I’m Not Fine, and That’s Fine
Imagine if one of the major things going on in your life were something no one would talk to you about?
Imagine if you were scared, or sad, or anxious or confused, but talking about any of those feelings just made the people you were trying to talk to scared, sad, anxious and confused themselves? Imagine if you ended every attempt at conversation feeling bad about making someone else feel bad because you tried to talk to them about some bad ways you were feeling?
I bet you don’t have to work very hard to imagine that, actually. And that you don’t even have to be dying to feel that kind of loneliness. I think that sort of inadvertent isolation is a pretty common occurrence.
But allow me to I-reference:
I’m really uncomfortable in my own life right now. I don’t fit here quite right anymore. It’s not a crisis and some big horrible event hasn’t happened and I’m not in recovery and I’m not sick and the world is full of people who are dealing with very real, very big problems that I am not.
But that’s not a particularly helpful perspective for me at the moment.
Neither is looking for the silver lining or grinning and bearing it or reminding myself that everything changes and that knowing the darkness is how we learn to know the light.
I know all that stuff. I’m not scared. I’m not in danger. I’m not in despair and I’m aware of a whole raft of things for which I am rightly and authentically grateful. And yet one of the major things going on in my life right now is being present to the reality of this incredibly uncomfortable period of transition. From what? To what? I don’t really know that. Which just makes things more uncomfortable.
And I notice I want to stop now and reassure you that I’m OK with being uncomfortable – that I understand this is a part of a growth process and down deep I’m just fine, really I am…
And that’s why (I think) this feels so lonely. I mean, I don’t necessarily need or even want to Talk about it. I’m fine with saying “fine” when someone asks “how are you?” as we pass on the street. I don’t need tending and I am able to ask for what I need, when/if I need it. But to not even feel able to acknowledge this relatively gentle, perfectly normal but nonetheless very unkempt and awkward existential energy I’m carrying around without worrying about how you might feel about hearing that this discomfort exists? That’s a useful pointer to a significant problem.
Obviously, I have internalized a convention in which we put the bravest, shiniest face on everything, either as proof of our enlightenment, out of shame at being (if even temporarily) someone who is not “winning at life”, or simply as a courtesy to our friends, family and colleagues who just don’t want to be brought down, man. This internalized inhibition may be unique to me, but I doubt it. Hence the not entirely comfortable decision to blog about it, in case someone else needs to hear this too. It has been really good for me to see this dynamic clearly, to name it, and to resolve that I’m not willing to let it guide my interactions anymore. The pathologizing, criminalizing and/or euphemis-ing of the quotidian messiness of life doesn’t reflect my values, actually. I don’t believe the “dark” is “bad” and I want to weed out all the subtle ways in which I nevertheless act – proactively or reactively – as if I do.
I want to champion the “I’m not fine and that’s fine” conversation.
This is a deathbed learning, for me: For many of us, the worst thing we can imagine happening is happening in that room where someone is dying. And while I’ve seen some very graceful deaths, I’m not going to romanticize what happens in that room at all. There is some sort of struggle, always, while the body adjusts from the Prime Directive of a lifetime – to stay alive – to the new job of shutting down and releasing. Sometimes the psychological and physical components of that struggle are more challenging than others. Sometimes it’s really intense. There can be a lot of fear, a lot of grief and pain and flat-out fight going on. It’s the furthest thing from “fine” many of us can imagine. But, at the same time, it’s fine.
Fine because… this is hard to explain in words, for me it’s been more of a visceral realization… of an essential rightness. Or maybe it’s not so much a rightness as a not-wrongness. We can quibble about instances and definitions but at root, the struggle to die is a natural process and while I admit that it can go badly, it can’t really go “wrong”. It’s a part of the road everybody walks, one way or another.
That deathbed understanding of “not fine and that’s fine” is what I’m trying to feel more grounded in during my day-to-day life, and to allow room for in yours. I’m not talking about those times of real hardship, the times when we should be able to send an SOS out into the world and get the open-handed, open-hearted help we need. That should go without saying. I’m talking about the everyday days when the ouch-y part of the struggle of being alive, being human, growing, rises up and walks along with us for awhile.
We can be messy and real and still have good boundaries, right? I can be happy for your happiness and not scared by your fear. You don’t need to feel defensive when I talk about the holes in my life. It’s not your job to fill them all. We can talk about the struggle and it doesn’t have to be the only thing we talk about. It doesn’t have to color everything dark purple. We can talk about it right alongside the funny things, and the petty things, and the joyous things, and the gossip. It’s a big thing, but it’s not the only thing. It’s what’s going on for me these days and… hey… what’s going on for you?
Personally, I believe loneliness is just a part of the human condition. Whatever you believe about the existence of other lives, other realities, other universes, the way we show up in this existence we know about is almost defined by separation, and marked by what seems to be a constant longing to re-connect, in some way, to something or someone other than ourselves. So I’m not afraid of that l-word. Like death, and struggle, it seems to me that feeling lonely is just a thing that’s gonna happen. But there are ways to feel a little less lonely, I think, while we go about this lonely business of being an individual being. Meeting each other, without fear, in the places where we’re not fine, and letting that be fine – that sounds like some really necessary and sane kindness to me. Skillful means to authentic connection. And because these words, like all words, are a magick-ing, a shaping, a spellworking…
So mote it be.
This post was written by Laurie Dietrich