A few days ago, I watched a video about how even though we are the most connected to others than we have ever been--thanks to social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube, Tumblr, Pintrest, etc and things like smartphones and texting that make anyone easily accessible--we are more lonely than we have ever been. I've linked the video here:
After watching it a third time, it still makes my head spin when I watch it, but it also makes so much sense if you really think about the message it contains.
Today, I was sitting in church next to my dad and he had his arm around me, like he usually does every Sunday we're in church together. I was surrounded by a sea of people, most of whom had watched me grow from a first grader into a college sophomore. I was surrounded, essentially, entirely by my family.
And I felt completely alone.
Right before the service began, I had a conversation with a lifelong friend about all that has been happening in my life, if being home was being helpful, how I was feeling, and it ended, like all of these conversations do, with her saying something to the effect of 'Let me know if you ever need anything. I'm here for you, and I love you.'
So many people have told me that recently. And I very well know that I am not, in fact, alone. I have friends here who have tried to get together with me, but I've just been too tired or just not wanted to be social. I've received letters and care packages from school friends. I've gotten daily texts from some of my closest friends. And on the rare occasions that I have ventured out into the real world, one that is not my house or treatment, I've spent a couple quality hours with people who have been in similar situations.
But I still feel alone.
I don't know if I would say that I feel 'lonely,' because I don't think that's what I'm feeling. Lonely to me means missing people you care about, and although I do miss Gettysburg friends and home friends and extended family, that's not what is consuming me. It's the feeling of isolation, of not being understood, of not being fully known or heard, of people just not 'getting' me. The feeling of being alone.
I know this has to do with my depression and my eating disorder. The two of them are not mutually exclusive from each other--experts still cannot determine a causal relationship between the two things, just that they tend to be highly correlated. But both add to this feeling of alone-ness, or isolation if you will.
So even in those moments where I am not physically isolating myself, in the moments where I am not letting my social anxiety win, in the moments where I am not actually alone, the feeling of isolation and alone-ness is still there and it feels more present than it does when I am physically alone.
Maybe this feeling of isolation and alone-ness has to do with my lack of vulnerability in these social situations. All morning I was answering questions of 'How's school?' 'Are you glad to have had some time off?' 'Are you looking forward to winter break?' as if nothing were wrong. As if, in fact, I was making the five hour trek back to Gettysburg to have one more week of classes, a week of finals, and then over a month off for winter break. Maybe I need to be more vulnerable.
Or maybe it has to do with the idea that I'm not constantly surrounded by my friends or that I can walk to class and pass four of my closest friends along the way. Maybe it is actual loneliness because some of those who know me best are not present, here, with me.
Maybe it has to do with my being an introvert and not feeling fulfilled and cared for in large group settings, like church or like family Thanksgiving. But even in the one-on-one contact that I've had with people where I've been vulnerable and open, I have still felt alone.
But mostly, my feeling alone has to do with the illness. The fact that I suffer from anorexia and depression and anxiety and that person sitting next to me does not. Or that person sitting across the room, although he or she may also suffer from depression, he or she does not also have an eating disorder and anxiety. The fact that I, alone, am being attacked by this specific illness and this specific combination of comorbid conditions makes me feel alone.
Our culture puts such an emphasis on individuality, and I've been reading about it all semester in social psychology and how different psychological phenomena are experienced differently in collectivist cultures. If I lived in such a culture, would I feel any less alone right now? Probably not.
Eating disorders are very individualized. Every person who suffers from any type of eating disorder suffers differently. That's why treatment must be individualized to the person in order for it to be effective. My eating disorder is not the same as any of the other people sitting in DTP with me or anyone else who has gone through CCED or suffered with an ED.
I feel alone because psychologically, I am alone right now.
This is one of those posts that isn't going to be wrapped up all nice and pretty and topped with a bow. This feeling of alone-ness is not going to go away just by placing myself in a room full of people, or a small group of people that know me well, or even in a room full of people who 'get it.' Because I will still feel alone. No matter how many letters I receive, texts and emails I get, words of encouragement I am told--the feeling of being alone remains.
And in this moment, sitting with this alone-ness and the discomfort it brings is just going to be something that I have to do.
And maybe, one day, it won't be here anymore.