Let me know if this sounds familiar:
You’re feeling out of touch. You notice you’re now awkward around your closest friends and family. Every conversation you have is either superficial or about all the anxiety-inducing horrors going on around you. You feel stupid, kind of jealous, and just… on the outside, even with people you see often. You also feel guilty, because all of your highs and happy moments come with a healthy check of your privilege — so many in your community are in active pain, and the fact that you have a ray of light in your life feels like gloating. You like to think of yourself a certain way — supportive, positive, helpful, whatever — and now you just feel selfish and ridiculous. Worst of all, you just feel very, weirdly sad.
This may feel a bit on the nose for the times, but you might be lonely.
We were living in a loneliness epidemic long before the pandemic hit, but even for those of us who have not been living under lockdown, the changes in our day-to-day have become noticeable.
For me, this has been a lonely pregnancy. Being even somewhat isolated from friends and family during what should be a highlight moment is… well, isolating. As this is my second rodeo, I have the ‘benefit’ of two starkly contrasting experiences, notably: Strangers don’t smile at you (if they do, you can’t tell). No one is asking you questions, and if they do, it’s without the same vigor or excitement. Random folks aren’t trying to touch your belly (this might be a plus, actually). There is a cloud of universal grief that hangs over every conversation, even the joyous ones.
I thought this was unique to my situation, and I thought, “Well shit, I’ll just start telling people I’m lonely, and maybe that’ll help.”
What I realized, instead, is that we are all very lonely. This same shift that I’ve felt has permeated our entire culture. And–as I, too, had realized–this isolation is often worse in social settings. We do not feel connected to our peers, and we assume that awkwardness is us. We then further retreat, which just widens the gap. Months pass, and now our deepest and most trusted confidants feel like strangers.
While we are grieving as a collective culture, in many cases, we are also grieving relationships with people we haven’t actually lost.
How do we re-establish human connection when the COVID-19 pandemic is at its height and social distance/safety precautions are more important than ever? How to we feel the warmth of a human hug when we’re video chatting our family over Zoom this holiday season? How do we fix what feels so very, very broken?
I don’t have the answers. I do know that talking to other people has helped. Texting friends and being fully transparent–starting with a simple, “I miss you,” has helped. Being more honest than ever has helped.
Our roots have been disrupted. In the earliest traditions of Hinduism, we see the root chakra as the first of seven leading to enlightenment–at the base of the spine, it’s the foundation upon which everything else in our lives is built. The “root” of our being, it establishes the deepest connections with our physical bodies, our environment, and with the Earth. It’s our survival center. The fight and flight response is initiated from this chakra.*
A disruption to our sense of security puts us all in survival mode. And survival is rarely a community affair.
But can it be? We’re learning that the root systems of trees are not isolated–they are an integrated communication network. Their foundations, their sense of survival, is not built on the theory that they must compete with one another, but rather that they depend on one another. I think we are long overdue to come (back) to this realization, ourselves.
I wrote a book (shock!) about a group of people surviving in a war-torn America following the ‘Collapse’ set roughly around 2020 (Yikes. I get that this feels very Chuck from the early seasons of Supernatural and if so, I’m very sorry). The story is a wild ride of monsters, disaster, and really f-ed up trauma, with one defining message: we cannot do this alone, and we absolutely cannot survive without love.
We’re at a point where we have to adopt radical acceptance if we’re going to survive.
The term radical acceptance was coined by the psychologist Marsha Linehan. “Radical acceptance is an act of the total person that allows [acceptance] of ‘this moment,’ or of ‘this reality’ in this moment,” as she and her co-authors wrote in a chapter of their book Mindfulness and Acceptance. “It is without discrimination. In other words, one does not choose parts of reality to accept and parts to reject.”
Radical acceptance happens when you’re unable to change your situation or the past, but instead channel your power toward helping others or accomplishing a goal. Think Frodo Baggins, sitting amongst the counsel at Rivendell, watching everyone fight under the influence of the Ring, and realizing that it will have to be him that carries the damn thing to Mordor. It’s that sense of self-sacrifice for the well-being of the whole that gives us purpose, but more importantly, any hope of survival.
At this moment, we are called as a population to rise in order to build a better future, not for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren. We can’t foresee the long-term effects of this year (which was really just the culmination of the last 244 years, really) , and it’s possible that our ‘carefree’ days are behind us. What we do have is a community of people experiencing the same thing, and pulling away from each other because we are afraid we are alone. In a year rife with division, we have an opportunity to turn our focus instead on each other, and on our common enemies: illness, fear, and, of course, loneliness.