When I looked at my last blog post just now, I felt sad – and not just because it was entitled ‘A space for sadness’. It’s dated June 5th. Twenty-one days ago. Three weeks.
That would be fine if I’d been on holiday or had decided to take a break from blogging. But I haven’t written here because I’ve been busy working on other stuff – stuff that’s less creative, less fulfilling and much further from my heart than this blog and what it represents. Because this site, to me, is more than just a pretty, flowered Internet page with a collection of random musings – it’s a platform to work through, understand and express what’s really going on inside me and to do the kind of writing I find fulfilling, rewarding, pleasurable and that I believe has the potential to be of service to others.
So it’s no wonder I feel a little sad that I haven’t found time to blog. But then it’s also true (as some of my lovely readers have gently pointed out) that I’m prone to give myself a hard time for everything I do or don’t do: whether I write too much or too little, whether I do too much paid work or too little, whether I spend too much money or too little. It seems, when it comes to my evaluation of myself, I can’t win. So at this point, I’ll let myself off the hook for the choices I’ve made in the past few weeks. There’s no right or wrong, only learning experiences and opportunities for growth.
When I last blogged, I was feeling a different kind of sadness. I’m pleased to say that sadness lifted – but then it returned. And then it lifted again. Right now, I’m not quite sure where it is. I think it’s probably hovering above me, a little uncertain about whether to hang around for a bit longer or move on, until it’s time for its next visit. But its coming and going reminds me that feelings pass, if I let them. Unfortunately, that seems to hold true for the good feelings as well as the bad.
My more recent feelings of sadness have been to do with loneliness. In fact, that’s probably what I was sad about in the first place. It’s probably what I’ve always been sad about. But I’m very adept at disguising the true source of my sadness with various diversionary tactics: I work too hard and don’t have enough fun and think that’s why I’m sad. I worry about my finances and my future and think that’s why I’m sad. When actually, it’s all part of the distraction. It seems I’m trying to hide the root of my sadness from myself, because I think it’s going to be too painful to look at. But these days I’m not able to last very long. The truth generally comes out, despite my resistance.
So, loneliness. Emily White has written a book about it, called Lonely: Learning to Live With Solitude. I haven’t read it yet but I’ve read a little of her blog and I imagine there’s a lot in the book I could relate to.
It took a week spent living and working with colleagues in a close-knit community (I was doing some media training with the Armed Forces last week) to realise just how lonely I was. As I dragged my suitcase through Paddington Station, along Tube platforms and up my dark street to the door of my empty flat at the end of my week away, the tears started to fall. They began gently as I sat surrounded by strangers in half-empty Tube carriages but by the time I got off my last train and walked up my road, they were falling fast.
My feelings of loneliness were exacerbated by the fact that pretty much all of my colleagues from that week were driving home in their cosy cars with their music playing to husbands, boyfriends, partners, fiancées or children. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say they weren’t feeling lonely too. I do have a tendency to compare my insides with other people’s outsides – to assume that just because people are partnered up or have offspring that all is rosy in their lives. I know, in my head, that’s not true. I know it’s just as possible to be lonely in a relationship than out of one. But my heart often takes over and I assume I’m the only one who’s alone or who feels sad.
Those tears triggered a torrent of thoughts: it’s time to leave London, to move back to the Northwest, to be closer to my family, to a cheaper lifestyle where I can afford a car (somehow owning a car represents grown-upness, freedom and companionship all at once – maybe it reminds me of when I was living in Mexico and felt part of a very close family of friends who’d go on adventures together, all packed into my trusty Golf).
The tears also sparked thoughts of changing my career to do something less solitary than journalism and writing – the idea of teaching grew in attractiveness. These are valid thoughts. They are not off-the-wall ideas. Maybe it is time for a change. But I know I take myself with me wherever I go and a new town or career won’t necessarily change how I feel.
So how do I feel? Well, as I texted to a friend on Saturday, I feel like I’ve got a big hole inside me that’s never been filled. And God knows I’ve tried: food, exercise, body obsession, achievement, busyness, alcohol, men, anxiety and worry. The list of fillers goes on, but none of them provided the stuffing I was looking for. The hole goes deep and dates back many years. Maybe I’ve always felt lonely. Maybe I’ve felt incomplete since I was very young, like a part of me was missing.
I’ve also realised, through this period of sadness, that I have a rather warped idea of love and relationship. Recently, I’ve heard a number of men talking about getting engaged or married. It always confounds me. It seems I’m surprised that men would want to commit to spending their lives with a woman, with all that entails, or at least in my mind: the compromise and the loss of freedom. Why would anyone want to do that? Looking at it now in print, it seems like a very odd question but I appear to have a fundamental notion that people must be crazy to want to spend their lives in partnership with someone else.
Breaking that down, I obviously think that any man must be crazy to want to spend his life in partnership with me and that, equally, I’d be foolish to want to give up my independence and commit to a relationship. I’m now seeing how deeply ingrained these warped ideas are. The message I took away from my childhood is that you’re better off on your own and relationships don’t work. It’s sad to think one of my favourite songs until recently was Paul Simon’s ‘I am a rock. I am an island’ – the lyrics really spoke to me.
It’s sad because that treasured ‘island’ status, that fierce independence and that rejection of partnership is what, in part, has fed the loneliness.
I say in part because I realise that a boyfriend/partner/husband isn’t going to be the antidote to loneliness. I’m sure it would help to have a companion – studies show that those who aren’t in a relationship are more prone to depression – but it won’t be the missing piece of the jigsaw that I’m looking for, just like a fulfilling career, faith in God, fun and good friends won’t provide the missing piece either, not on their own.
I’m coming to understand that, at least for me, there isn’t just one missing jigsaw piece – there are many small pieces that combine to fill the hole. They might include relationships with God, myself, a partner, friends as well as fulfilling work and fun, relaxing times. If you stuck them together to make one big piece, you could call it LOVE. But I think I need to add another piece that might be called ACCEPTANCE – acceptance that the hole might never be completely filled, that there’ll always be a small piece of the jigsaw missing, that there’ll be times when I still feel lonely, despite feeling loved, safe, secure and fulfilled. Perhaps if I can accept that and stop worrying there’s something wrong with me, I can get on with the business of living and loving without always trying to fix myself or find the missing piece of the jigsaw. The prospect is quite liberating.
At this point, I have to ask myself a number of questions: Do I think too much? Do other people feel like there’s something missing and wonder what it is? Do they feel complete or do they just get on with life without pondering what that missing jigsaw piece could be? From the books I’ve read in recent months, I’m not necessarily alone (although perhaps I do think too much!).
I’m currently reading Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?‘ after it was recommended by a friend. I’m half way through but have already found it very moving, particularly the author’s honesty about her own relationship with love. In one passage, Jeanette says that children who are neglected in some way can’t grow up. “They can get older but they can’t grow up. That takes love. If you are lucky the love will come later. If you are lucky you won’t hit love in the face.”
I think I’ve hit love in the face before, or maybe I’ve never got that close. Maybe I walked away before I was even within arm’s reach. I’d really like to change that. Because I do believe love has the capacity to heal. Which is why I’ve adopted an affirmation I heard a lovely lady say a few weeks ago. I hope she doesn’t mind me borrowing it and repeating it here:
“I am open to receiving love that heals my heart and makes my spirit sing.”
I’ve been saying it and I will continue to say it until I am open, until my desire for love, for true companionship overrides the deep hurts that put obstacles in love’s path: the fear of commitment, the fault-finding, the lack of acceptance of myself and others and the futile search for something, for somebody that doesn’t exist.
In the meantime, though, I can get on with loving those people who are already in my life and available to be loved: my family and my friends. Oh yes, and myself. That’s a very good place to start.
I’ll let the late Freddie Mercury close this blog, with a rendition of ‘Somebody to Love’: