Short of having the means to enlist the help of a therapist, back in July 2018 I set out to write up a new life, word by word.
Spoiler alert: I’m still at it because it takes a very long time and many words to undo the combined damages of chronic depression and hardship. The whole exercise has been very low key because I needed to find my feet and prove to myself I could keep writing despite everything that was going on.
And there’s a lot going on, some of it I can stand to put into words and much of it I cannot because it’s too raw, too painful, too unfathomable still. My brain tends to systematically wipe out traumatic moments; I have holes where memories should be. Old holes, new holes, so many holes I wonder if I’ll eventually end up empty, bereft of the ability to feel, think, or write.
While I still can, I write on, hanging on good memories so they can sustain me when all else fails, invoking past joy whenever the present is coming up short.
This new life project is something I recommit to every day with every word that makes it in print. Many of those words come from the very edge of the cliff. They’re the words I need to read to keep going but can’t find so I dig for them, on the off-chance they might help someone else as well.
We’re all fighting private battles on several fronts at any given point of our lives, without clear guidelines or instructions. Whatever we struggle with is universal but the parameters unique to each of us make us forget this.
Writing is a way to feel less alone, somehow, and make peace with the storm within, with silence, with the absence of human warmth, too. But when you do it online, sometimes the internet holds your hand from afar and it’s weird and wondrous and empowering more often than not.
Whatever causes it, loneliness remains taboo.
It is, our culture tells us, the preserve of the socially inept, the loveless, the unworthy. We tend to dismiss the lonely as if they were contagious, a hazard to the very society that cast them out and yet we are this society.
Loneliness is self-inflicted, something we do to ourselves and to one another.
Rare are those who espouse loneliness by design and it can even happen when surrounded by people, at work, within a family, within a relationship. Since it’s part and parcel of the human condition, we will only destigmatize it once we accept it.
And it’s about time, for all our sakes.
But the pain inherent to loneliness often defies words and can alienate you from language. Imagine feeling the absence of human warmth so deeply, so keenly it translates into physical pain that takes over everything and numbs you. This is what happened to me and one of the reasons my life fell apart. Before depression, writing had been my livelihood. As it was my vocation, it thankfully survived but I’m never not terrified about coming up against silence again.
Every. Single. Day. Several times a day on occasion.
That is why I fold everything into my original mission of writing up a new life, regardless of how much I have to scramble for words. I do not let up until I find them; this reality escapes me most of the time and that’s why I can’t rest until I’ve articulated and documented it.
Writing is survival in action.
If you’re struggling too, strive to make writing a landmark, find the words that will make your reality less amorphous and thus less daunting.
When there’s no one around to hold your hand, you can still build bridges toward others with words but be aware it will take a long time. Relief isn’t immediate but it will eventually come, little by little. And it will have a human face and a human name; words can help you reclaim your narrative and find your spot among like-minded people.
There are many of us to whom being a human in the world is tentative but the more we write about our lonelinesses, the less powerful they become.
Writing can protect you, too. When you’re writing, you’re not hurting yourself, a strong urge among depressives with suicidal ideation like me. There have been many times when the only thing standing between me and certain death was the page and I have no doubt there will be many more.
You may not be able to trust or rely on people but the page will never let you down, not as long as you allow language to guide you. Conflicting emotions and thoughts will likely surprise and scare you once they end up in print but remember that naming them counts as progress, i.e. a better understanding of what’s happening.,
Processing life in print affords you the critical distance depression precludes and writing is an effective tool, whether or not you have people. Those around you may refuse to engage or not know how to however the page will not judge, reject, or abandon you as long as you keep finding the words. Also, writing is that one tangible, replicable, and even scalable thing you can do to keep loneliness at bay.
And prevent it from consuming you.
Look for the words that’ll keep you going another hour, another night, another day and cling on with all your might when you find them. The more you take to the page as a coping mechanism, the more you build a writing habit you can rely on when you’re too diminished to come up with an alternative. Chances are this alternative wouldn’t be good anyway.
Keep writing until words have safely delivered you to the other side of the storm, however long it takes for you to get there. Soon, you will have an entire body of work that charts your progression from searing loneliness to a place of belonging. It will help you on days when you feel you aren’t moving forward as you will be able to look back and see you’re no longer where you started out.
Progress is never linear but evolution happens regardless so take stock of how far you’ve come as often as you need to. You may not be proud of what you’ve achieved because it always seems too little and too late but you should be: You’re still here.
And that’s everything.
You may not always welcome it but every new dawn is another chance to conjure up a gentler, more loving life, even if you are lonely.
Loneliness shames and humiliates us, it makes us feel small until we sometimes become invisible in our own homes. As a result, you may no longer want to take up space, you may no longer want to stay put, you may no longer want to signal to others you’re hungering for human warmth if they’ve ignored you.
Please don’t let loneliness shrink you, take this hunger as proof of life, as a sign your heart and mind are still functional, no matter how battered and dented and broken they are.
Stay put because now is the worst time to make any kind of decision that may prove irreversible.
Instead of detonating your life, turn to the page and surrender to it. While there’s no guarantee the words we write will resonate with others, they keep us company for as long as we need them to.
Think of writing as a devotion to our shared humanness, as service to those similarly afflicted and adrift. Deep down, we’re all afraid and looking for life rafts, solutions, quick fixes, yearning for relief, rest, and respite.
We are never not looking for human warmth.
We may not be able to find it right away but we can always embody it through our actions and our words.
This is what writing can do for you, for us.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.