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Loneliness 1

Loneliness. You are not alone in your loneliness. And yet you are alone. So very very alone.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Discord and other social media platforms allow us share and speak with friends and strangers. Cell phones, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Facebook video calls allow us to see and talk to loved ones with the push of a button. Personal vehicles allow us to see friends in person at distances that would have previously prevented friendships.

Lonely. I am still lonely. I went rock climbing with a friend. We got dinner afterwards. As soon as she left a massive wave of loneliness swept over me. I live with family. I have a great relationship with my family. Yet I am still lonely.

Loneliness is a negative emotion that tells us connection is missing or broken. A good connection requires presence (the act of being fully engaged with the other person), and common experience (doing something, understanding the other).

For six years I relied on texting and phone calls. My close friends were hours away and my work routinely prevented me from seeing them. But it left me wanting. I wanted to be with them and not where I was. Now, even when with my friends I imagine and hope to be somewhere else.

I got used to my phone as a placeholder for human connection. Checking my phone gave a tiny relief to my loneliness. My phone was a very bad coping mechanism. I found out later that checking our phones impulsively is due to the brain being trained to release dopamine by checking our phones.

              Even though I have consistent time with the my closest friends who are wonderful people I still have my bad habits. Silence in conversation? Pick up the phone. Think of something to say to someone else? Pick up the phone and text them. Can’t be funny myself? Grab my phone and find a TikTok.

              We can change our emotions by changing small actions. Find the one small action. The easiest one you know you can change. It doesn’t have to be a magic bullet, but one that is part of the change.

              Below is my train of thought that got me from loneliness to stop checking my phone.

              I am lonely because I am not fully connected. I am not fully connected because I am not fully attentive and engaged with my friends. I am not fully engaged and connected because I have the emotional desire to be or do something else. I want to be elsewhere and do other things because the cell phone gives the false impression that it will heal my loneliness by connecting me to someone else (the dopamine burst).

              When I go to my friends house I tell them, “I am struggling to focus on being here and not check my phone. I am going to put it on ‘do not disturb’ It will only ring if one of my favorite contacts calls. Other than that I am not going to check it. Please call me out if I do.”

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Processing vs Choosing

              I enjoy figuring out the internal world of emotions, feelings, and how the past affects what we choose today. It is like a giant puzzle. I love reading books on how our brain is developed and how counseling brings coherence to our stories and changes how our brain functions. I am just about always observing my own thought and emotional process.

              I lived with a gentleman that did none of this. It was rare that he would say something like, “you think I do this because of this?” Maybe three times in the entire two years I lived and worked with him. He just saw a behavior and changed it. If something made him mad he was mad. If he should not have been mad he realizes it and then doesn’t get mad again.

              No analyses. No working through emotions to find out reasons causes etc. No mulling over why there is angst, pain, or hurt. He just accepts, “yup. That sucks” and then in a few hours he will be over it. He is perfectly successful and takes care of his fiancé and his friends well.

              Typically this makes me uncomfortable. Most people I know that just decide to ‘change’ are really just ignoring issues. They don’t work through past pain and trauma and then their expectations and coping mechanisms affect me. I prefer my way. Or I did.

              I mull over the same experience for weeks. I try and find the root of the roots, root cause. If I just find the past experience and base motivation then, maybe, I can change my feelings. This is a good skill in that I can usually communicate how and why I feel what I feel. But it is not good when the same issue keeps coming up over and over again.

              Brain scans show that bringing coherence to past experiences changes how our brain functions. But if constant mulling over the past causes other bad behaviors, or delays change in behavior it can be bad.

              God does command constant self evaluation. We are commanded to do good. God tells us that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

              Sometimes does obedience take internal processing? Absolutely. Sometimes just choosing never seems to work. But other times we need to just let our feelings go, get over ourselves, and choose a different path. Choosing in this manner, like anything else, is a skill that must be practiced. But it is a good skill to have in the endeavor to live well and love well.

A Girl Named Sue

                Today I met a girl I have decided to call Sue. I was at the store and as I stood in line I overheard the checkout person say in a hushed voice, “Yes, it is a customer. She has been doing it for a while.” Shortly after he said this, I saw who the culprit was, and what her silent mission was. She was very frumpy looking. Sandals, baggy pants and an equally baggy shirt. Her greying hair had been sloppily put into a bun. She wore giant coke bottle glasses, leaned forward just a little and her bottom lip jutted out. It was immediately apparent she was not a member of mensa. Without a meeting her officially I have called her Sue.

                She leaned in towards my isle as I quickly stepped back to allow her access to her determined stare. The magazine rack. She grabbed several, and the hobbled off to the next isle. A minutes passes, and she quickly leaned over and looked into our isle. Apparently whatever she was doing was very important as she let out an expletive, left one magazine, took to, and then moved on to another isle.

                In short, she was moving magazines around for some unknown mission. Possibly given to her by the voices in her head. Or maybe she would say it was her coffee cup.

                On the way out though, a familiar phrase popped into my head, “We are all more alike than we are different.” I wonder if she likes classical music as much as I do. Maybe she would dance with her magazines, or her coffee cup to the sweet serenade of Chopin or Bach. Or maybe she is like my sister and detests classical. She might like dubstep. She may get down on the floor dancing like there is no tomorrow in some dance that must be from its own separate cultural disposition.

                I share this because the longer I am alive the more I run into people who are freaked out, depressed, or in some way ‘out of their minds,’ ‘at their wits end’ and feel as though no one else is in their boat with them. They feel alone. I find myself here often. With my incessant occupation to give meaning to everything I often feel alone. But, but I cannot do that. I cannot allow myself to think this way. Not only is it selfish to think that I am so special so as to think that no human in my vicinity has been through what I have been through, but it is false. We are more alike than different. We are all more alike than Sue than we are different.

The Jacket part ii

It is important to capture our imaginations. Not just of grand and romantic ideas, but of day to day events. Take hold of the ideas we have and place them on paper for future musing. It is also important to appreciate art for arts sake. So there are two good things together when we have a story for the sake of story that captures our imagination of day to day events.

The following story is one of a sad event. I hope that it captures your imagination to create in you an emotive response. The beauty of emotive responses in literature is that the event is slowed down. Each word and moment can be re read and mulled over. The panic of an appropriate response or the rush of sadness that is experienced in events that happen to us is removed, and we get to take a look at the emotion that is not withdrawn like a scientific study, but not immersed like a life event.

So without further to do, 

The Jacket

 “Can she remember anything yet?”

“No. I am sorry Charles. I am afraid not”

“Is she back to functional?”

“No. Not really. It is as if she has reverted back to high school. With a little less independence”

“Does she have any long term memory yet?”

“Well, kind of. She seems to remember who I am. Well, not really. I mean, she remembers that I am the one that is supposed to take care of her” Clair had enough warewithawl to notice his face. “I mean. I am sorry. I know that is supposed to be your job. He sighed.

“I don’t think of it as a job. It is what I want to do. Is she learning anything?”

“She reads some. But it is usually the same books over and over. So no.” There was a long pause. The sun was setting outside, leaving long shadows from every object, and long strands of light coming in through the windows. The floors were red with flowered patterns, that matched the wallpaper on the walls. They stood on the second floor overlooking the entryway to the care facility. Charles had known Clare since high school, and he considered himself lucky to have her at the facility. At least she knew enough about the situation to be sensitive.

                “Uhm, Charles. I really don’t know how to tell you this. But, if her memory hasn’t come back yet, and I mean her ability to remember, not just her memories, then it will probably never come back. She won’t have any long term memory. She will always need a care taker. She also will never remember who her caretaker is.” There was another long pause. For Charles, time didn’t really register at the moment, but for Clare, the pain of having to tell him the inevitability of him ever getting his fiancé back, it seemed like ten or twenty minutes before she got the next words to come. “I know it is hard, though I don’t pretend to really understand, but the best thing is for you to move on. The life you had with her will always be a good thing. The way you treated and loved her is a good thing. But you won’t get her back. You have to let her go. That will take time. I suggest this be your last visit.” A minute passed, and Charles lip began to quiver. The tears slowly built up and began to roll down his face as he looked down and out into memories.

                “al…” he tried to speak. Took a deep breath, and started again, “Alright.” He wiped the tears from his face, but they were immediately replaced by more, that sparkled and shone in the late light. He looked at the floor, to the walls, to the ceiling, as though looking for a way out.

“Hey, uhm, I will give you your time. My mom made some fantastic dinner last night. I have some left overs. I will warm some up and have it waiting for you, okay?”

“Al… Alright”

“Alright. But you are going to need to say something more than that. She is just as spunky and outgoing as ever.” With that, Clair walked passed him and headed downstairs as though to the kitchen. In reality, she stepped in to the bathroom to take care of her own tears that were forming.

Charles slowly walked towards the room, 26a. That was the age that Abigail had sworn she would be married by. The 26 part, not the ‘a’. He stood outside for a few minutes. It would have been longer, but he did realize that he looked kind of creepy just standing outside the room. He knocked quietly.

“I am never going to answer if you knock like that. It doesn’t sound like you actually want to see me. Wait, who is it? Oh no wait. Knock again.” He smirked out a few more tears, and the knocked again.

“Come in.”

“Hello.” He said quietly. She just stared at him.

“Hello, my name is Abigail.” She got up from the chair where she had been reading a kids book, “The Queen and the Cornrow” one that he used to read to her for fun. They would make up their own story to the pictures. In a chest at home, he had pictures that they had drawn to the story. Some pages were stick figures they had done late in the early morning when they were both tired and high on sugar. Other pages they actually took time on, or glued in magazine clippings.

“Oh. My name is Charles.”

“Well what can I do for you Charles? Are you here to play a game?” He paused.

“I would love to.”

“Okay, well I have games, I think. They would be in the closet wouldn’t they?” She began going through the closet, throughout occasional things. A blow dryer, a jacket. “That is funny. I thought I had games. Well what are you hear for then if I don’t have games.”

“Actually. Well I am here to say goodbye… er I mean. To chat for a bit, and then say goodbye.”

“Do I know you?”

“Yes. Well you did.”

“I did?”

“Yes.”

“What do you mean I did?”

“Abigail… You got in a car accident. You had a head injury and you have forgotten everything. We were engaged.”

“Really? Hmmm. Hey are you crying?”

“What? Uh no.” She always had a knack for knowing when he was upset. Apparently it was obvious or she hadn’t lost all of her little quirks.

“Why are you crying?” He waited. “well?” She was also good at prying everything out of him.

“Because I have to say goodbye to a dear friend. Once I say goodbye, I never get to see them again. Though it’s really hard, because they don’t know I am saying goodbye.”

“Wow. That is rough. I am sorry to hear that.” She paused. “Hey, you know what helps a broken heart, a little sharing and caring. Let me show you something. Have a seat.

He sat down in a small chair close to the door. She went over to a draw and slowly opened it.

“Okay, you have to promise not to tell anyone. And to not think I am too weird.” That was another phrase she would use. Everytime before she mentioned some crazy idea she had or a dream of the future of what it could be like driving around the U.S in an R.V full of adopted kids, just to give them an adventure.

“Okay. I promise, with all my love.” She pulled out a jacket from the drawer. It was his. She had borrowed it often. He had had it for years. It smelled like him, had small tears and a few small stains, but was in general good condition.

“This is my special jacket. It is special because every time I am feeling down I put it on, and I feel better. You see, there are times when I feel like I am missing something. That something is just wrong like I am in a dream without any family and if I can just wake up I will have them all right here beside me. But when I put this on. It feels like home. It smells like home.” She paused holding and looking down at the jacket. “But recently. The smell has been fading. I don’t know what to do. When I feel down, I want to put it on, but I am afraid that it is going to lose all of its scent. What am I going to do?” She looked at him pleading. Tears began to roll down his face. Seeing her, even over something so small was unbearable. “Abigail.”

“Oh, what is wrong? Oh dear. Apparently you need this more than I. I am afraid I have forgotten how to cry. Here, put this on, it will help.” She stood up to give it to him, and he leaned forward to take it and put it on. “There. Now you will be better.”

He just cried. He couldn’t take it. He just sat their and cried as she tried to console him. In all honesty he was trying to stay their longer so that he could wear the jacket longer and give it his scent again, but he didn’t have the words to speak.

The sun finally set.

“Hey, uhm. It is dinner time, and I need to go soon. Are you feeling better.”

“Yeah. Yeah I am feeling better.” He lied.

“can I have that back please?” He slowly rose and took off the jacket. He placed it on her shoulders the way he used to. He went to hug her, but stopped, “is it alright if I just”

“Yeah, hear.” She hugged him, with energy.

“Wow. That is amazing. It smells like home again. Your pretty great Mr. You know that? You made my jacket smell like home. I feel at home. Like I am among family again. Thank you so much.

And he just stood their, hugging her and crying for a while. And finally let go.

“Goodbye Abigail.”

“Goodbye Mr.” she said, as she clutched the jacket tighter.