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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Loneliness

Several of my most recent posts have been about friendships. I feel very blessed to have some amazing friendships (including you, my blog friends), and some possibilities for new and interesting ones. I could give you a bunch of clich├ęs about how friends add richness to your life, blah, blah, blah, but I’ll spare you the agony of all of that. You can stop at any Hallmark store and read them for yourself. (I’m not very good at writing sappy sentimental stuff like that, which is why I’ve never written for Hallmark. Or Blue Mountain Arts. Or Chicken Soup for the Soul.)

In this time of friendship abundance, however, I’ve been thinking back to a time when I felt like I was in a friendship desert. I was lonely – like I’d forgotten how to make new friends and was all alone in a barren, friendless desert. Oh, I still had the support of my family, and could still muster up a decent conversation with a friendly acquaintance, but I didn’t have the time, the energy, the opportunity, or even the confidence to make new and lasting friendships.

Have you ever been in that kind of desert? I suspect it’s more common than we might admit. I think there are probably lots of lonely people out there who pass through our lives looking like they’re content and connected with lots of supportive people, but who go home alone and maybe even cry themselves to sleep now and then. (In fact, a friend told me about a radio report she’d heard once that said that 50% of people surveyed said they didn’t have a close friend to confide in. Wow. That’s sad.)

The time in my life when I felt the most lonely was shortly after our second child was born. It happened for a number of reasons. We’d had 2 babies in quick succession, and besides a six month maternity leave for each of them, I continued to work full time. I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed. Many of the friends I’d had before had either moved away or drifted away because they were still childless and therefore living in a different world. I didn’t have many opportunities to bond with other moms because I was either working or trying to muster enough energy to love and care for my kids. Marcel and I were working different hours (to reduce the amount of time our children were in childcare) so I spent most evenings alone with 2 small and fully dependent children. We were going to a church that was essentially just a place to show up on Sunday mornings and didn’t offer us any real community. We’d moved into a new “neighbourhood” (and I use the term very loosely) which consisted of a short street jammed between 2 major thoroughfares, and there were no other young families on our short street (we’ve since moved). Plus I’d become a manager at work, and when you’re in management it’s tougher to make lasting friendships because people don’t feel comfortable getting too close to you. It didn’t help matters much that most of my fellow managers were men who were nice enough but were a fair bit older than me and didn’t have a whole lot in common with me.

So there you have it, a heap of reasons to be lonely. And I was wallowing in it. I remember nights I’d cry myself to sleep after the children were finally sleeping. I remember fighting tears at the playground when other mothers were there hanging out together and I was alone. I remember feeling always on the edge of the conversations in the lunch room because I was management and therefore had to be held at arms’ length. I remember the nights I could go out (when Marcel was home and able to watch the kids) but I couldn’t think of anyone to go out with. I remember wondering if I’d lost all capacity for making friendships – if perhaps motherhood had sapped that out of me and I would have to get used to this new lonely reality. I remember meeting interesting people and dreaming of building a relationship with them, but knowing I didn’t have the time or the energy to start anything.

I’m getting a lump in my throat as I type this. It makes me wish I could reach back into the past and comfort the woman I was then. I wish I could offer her some hope that it does and will get better. I wish I could send her the “ghost of Christmas future” to conjure up an image of what’s ahead and let her know that she’ll get through and she didn’t really lose the capacity for friendship. I wish blogs had been invented back then so that I could at least direct her to a virtual community where she’d get some validation and support.

Sometimes I see new mothers (or I stumble across their blogs), who look like they’re going through the same desert I did. One memory is particularly burned into my memory. When I was in the hospital six years ago, my friend and I saw a young woman leaving the hospital with her brand new baby, and she had no family or friends who’d come to the hospital to take her home. She climbed into a cab with the baby (and very little else – no one had brought her any baby gifts at the hospital), looking like a scared rabbit, completely overwhelmed with her new life and no-one there to support her. I can still get choked up when I conjure up that memory. I wonder whatever became of her.

Now that I’m at a more comfortable, relaxed period in my life, with kids who demand less of my energy, a job that I enjoy and that doesn’t overwhelm me, lots of friends and family who support me, I feel like I should start to reach out a little more to those overwhelmed mothers (or other lonely people) who don’t have any real friendships. I’m not sure what that looks like, since I still don’t have a lot of time on my hands, but I think I need to figure it out. Perhaps a mother-mentoring thing might be a good start. I remember asking a more mature mother (when I was a new mom) if she would consider mentoring me a little and at least offering me helpful advice/support when I felt lost and alone. She looked at me like I was nuts and said “by that you’re suggesting that I’ve actually figured this motherhood thing out along the way.” Now that I’ve been a mom for 10 years, I completely get what she was saying (‘cause I still don’t think I know what I’m doing), but at the same time I hate to watch people floundering alone like I was doing.

This is not a post to say I’ve reached any grand conclusions about how I can “give back” – I’m just thinking out loud. I do believe that in our consumer-driven, every-man/woman-for-him/herself culture, we often forget the value of support and friendship and therefore there are way too many lonely people among us. I also believe that we have a duty/calling to make a difference.

If you have any insight about how a person can contribute to changing this for at least one or two people, or if you have your own stories of loneliness, leave me a comment. Maybe we can start a conversation on the topic. Because as much as we often feel like we have to hide how lonely we are for fear of revealing some sign of weakness on our part, sometimes the best way to begin to get past it is to admit it and reach out.

8 comments:

The very nice man said...

On the likely chance of opening a whopping hornet's nest I need to say that "God" is definitely the answer! Loneliness and lack of self-worth comes to most of us at some stage in life and very often it is triggered by a person or persons (sometimes ourselves) letting us down, deserting us or making us feel unloved and not worth anything.
We all need people who are on our side and we need to hear good things being said about us but I found that God has a special way of taking you into his arms and loving you just the way you are.
The best thing about this unconditional love is that you know deep down in your heart that He honestly means it - it's nothing to do with pity.
The good book says: "If God is for us, who can be against us??"
Amen to that!!
Thank you for your post, Heather!
Erik

Judy said...

I've been there, Heather.

I also know that God is the answer, but even HE noticed that it wasn't good for Adam to be alone.

I once had a very young woman approach me to 'mentor' her. I think she was rather disappointed to find out that I wasn't perfect. She was looking for a way to figure life out and 'do it' right. Good luck with that.

At the time I felt bad for disappointing her. Not so much anymore.

Gina said...

I was in that desert for the first few years of Mr. P's life. I wouldn't cry out of lonliness because I knew I always had my family, but I did yearn for a true friendship that was outside of that circle. I was in a MOMS Club, for for whatever reason, none of the friendships went past the initial stages. I know that my husband's work schedule contributes a lot to this, since he doesn't work 9-5 and when most SAHM's are socializing, my husband is barely getting out of bed.

I have good friends right now, ones I feel free to call up and chat, but no "soul sister" type of friend. Actually, that would be my sister who fills that role, but it isn't outside the family, so I'm not sure if that counts.

Glenda said...

Yeah- I've been there too....
I can remember a time a few years back when I was sitting in my church and we were singing the servant song. I had this overwhelming sadness come over me as we sang the verses b/c I felt like not a single person around me REALLY knew me and here I was singing words like: we are here to help eachother...I will weep when you are weeping... I will share your joys and sorrows. blah blah blah. Well, you get the picture.
So I set out to get to KNOW the women around me- to call up some "soul sisters" as Gina put it.
I took the plunge and called a woman I knew, but not very well. I told her that I had this idea to have a weekend women's retreat. She couldn't believe her ears! She had been waiting for something like this but had no idea I was interested in it too. Well, the first time out there were 4 women. Four very different women and we had an amazing time together. And we still have the same 4 women coming but now they are the leaders. This year will be the 6th annunal "Bethany Women's Weekend Retreat." Last year we had to have 2 groups. 1 of 8 women and 1 of 9. I could never have imagined that this would have taken off like it has. That it would become what it is. That I was not the only one seraching for some deeper relationships; some mentoring; some pure time of their own.
The weekends have been an amazing thing in my life and I have really grown through them. I'd like to believe the others have also experienced the same. Follow your heart, Heather, and something amazing will unfold!

oshee said...

I get pretty lonely sometimes.

For a long time my answer for it was to go to work. I have always been able to develop coworker friendships. They were limited and we didn't do much away from work, but it allowed me a place to be with safe people who understood and cared for me. After changing jobs tho I never kept in touch with those friends. I'd try at first, but my life really is busy and exhausting. I haven't worked in over a year now. I have missed even those surface friendships I had at work. I have been very lonely at times.

I have done a couple of things that have helped. First I started blogging. There are amazing women out there who in their writing do offer a form of that mentorship you talked about. I would love to develop deeper more lasting form of friendships with some of the people I have met through bloggins. This has not happened because after all we all live all over the world and all have busy lives.

The next thing I Have done is to return to school. I decided I needed to work on my writing and have been taking classes. I have met many kindred spirits. But again, I have a life full of my five children. So, these haven't turned into let's get together type friendships, but they continue to have the potential as I slowly nurse them along.

I do attend church. It is a wonderful place with good people. Lately, I have, however, felt out of place there. I have felt unimportant and ignored. I do not feel understood by the other women. I am working through some of these things, but still it is difficult..and it hurts.

I am very good friends with my sister and my sister-in-law. I am grateful to have them. But there are limits to the venting I can do with them. We love each other and have a lot invested in the families and our places in the families.

I very much appreciate this post. I know my comment is running on, but I think this is a post deserving of thought out and deep posts. I hope my perspective offers something to the conversation.

The Passarelli's said...

I have been in those dark deep holes of loneliness. It is hell and it is amazing how cold and absent the friends you thought you had dissapear,when your life has tragedy,sickness or just even having kids. Of course I had it all. I might as well have had the Black Plague. I was so sad,lonley,scared and with no family support. All I got was unasked for advise and critisism.
That way they could make it my fault I was like I was.
I walked in those shoes Heather and still do at times.
This Blog stuff that Liz got me into has helped me so much. It gave me a place to put my immotions and BOY DO I HAVE A LOT OF THEM!
I was always there for family, friends and even strangers. I thought thats what people did for each other in tough times and i still am helping people. Helping others always made me feel good.
I didn't realize that most people aren't like that. For something so horrible to happen to my family and have no support and I mean not even phone calls, threw me into the most unbelievable sad,scared and depressed feeling that I have ever expeirenced.I felt like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" when he went back to the town and nobody knew him. I lost my loving young wife,had a two year old without a mother and I was 52 at the time.

Liz was one of the few ones that was there for me and still is,that knew Wendy. The so call other friends of 20 and 30 years ran from it all.

That desert is no place to be!

The Passarelli's said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Passarelli's said...

The Passarelli's said...
If you were to ask Liz about this she would probably say she didn't do all that much because she was so far away. What she and Jim did, was to remain the friends they always were to Wendy's family,through hell or high water.

And for me,that was the best thing that anyone could have done for me. Unfortunately there are not many people like Jim and Liz.

They have no idea what their friendship means to me.

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