“All my friends left me when I got sick.”
These words have been echoing in my head recently. For privacy purposes, let us call this person T.
T was a client who attended a mental health recovery camp where I was doing outdoor education. He is a tall greek guy with kind hazel eyes, a bulbous belly and lots of dark hair all over his body. His toenails were long and he promised me he would get his mum to trim them when he got home. I joked that he shouldn’t dare put her through that and we giggled about it. He was nearly 40. He slept in, but when I asked for his help, he’d be there. T got sick a few years ago. I don’t know the full story, but he had a nervous breakdown and hasn’t fully recovered or become a functioning (whatever that means) member of society again since. Unlike some who do function in society, he is kind, helpful, considerate, humble and selfless. Things are just a bit more difficult for him.
His dad lets him work in the family business. By the sound of things, his family is his only support network. He’s luckier than others in that respect. But, he is lonely. Sorely lonely. My heart aches for him. I remember him looking at me with childlike innocence, telling me how much he loved coming to the camp to feel connected but how he knew it was only temporary. It’s hard to enjoy the sweet moments when you’re already grieving over them.
Over the week he only participated in one or two of the activities, but I knew he wasn’t there for them. Some of these clients have come to this camp over ten times. They’ve done the activities over and over. They’re there for the people – the connection. For the teary eyed conversations they’ve been needing. The understanding that can only come from those who had been, or are in a similar situation. They come for the guidance of a nurse or counsellor outside white walls or the emergency room. It is a powerful chance for people suffering mental health issues to dictate to health professionals on how best to address them, rather than the other way around. While it is a beautiful, transformative, healing, happy high point… it follows by a crash landing in the pit of contrast that is real life. Human connection can be incredibly difficult, especially for someone who is mentally ill.
With an open, honest heart and gentle treading, some people will unravel themselves to you within a week. Sometimes within a day. Surrendering to ones own emotional vulnerability encourages others to do the same. Now is the time to put that vulnerability into practice; if not with your best interests at heart, then with someone else’s.
In isolation, I have this enormous surplus of time. Fuck I’m grateful for it. Time for personal rest and revel. I sign up for a free online course on the science of well-being (highly recommend). I take comfort in neuroplasticity and make more effort to create conscious actions toward enhancing my wellbeing, eventually entrenching them into habit. I get to check in with the people I love and spend time with family that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I feel their warmth in the form of overloaded affection, honest conversations and Mum shoving her love language of food down my throat.
I’ve moved to a quiet coastal town with the man I love. We’re not working. We wake when we please, drink coffee in dressing gowns and spend the days however we choose. A taste of retired life. We explore the coastline with the pup in tow. It’s bliss. We have uncomfortable conversations, the ones that highlight all our differences. Strangely, they’re my favourite conversations to have. And hey, we’ve got the time. He teaches me things. I don’t always like the things I learn. Vice versa. Then I learn that that’s okay and that it doesn’t mean our relationship is doomed. He shows me the space in between black and white. He helps me on my path of growth, even if it’s just correcting me on weird mannerisms I didn’t know I had. He is patient and understanding of my bouts of anxiety. With his gentle coaxing of my dubious heart, I’m learning that it’s okay to sometimes take refuge in another. At a time like this, I’m more grateful than ever for him and all his dad jokes.
I savour the connection I have with my friends. I don’t have many, but those I do have, I cherish. Even a two hour online catch up with a
friend sister, who I’ve known since I was 4 years old. She’s honest, kind and supportive. Not to mention hilarious. She’s the kind of person you’d drop everything for if they needed you and you know they’d do the same in return.
I love taking time to reflect and be grateful for my life.
My thoughts sober and I think about T and his lack of friends. At times I really resonate with his loneliness. I think of the friends that have abandoned me in times of need or that have been lost in the throws of life. The hurt part of me hates them for it and begs for reasons. But it’s just life. It’s painful. I don’t understand their actions, but I forgive them.
Sometimes closure never comes, so you have to surrender to the unknown.
Alongside all this love I’m experiencing in a bizarre time, there is this terrible agony. I worry about people who don’t have this kind of support or love in their lives. People who are elderly, homeless, live alone or are mentally struggling. The ones who don’t reach out. How can I/we help them? I sign up for volunteering positions. It’s not enough. It remains a thought to be revisited. For us all to revisit, I hope.
For people like T, who are already isolated and alone in everyday, pre-covid life, this really could be a taste of hell.
With him in mind, find a way to show kindness to the people around you. Go out of your way for a chat and probe people to see how they are coping. Remember that while you’re feeling lonely, there are people out there that are a whole lot more emotionally isolated than you are. Maybe you can lessen that loneliness together.
From isolation, with love.