Or, The Power Of Vulnerability and the Opposite Of Loneliness
Watch “The Power of Vulnerability,” a Ted Talk by Brené Brown, and read “The Opposite of Loneliness,” an essay by Marina Keegan. Their words will at least make you think, if not reevaluate your own life.
I used to find mortality very comforting. Because I knew my time was finite, I fondly pictured my life span as a big, green yard. In that yard, the beautiful, crystalized moments of my life hung from the sky like frozen rain. I could walk through the still storm of memory to find and treasure my favorite times. Here was the sepia-toned night that never quite happened again; here was the afternoon I walked and walked and walked until I found myself somewhere better than I had ever been before.
Lately, my mortality hangs over me like a fated end. My life has felt more narrow with age. Days seem to fluctuate between overwhelming responsibility and punishment, instead of gratitude and grace. I like to say that the universe is indifferent to my suffering; the universe responds to my action. But that weight, the weight of constantly doing and trying, is crippling. It is crushing me with responsibility in this place where I cannot give myself a break because there is no one else to blame. Perhaps that is the scariest thing about loneliness – not only does it rob me of my creature comforts, but it takes away the people who love me enough to share my burden.
I have been walking and thinking for days, trying to find the kink in my brain. I know something is wrong with me; I know I am sad. But what is it? I looked at my thought patterns. I have been thinking about the future a lot. I am getting a degree for the job-seeker I will be in two years. I am constantly writing and blogging for the freelancer I see in five years. But what am I doing for myself now? I am drowning in fear that I will not be the person I want to be in the future. I am so afraid of failure that I am punishing myself for even trying to succeed. Some changes feel refreshing, like traveling or buying things, all temporary experiences. But other changes, normal and timely life changes, represent some kind of terrible consequence for me. As if growing up or becoming a woman isn’t an accomplishment, but another opportunity to lose myself. But it’s not a loss; it’s just change.
My fear has driven me to do great things. Without fear, I wouldn’t write so much. Without fear, I wouldn’t push myself to wake up and do every morning. But after a certain point, fight or flight reflexes become exhausted. They start to malfunction when they are turned on all day, every day. They flare up when I am walking and have a shameful memory, and suddenly my body wants to hide. They dull themselves to strangers because my senses have learned that I am the most dangerous thing out there. I can’t fight myself all the time, so I act. I change. I become my own aloof best friend. I don’t want to talk to people; I don’t want to hang out. Eventually I wake up, and my senses are on even higher alert than they were before my self-imposed isolation.
I still cherish lucky happiness – days of sunshine and nothing to do, when the grocery store has all my favorite fruit. Luck is a gift. I am grateful. I have done no work, and I am able to reap beautiful benefits. I am so lucky and so grateful to be friends with and to love the people who have come into my life. Moments when I feel a spiritual vortex around me, and I am suddenly so connected to the blessed people I am lucky to love, have been the best of my life. Not days when great things have happened, but nights when I am lying in bed and I feel like the universe is passing through me, and I am cradled by all the people who care about me. It’s like a dream without sleep. There is something magical and fated about moments like that, moments that aren’t lucky, but destined.
I don’t notice those moments as often. My attention is elsewhere. I have become a secretary of loss. I notice the disconnection between me and the people I love. Gaining friends has always been tenuous, tricky, time-consuming, but the reward is a unique fullness from finding another link in this world. Losing them, on the other hand, is a debilitating dysphoria that feels not like my own death, but the eventual death of all other things. Everything will come to an end. The chair I am sitting on now will one day be less than dust. So will all the people I love.
My body wants to act. My brain thinks that action will bring change, which will at least bring a response from the world. It wants to run in manic bursts; it wants to be angry and yell and blame; it wants to find a thing to break and put back together again. But there is nothing I can do to heal my heart and my head, other than to wait. To wait and to write, the two coping mechanisms that have never failed me. When all my other comforts leave, when all my loved ones are away, I will still have the self I have cultivated through time and blank pages. I will always have my words.
Again, my brain starts running worst-case scenarios where I lose my hands and the ability to speak and all my higher brain function. I have a deep, deep fear of having my hands become paralyzed or crushed so that I can no longer write or type. But I have already lived twenty years. I want to live more, but I have already had twenty, wonderful years. I have seen so many people, places, and things that my seemingly infinite brain capacity cannot hold it all. It is amazing to me that human brains are capable of remembering thousands of faces and facts, and I cannot remember all of them from only twenty years of life! And so goes my fear of losing my hands, my voice, my brain. I forget to fear what has not happened yet when I remember to love what already has. I write to find not why I live, but how.