas party.
In preparing to read this play, my professor asked us to reflect on this quote and decide if we agreed with Sartre or if there was something else more tortuous to us than an eternity spent with others. It didn’t take me long to realize I was the *opposite* of Sartre. For me, hell is the absence of others. In fact, having struggled with chronic nightmares and night terrors, I can tell you no small percentage of my dreams are about being locked in a room all alone, or being invisible in a crowd, or begging for help from people who can’t hear me, etc. For me, you might say, “L’enfer, c’est la solitude.”
The interesting thing about loneliness is that it can grab you at the most unapparent and unexpected times. We’ve likely all had the experience of being in a crowded room and felt so crushingly alone you’d rather go home by yourself than stay in that space. It’s an oxymoronic state—alone in a crowd, surrounded by empty, suffocated by void—but it’s hauntingly real. I think of the countless celebrities who have given interviews about how they were at the peak of their careers yet had never been so depressed. The reader is always surprised, “Them? They felt alone? They felt sad?” but it really shouldn’t be surprising. Loneliness isn’t about success or achievement. It’s not even about having people near. A thousand other people could be standing around you, all wonderfully toasty and warm, but when loneliness reaches up and runs an icy finger up your spine, you alone feel that chill. A thousand other people in the room and no one would know.
This year has been a massive one for me: a new baby, new adventures, and enormous growth in my social media presence. I started with 175 Instagram followers and now have over 8,000, that is crazy to me! But I am terribly, awfully, achingly alone. Not all the time. But a lot of the time. Not every day. But many days. I’m so alone and yet my loneliness keeps me from being with others. I worry my loneliness will be obvious. I won’t be able to pretend I’m ok in a group. Everyone will stare and know I am broken. Or maybe if I meet up with friends, I might feel alone with them, too. The pain would be too much to bear. To be so close to being seen and known and loved, and feel it just out of reach, it would crush me. I’m alone, and I can’t be un-alone.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how to fix this feeling. Is this adulthood? Is this how everyone feels? How can someone whose whole goal is to “find meaningful ways to connect with others” (or so says my bio) feel so absolutely stumped by disconnect? I am not sure. But if my transparency on social media over the past two years has taught me anything, it’s that somewhere, someone is likely feeling the exact same way. And if I don’t have the answer, at least we can be alone together in the meantime.
UPDATE: I wrote this post Sunday evening and debated publishing it all week. It felt too raw, too transparent, and too needy. I worried others would react poorly. Maybe they would think I was just looking for attention. Maybe they would overreact and become inauthentically present, like just sending a bunch of “Are you ok?” messages without actually wanting to connect. Then came the heartbreaking loss of Stephen “tWitch” Boss and it occurred to me that this post about feeling lonely could be the catalyst someone else needs for admitting they, too, feel alone.
I am ok right now. It’s a hard time for me, but I have what I like to call “emotional elasticity,” or the ability to bounce back from my lonely days. Not everyone has that elasticity right now. Some of us have been knocked down and we need a hand to get back up. If that’s you, just message me and say “Hand.” I’ll be there for you. Really, truly, authentically there. You won’t have to feel alone.