Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post in months.
Not really a big deal, right? Life gets busy. Other things take priority. That’s not that remarkable.
Yes, I’m a working parent. Yes, I’m a special needs mom. A single mom. And I am a person living with a chronic illness. But none of these facts by themselves is truly extraordinary. There are thousands of people out there who are single parents, or working parents, or are raising special kids, or live with ongoing health challenges.
But there are some things you don’t know.
So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
It’s something I’ve been trying to pretend wasn’t there. It’s something that I’ve tried to be okay with. It’s something that I feel guilty for admitting, because I have much to be grateful for, and so I have held this hand close to the vest. But there are some days when keeping the secret becomes a shrieking cacophony inside my soul, and I feel like it may drown me. So I’m going to take a leap of faith and just put it out there…
My life is incredibly lonely right now.
What you don’t know… is that I got really sick last semester. So sick that I had to withdraw from school temporarily about half-way through the semester. And not just because of the fibromyalgia.
What you don’t know… is that last March, I was diagnosed with Type 16 HPV, the form of the virus that is the most high-risk for cervical cancer, and that I had to have a biopsy. And that even while that biopsy came back mostly okay, I will remain at high risk for developing cervical cancer for some time… and there’s no way to tell if my body will fight off the virus like most people’s do or not.
What you don’t know… is that because of how sick and critically exhausted I had become, I was essentially put on “home rest” for four months. I spent my whole spring and summer at home, mostly alone. For the first time in years, I had all the time in the world to spend with friends and family… but I didn’t get to do hardly anything.
What you don’t know… is that – after I spent about a month doing not much more than sleeping – I still had a long hard road to walk to learn how to balance my days. I had to learn how to not steal energy from tomorrow for today. Or, if I do, I have to plan ahead, because borrowing an advance on the next day’s energy means a day of recovery afterward. And I’m still learning.
What you don’t know… is that, even with all that free time, I felt more isolated than ever. I was at home while the world moved on without me. And now I didn’t even have the social outlet of a job. On top of that, my FM/CFS and thyroid issues make me really intolerant of heat. So with no income and everyone I knew working, I spent the entire summer indoors with my 11-year-old, too tired to do much of anything and getting really depressed.
See, here’s the thing:
A thirty-something-year-old undergrad with a kid and a mortgage?
She doesn’t really make friends at school.
The people I meet that are my age are usually my professors, who can’t really be my friends right now. Other students my age are grad students – I know they exist (in theory) but I’m not on their level or in their classes.
And all my friends?
They’re raising their own families.
They’re spending their weekends at band tournaments and corn mazes and soccer games.
They’re NOT spending their weekends recovering with a body that doesn’t want to cooperate with life.
I don’t begrudge them that. I really don’t.
But I miss that life. I miss THEM.
And it’s not just missing them.
Because the other thing you don’t know?
It’s that NOBODY CALLS.
My phone rarely rings these days. No one texts me to ask how I’m doing. No one asks a single question about how treatment is going or how I’m managing my pain or how school is going or what’s new with the Munchkin’s therapies (and I don’t mention it, because I feel guilty). No one offers to make plans to get together anymore.
Look, I get it… I’d probably say I was busy.
Maybe I was busy one time too many.
But despite having lived in this town for a dozen years now, I have very few friends here.
Oh, I *know* people.
You don’t work at the big places I’ve worked or volunteer for the organizations for which I’ve volunteered without knowing people. Meeting people.
But I guess what I didn’t realize along the way was that I didn’t really make many new friends… not the kind of friends who call just to ask how things are going.
I have friends like that. Or, I did.
Back in my hometown.
It’s funny… I’ve long joked that I grew up “30 minutes and a whole world away” from here. I always meant it culturally. But now it seems to have taken on a new meaning.
The last time “The Gang” (the core group of people I’ve called my “extra family” for around 20 years) got together was over a year ago, and we weren’t even all there.
For some of them, it’s been more like two years.
I haven’t had a night with my girlfriends in over a year. The last time we had something planned, it got called off at the last minute due to someone’s significant other making other plans for her.
And yes – it was for a good reason. Really, it was.
But I was hurt.
And I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t say anything because not only was it really a good reason, but because ever since I was diagnosed with FM/CFS I feel like all I ever do is talk about my pain, and/or ask for help.
Ask and ask and ask, without being able to give back.
Combined FM/CFS is a selfish condition.
It takes. It takes from me, it takes from my son; it took away my old identity.
I’ve been working with a therapist for over a year now trying to rediscover who I am, after the identity and self-worth I had built on my professional abilities was ripped out of my hands.
I had to start over.
On the one hand, I’m proud of myself. I fought my way out of a bout with depression that hardly anyone even noticed. I’ve been learning a therapeutic technique to manage my conditions called pacing, which has given me back some semblance of normal. I took a class in mindfulness over the summer, where I began to learn how to meditate and incorporate mindfulness practices into my days, since stress has an intense physiological impact on my body. I’ve been learning to be self-compassionate for the days when my body can’t accomplish everything my mind sets out to do.
But I’m still lonely.
Part of me knows that I made this choice. That going back to school when the road forked was the right thing to do. For now, this is my life.
I just had no idea that I would be so emotionally isolated.
I didn’t know that I would miss all of my surrogate nieces and nephews growing up. I didn’t know that it would be so hard. I didn’t know that I would often feel like no one understands where I am right now. This life is busy, and it’s lonely. And while I know that every single day puts me one step closer to a degree and the return to a somewhat normal social life, I just can’t seem to bring myself to beg for company at the last minute on those rare days when I finally figure out I’ve got some spare time.
I’m not putting this out here as a guilt trip. More than ever, I’ve been leaning on my parents, and my little sister (who has stepped up to the plate in a big way). I’m learning to feel less guilty about asking my family and my boyfriend for help. And just like always, I will figure things out and get through this.
What I want to put out there – not just for my people, but for everyone – is this:
There are people in your life who need you.
Friendships have to be reciprocated to be maintained.
Life will always get in the way if we let it… work, kids, spouses, houses… it can all make us too busy forever, until one day we look up and realize we aren’t really friends with our friends anymore.
I know, because I’m guilty, too.
But that is a choice.
One of these days, I won’t be an undergrad anymore. One day soon, I will graduate, and I can go back to doing the things I want and spending time with the people I love. One day, not so far from now, I can – and happily will – reclaim my role as Cruise Director, the one who makes things happen and seeks after those friendships no matter how long it takes or how distant we become.
Because those things matter.
Because I treasure being able to say that I have friends that I’ve had for twenty years or longer. Because in a time when the world is moving faster than the speed of light, I want to know that slow summer nights by the lake filled with the sounds of laughter and guitars is still possible.
Right now, the leaves are turning. The time for nights at the lake is coming to a close for the year, and we’re getting dangerously close to the holidays, which means the window of opportunity for friendly get-togethers is closing for 2016. We share memes on social media saying we need to get together and that we miss each other, but these days that’s usually as far as it goes.
I do. We are all busy. Yes, I’m in school, but my friends have jobs and children and houses and obligations, too. I’m not the only one who hitched a ride on a Busy Boat and now can’t figure out how to drop the anchor and float a while. It’s hard.
So, I guess all I’m really saying here is:
I miss you all. And it would be really nice if you wanted to call… I promise I’ll try to answer.