Alone doesn’t always mean lonely

Posted on Apr 14, 2020

We all have these moments…these points in our life that become a significant turning point, even if we didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes its small moment that blossoms slowly, like when you meet someone you’ve yet to learn will become a significant character in your story. Other times its a diagnosis or an accident or a discovery that rocks your world in an instant. These moments become focal points…the ones that distinguish the difference between what was before and what remained in the aftermath.

This pandemic is one of those moments. (I know I know, duh Lindsay…)

The other night, I was watching this beautiful sunset from our screened-in porch when it suddenly started pouring. Despite the clear orange and pink gradient in my direct view-line, the rain pounded hard and fast, flooding the deck and rinsing the layer of pollen and leaves that had accumulated throughout the day. Startled, I moved to the door and found one single rain cloud – directly overhead.

The rain stopped as quickly as it started, but as I watched the rain clear all the dust and debris, I found myself hyper-aware of the way the sunlight hit the now-soggy deck and how shiny and new it suddenly appeared. And then I cried, because f*ck I cry a lot lately. Usually before I even know why I’m crying. Here we go again…

This pandemic is such a small blip in our overall existence, but in this moment it feels like a significant storm. A storm that, for many of us, is more like this oddly quiet isolated shower where you can still see the light despite the rain cloud directly overhead. Yes, obviously for some this a catastrophic category 4 hurricane. The rest of us, however, are living in an alternate universe where everything is “ok,” just confusing and slightly askew. Like nothing particularly “traumatic” has happened to us, but as we watch the rain we know that life will never be the same when it all clears.

My life, up to this point, has been a constant hustle. A head-down, full speed ahead race towards crazy goals, sky-high dreams, and a never ending laundry list of “shoulds.” Even in recovery, when I shifted my career life from advertising to fitness, a move that was meant to create more space for me to work on my mental health and stability, I set goals and went for it with 110% of my being. If there is anything I’ve been consistently known for, its my ability to get.shit.done. Quite honestly, I’ve never half-assed anything in my life…and that all-or-nothing perspective is one of the biggest challenges for my mental health in this gigantic (and seemingly endless) “pause.”

In the “for-now-normal” that the Coronavirus has created, all this rain suddenly stripped away my to-do list. My classes, my clients, my social calendar, even my everyday errands were suddenly halted. Indefinitely. And, honestly, who the f*ck am I without my to-do list? Too many mornings have subsequently been spent struggling to find a legitimate reason why I should get out of bed…especially since my cat Rex is the only other one here who could call me out.

Much of my social circle, the “type-A New Yorkers” in particular, has struggled with some variation of this dissonance as well. Longing for structure and order, lacking an overall purpose as one day blends into the next. Of course, true to my hyper-productive coping mechanism, I have since found ways to create structure and purpose in my time off. However, there has been one major theme in my first month of isolation that I never expected to find:

It turns out I don’t actually hate being alone.

I know I know, everyone keeps talking about introverts vs. extroverts these days. Here’s the funny thing: I honestly forgot how introverted I actually am. Given that my daily life consists of different levels of public speaking, its always been the amusing anecdote that I was painfully shy when I was little. Like, hide in the corner and watch the other kids play together level of shy. Which brings me to one of those aforementioned major life turning point moments…

For most of my life, I only had one “BFF” at a time…in retrospect, typically someone more outgoing that could balance out my social anxiety. Beyond that attachment, books, and the characters of whatever fantasy land they took me to, those were my friends. In school, I observed more I than participated. I followed rather than led. When I went to college, I happened to end up at the same school as my extremely extroverted bandmate and, naturally, became her shadow.

I distinctly remember the day I “met” an older girl (that, mind you, I’d already met about ten times) and she said “oh right, you’re Andy’s blonde friend…isn’t she just the best?” Wait, what!? In that awkward – smile while silently screaming “Bitch, I have a name…I exist too!” – moment, I realized she couldn’t care less. I hadn’t allowed myself, or been brave enough, to be anything more than someone else’s shadow for so long that suddenly I lived in a world that no longer even saw me. When did I become so entirely missable?

That moment initiated a winter break full of silent pep talks, and reminders that if I didn’t branch out I’d never have any friends. Possibly a bit over-dramatic but, honestly at this rate, also mildly realistic. That spring, I put my big girl pants on and (gasp) forced myself to talk to strangers. As it turned out, this was the beginning of a much longer journey towards becoming the “social-introvert projecting as an extrovert” that most people know me as today.

My point is, for the first 18 years of my life, I was content being alone. Yet, once this introvert learned how to be social, something shifted. Suddenly “alone” had these new negative connotations. Not only representing my perceived lack of social (and romantic) options, but I found that my frequency of “alone” time was now directly correlated to my worth. There was this invisible value placed on my time and my presence, and with that came an unforeseen amount of pressure to be validated…by my social calendar.

I never did theater, but I should have been an actress. Once I figured out what it took make myself no longer “missable,” I played the role to perfection. Its skills like this, and deep-rooted fears of going back to being alone, that actually allowed my eating disorder to thrive undetected long enough to destroy most of my 20s. And while I’ve done the work on vulnerability, and shame, and learning to show the f*ck up and trust my worth, the current state of the world has created the first time that I’ve truly be confronted (and forced to sit with) being alone-alone.

I’ve been single (for what feels like forever). I’ve lived alone for years. For all intents and purposes, most of my adult life I’ve been “alone.” However, without my to-do list and my social calendar and every other “validating” distraction I’m used to utilizing, I’m feeling ALL of the things that come with being by myself. In the process, I’ve found myself unintentionally digging into all the things that got buried when I left that introverted piece of myself behind 17 years ago. The underlying stories that have dictated my social energy. The fears I have about my worth. The acceptance that it takes to just sit with myself …and honestly learn to be ok.

Here’s the truth: I’m really really tired of feeling my feelings.

Y’all I’m f*cking exhausted. So many days, this storm has felt like it might be too much. In the daily struggle, often the hardest part of feeling all the things is finding ways to keep myself afloat and not letting the feelings control me. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my Corona-work. This is what the storm is clearing for me. This is a significant and important part of my journey, and I’m confident that it’s uncomfortable because it’s worth it. That learning to happily hang out with myself is priceless, and I’ve been gifted a pause, an opportunity, to find that.

This moment, this turning point, will be the chapter in my story where I learned how to be alone again. The chapter where I was forced to stop distracting myself with schedules and busyness and got deep, like scary deep, into knowing myself. Not the social version I now almost mindlessly project…the girl defined by the company she keeps or the accomplishments on her resume. This is the search for that long-lost introvert thats still terrified of what it means to be fully seen, out of the shadows, with no one but herself to stand on. This is the reunion with the little girl I once was.

Before-and-after moments where life take a major shift come whether we are prepared or not. No one expected this, and I sure as hell didn’t know I needed this. But after a month+, I’m starting to see the evolution in myself and I am confident that I can come out of this stronger. Alone doesn’t always mean lonely, and what greater gift could we give ourselves than learning to love and accept ourselves in our most vulnerable state? One of my teachers once told me I don’t have to learn to be “happy,” I just have to find a way to be “awesomely OK.” Contentment is a major win here.

My loves, even if it takes a million baby steps to get there, we can find a way to do the hard things in this moment. This storm is still lingering overhead, but I’m clinging to the hope that whatever debris the rain is washing away is creating space, preparing us for an “after” that is exponentially better than the “before.” Have you decided what yours will look like?