“Hey, y’all… do you think it’s possible for an adult human to actually, like, literally die from lack of human contact?” This was, indeed, the question that I posed to a group of friends, as my online avatar flopped her sexy little pixels onto a sofa in a public room of the MMORPG where I’ve been spending a lot of my time these days. Yes, I’ve been taking advantage of the magic of the internet to hang out with others virtually, while simultaneously lamenting the frustrations of social distancing.
And I was only half joking with my question. Maybe only a quarter joking even. Because it’s a fact that infants very often will actually, literally perish if they don’t receive enough human touch after they are born. And while my Google search on the topic of the effects of lack of touch on adults didn’t yield quite as dire results as my search on infants did, the results did suggest that the psychological impacts of long-term social distancing could be potentially serious for us all.
Pondering post-pandemic psychology…
Which leads me to wonder… what will the state of our collective societal psychological health look like in the aftermath of this COVID-19 global pandemic? I mean, look at us now — with all of us locked away in our respective homes, with neighbors increasingly fearful of closeness to one another, with all of us diligently practicing the art of social distancing from each other for weeks (and possibly months) on end.
I’ll be honest. It never occurred to me that this whole self-isolation thing would be difficult. When the first murmurings of social distancing started filtering down from on high, I wasn’t concerned in the least. As a hard-core introvert, I didn’t think I’d have any trouble hanging out with my good old friends — me, myself, and I. We got along just dandy, after all. I was never the type to seek out group interactions in any situation. It would be business as usual, with a few less trips to the store, I imagined.
And yet. And yet…
Waking up to the reality of it all…
I also never considered the reality of it. Living alone. Unpartnered. Hundreds of miles from family. With not even a roommate to share meals with… or hugs… or even high-fives. “Whoa. Hold up. WTF is THIS mess?” my inner self protested, less than a week into the isolation period.
No, I didn’t imagine that I might stare longingly at neighbors as I walked my dog, more jealous of their live-in status and the fact that they had someone to cuddle with at night than I’d care to admit.
No, I didn’t imagine that I might find myself wondering — not entirely facetiously, mind you — if I might mayyyyybe be able to convince the guy with the motorcycle and the cool tatts a few streets down from me, who appeared to be single, if he’d be up for making a sort of “friends-with-benefits coronavirus pact” with me, so we wouldn’t have to be in this alone. Well… so I wouldn’t have to be in this alone. Actually, I’m still not toooootally convinced it’s a bad idea to propose this. Maybe if this whole quarantine thing goes on another week or two…
But in the meantime, here are a few of the wake-up calls I’ve gotten, courtesy of social distancing, that have helped me get through this time so far. Maybe one of them will help you, too.
Wake-Up Call #1: We are NOT alone. Not in this global pandemic. Not in ANYTHING. Not ever.
Yeah, I know this particular wake-up call can feel like a tough sell. And you’re right — it’s a grand-AF, sweeping-*ss statement to even try to make, let alone to wrap your head around. But I like to think that there is a bit of a method to my madness, so let me at least attempt to explain…
First of all… raise your hand if you feel alone sometimes, just because, for no real discernible reason at all. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt all alone while standing in the midst of a crowd. Raise your hand if all the crazy things happening in the world make you feel alone. Raise your hand if you feel more alone now than ever. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt ALONE in feeling alone.
Yeah. It’s easy to feel alone. It’s easy to let the swamps of sadness get to you. The ironic thing about this is that the very fact that we all experience this struggle is, in itself, a powerful unifying force — and one that we often allow the strength of our emotions to blind us to.
Here’s a train of thought to mull over: According to some Buddhist teachings, the root cause of suffering (or dukkha) is craving or desire. And loneliness can certainly be thought of as a craving or desire. And we can probably all agree that loneliness can evoke feelings of suffering in us. But in facing that suffering head-on, in letting ourselves move fully into the experience of that suffering, we can actually find a deep sense of connection in loneliness… because there is an undeniable universality in that particular flavor of suffering (and in ALL suffering, really).
Think about this: In any given moment that you are experiencing feelings of loneliness — across your town, across your country, across the globe — millions of other humans are experiencing that same feeling (perhaps even billions of other humans, in this unique time of isolation in our global history). Imagine them all in your mind’s eye, these millions or even billions of other suffering souls, your kindred spirits — their loneliness shining out from wherever they might be around the world, lighting up the darkness like countless pinpoints of starlight speckling the night sky.
We are so NOT alone.
Wake-Up Call #2: We ALL struggle. Every. Single. Day.
If you pop into social media these days, it’s overwhelmingly clear: It’s not business as usual, and NONE of us are acing this unexpected COVID-19 pop quiz thrown at us by the universe.
We, collectively, as a human species, are currently NOT okay.
And I really believe, whether we are showing it on the outside or not, that we are all pretty much freaking the f*ck out right now. With good reason.
But you know what? That’s okay. It’s normal. And this too, eventually, will pass. (I mean… right? Is it time yet? Is it passing? **sighs and stares out the window fondly at the empty grassy fields of the oh-so-nearby but totally closed-up and locked-down doggie park**) But in the meantime, the outpouring of vulnerable, open, gut-deep shares that are currently going in on our online global community — on Instagram, in Facebook, in whatever online groups or communities you belong to — is just breathtaking to witness.
Yes, there are certainly a vast range of differences in our current personal situations during this time of social distancing, and in how we are each dealing with the impacts of this COVID-19 pandemic on our lives. But make no mistake, we are all struggling with something.
My writing obviously comes from the perspective of someone living the solitary lock-down life (and as a full-time RVer… which has it’s own unique and sometimes stressful challenges, especially with many parks and recreation areas now completely closed down as well… but that’s a post for another time), but I know that there are just as many struggles for those locked down with family, friends, or roommates. I mean, seriously, people… I’d imagine we can only take so much of each other in confined spaces before even the smallest things start to grate on our nerves… and all of a sudden the sound of someone clipping their toenails in the next room sends us on a Max Rager rampage… am I right? Well, maybe some of that is just me. #hardcoreintrovert <– Ahem. But I’m sure you get the idea.
And since so many of us haven’t really trained ourselves up to be naturally and actively practicing healthy self-care when things fall apart (as they always seem to), many of us are, in fact, probably down to our very last nerve, at this very moment.
Wake-Up Call #3: Sometimes Things Fall Apart. But that Doesn’t Mean WE Have to Fall Apart.
So I want to talk about self-care a little bit.
But I kind of also really want to jump up and down right here and be all like, “Read this really cool book, y’all!”
(Or listen to the audiobook, like I did. I mean, can I even settle into a chair long enough to actually, literally read a whole PHYSICAL copy of a book with my actual, literal eyeballs anymore? That’s a good question. Future research is required. But I digress.)
So let me just say that Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart is awesome. It helps tons. It helped me tons, anyway.
But also… taking care of yourself, just in general — that helps too, y’all. For real. I’ve written before about how the idea of actually practicing real, daily self-care can feel like a radical concept in today’s fast-paced world. But the world is slowing down right now. And that’s a wake-up call if I ever did hear one.
Many, many, many of us are now being FORCED by circumstance — and social distancing — to slow. the. F. down. You know? And that’s kind of a gift, in some ways. Although I think it’s a gift that a lot of us don’t know what to do with, because we haven’t trained up in taking care of ourselves, in being kind to ourselves, in finding restorative, rejuvenating ways to spend all of the quiet alone time that’s been unceremoniously dumped in our laps.
But we can accept this gift with grace and with openness, if we try. I mean, this is a suuuuuper cool time to explore your self-care options with a real sense of playfulness, y’all. Pull out that dusty yoga mat. Dig out that musical instrument you used to love playing. Make a chalk drawing on your driveway. Play with body paints! Cut your own hair! Lay out under a tree in the yard and read a REAL, ACTUAL book. (Okay, that last one was my own suggestion to myself.)
Explore. Restore. And more! (Okay, I’m done with my Dr. Seuss rhyme time now. Ahem. But that was kinda fun.)
In Summary: We are resourceful. We are resilient. And we are TOGETHER. Even (and maybe especially) when we’re apart. And also… does anyone want to make a FWB coronavirus quarantine pact with me? J/K! Sorta.
Listen: We’ve got resourcefulness and resilience up the wazoo, my friends! And no, I’m not just talking about how I’ve discovered that it’s really not quite as horrific or disastrous as I’d imagined it might be to try to cut my dog’s hair without the help of a groomer… or to cut my own hair without the help of a professional stylist… or to bake bread in a toaster oven (WITHOUT burning my RV to the ground! woot!). Although, I will admit, those have indeed been resilient and resourceful-AF moments of revelation for me over the past few weeks.
But seriously. Just look around you. The creativity and strength of character and general outpouring of loving kindness that I see all around me in today’s so-called “isolated” society absolutely amazes me. You all amaze me. And sometimes… just sometimes… I even amaze myself.
From my little plot of land on the planet to yours, wherever it may be, I salute you. And when you start feeling all the feels (as I have been!), and all the feels get to feeling like maybe too much to hold in your heart, remember — it’s the feels that connect us. It’s the feels that unite us.
We may feel apart from one another right now, but we are all a part of a greater, universal whole. And we are not alone.
I love you.
P.S. But if you’re down for that whole FWB pact thing, umm… you know… just, like… message me, ‘kay? 😜
P.P.S. Yeah, I’m fairly sure I used the words “actually” and “literally” about a million gazillion times in this post. But I’m gonna let it ride, and let myself be okay with that, because… you know, self-care and stuff. 💙