“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god” –Aristotle
If you have ever offered, “Please let me know if I can do anything,” or “Call me any time if you need to talk,” and wondered why the struggling person never took you up on this offer, then this post is for you.
I have learned several things about myself in the last 10 days. I don’t know if I would have ever realized these things if I hadn’t been forced into solitude. One of these things is:
When given the chance, I can easily become a reclusive hermit. I find it impossible to reach out and rely on others to help bear my burdens.
It is a paradox– I feel both isolated and unable to respond to those who reach out. If I am feeling so alone, why don’t I take every opportunity to dump my emotional baggage on everyone who inquires? I have had a couple of people text me recently, and I have inexplicably not responded. I am feeling totally lonely; why am I not taking every chance to talk to people??
There have been many suicides in the news in recent years of famous people– Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and many more. After these deaths, people are always shocked. They seemed so put together, so happy, so surrounded by friends and family. How can they have felt this much despair? How could they have been so alone in the midst of so many well-wishers?
I can’t speak for those people, and I am in no way suggesting I am suicidal. But I have felt some really dark things recently. I think I have a small glimpse into why so many people struggle in silence. I write this post in an effort to both sort through my own feelings and to offer insight to those who, like me, are not sure what to do or how to help those struggling around them. As John Steinbeck wrote, “In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.” That is what I am doing here.
Let me begin to explain with an anecdote: I had to get a new cell phone recently. On Sunday morning, I woke up and my phone screen wouldn’t respond. I couldn’t open my cell phone. I probably normally would have sent my phone in to be fixed via insurance, but I didn’t feel that was an option this time since I am alone for half the week here in Houston. I didn’t want to be by myself without a cell phone, so we went to the AT&T store. While there, the nice man who helped us asked, “So what brings you to Houston?”
Brian and I both looked at each other and chuckled. I smiled at the man and replied, “Oh, it’s a long story.” End of discussion. I didn’t offer any more details. Here is the thing: I would have LOVED to talk this guy’s ear off about why we are here. But I knew that he was just being polite. He didn’t want me to unload on him about Daniel’s heart defect, my risk of preterm labor, Daniel’s surgeries and recovery.
You may be thinking: Staci, that is a total stranger. But people who are your friends who offer to help, really do want to help. It is different.
Maybe it is. Maybe not.
Everyone is really busy. Everyone is dealing with his/her own pain and struggle. In the past, I have been guilty of shying away from those I knew were going through hard times. Most of the time when I have felt one or more of the things below, I have said with good intentions, “please let me know if you need anything” or “I am always here to talk. Call me any time.” No one ever asked me to do anything or ever called me. Surely I had done my duty and reached out. Surely they would call me if they really needed anything, right?
Here are some reasons below, in black, why I didn’t call or reach out to others. In red is how I am really feeling right now, and how I am sure others who have struggled also feel:
I probably shouldn’t call because they are probably really busy. Right now I am not busy AT ALL. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays I do absolutely nothing. I rarely leave the RV, and it is not unusual for me to go days without talking to an actual human being in person. Oddly enough, it is really difficult for me to respond via text message right now. But I love getting phone calls, just to hear someone’s voice. I would never call someone first, though. I don’t want to be the one to disrupt your world.
They are going through so much, how can I possibly complain about my insignificant issues? Seriously, complain to me about the crazy drama in your life. I love to escape into other people’s problems at the moment. I want you to call me to complain about traffic, the annoying thing your kids are doing, the Netflix shows you are watching, the feud between your mom and uncle, your crazy family member who is doing something questionable again. Just to hear someone’s voice, to feel normal again, to live outside my own hell for just a moment– these kinds of calls are so freeing. A quote by Dag Hammarskjold says, “What makes loneliness an anguish is not that I have no one to share my burden, but this: I have only my own burden to bear.”
I can’t fathom what they are going through, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing. So I will just say nothing. This is the big one I have felt. Here is the thing– it is incredibly comforting to know people haven’t forgotten me, that people care. As I said before, I find it really hard to text people back. I can’t explain it.
If you text me something like, “How are you doing,” please understand that I can’t possibly convey in a text message how I am doing. What ends up happening is I feel too overwhelmed to respond, so I don’t.
If you text me something like, “Hey, are you free to do something with me this week” please realize that I feel like a huge burden to people right now. I cry all the time, and I feel like it is unfair of me to burden you with my problems, so I end up not responding.
Even if I don’t respond, I do see your messages, and they mean the world to me. Really.
If you really want to reach out to someone, here are some suggestions:
If you don’t know what to say, text a comforting Bible verse or something that doesn’t require a text back. I love getting things like, “I saw this and thought about you” and “Just checking in. Hope you are okay.”
Even better, call. Tell me about your day, something you saw on the news, something you read. I know you are rushed for time in a very busy world. I know that your world hasn’t stopped moving because mine has. So, call me when you are driving, when you have a quick second to chat. I understand if you have to go quickly, and the gesture of reaching out, even for a second, is not lost on me.
If you sincerely want to get together with me, that is amazing. I would love to get together, if only to be around another human being. Instead of saying, “hey, do you want to do something,” a better option is to say, “I would like to take you out to dinner to ______________ place on this night,” or to have some other concrete suggestion in mind. It shows me that you really want to take me out, that you aren’t merely feeling obligated. It also frees me from having to make any decisions. I really have no capacity to make any kind of decision about anything, no matter how minor, at the moment.
To end on a positive note, here are some positive things that have come out of my newfound hermit lifestyle:
I have learned a lot about myself and those around me.
I realize I love to eat good food and to cook (because I don’t have any pots and pans here, and I have been eating processed food from Sam’s).
I realize how precious every moment with my children is, and how incredibly blessed I am to be able to spend my time with them at home.
I realize how amazing my husband is. Last night he got home after 10 p.m. He called me around midnight, and when I asked what he was doing, he told me he had just finished making my favorite salsa and is planning on bringing it Wednesday. I hadn’t mentioned asked him to at all, and I was incredibly touched by this gesture.
I realize how reclusive I am when given the chance. I was thinking the other day that, one day, I really will be alone. I know so many widows and widowers who live alone. I remember hearing about my grandmother after my grandfather passed away and thinking about how lonely and isolated she must have felt. I guess it is good for me to sort through these complicated feelings now so that I am prepared for it later. It is also good that I am realizing how important it is for me to reach out to these people around me, now that I understand a little bit of how they feel. I came across a cool Harold Bloom quote that summarizes what I mean: “But in the end, in the end one is alone. We are all of us alone. I mean I’m told these days we have to consider ourselves as being in society… but in the end one knows one is alone, that one lives at the heart of a solitude.”
I have found myself reading my Bible a lot more recently. I came across a C.S. Lewis quote, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” My loneliness subsides when I read my Bible and do bible study. Recently I have noticed how many examples there are of people seeking isolation and solitude in the Gospels and New Testament– Jesus went into the desert for 40 days alone, John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, and Jesus went by himself any time he wanted to pray. Similarly, there are several examples of isolation being forced on people: Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) was unable to speak after finding out about John’s conception and Paul was stricken blind when he was converted at Damascus. Based on these examples, there is obviously some purification that can occur when one is alone. Regardless of whether the person sought solitude or had solitude forced on them, the time alone was hugely beneficial. This time for me could actually be considered a great gift.
Paul Tillich said, “Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” I am going to try to transform this unique, short-lived time away from home into “solitude” and away from “loneliness.”
Thank you to everyone who continues to support my family and me. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and for caring. ❤