It has been a long, long time since I have written anything. It wasn’t for lack of material about which to write (NHL Lockout, replacement refs in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Pirates laughable collapse, the election, my personal life, etc). It was simply a matter of professional life absolutely consuming every waking moment from July onward. Because I am both (a recovering) Catholic and Irish, I always feel guilty when I write anything for pleasure when “there’s work to be done.”
As most of you are aware, I am a high school teacher by trade. This is not a post about the problems of the US Educational system or how poorly I get paid for a thankless job. This is about something far, far more profound and personal. Please, if you only ever come here for the sports and ramblings of a borderline personality, you may want to look away from this post. If, however, you are more interested in my thoughts on some psychological issues with which I have been dealing, please, continue reading.
Some of you out there actually know me, or should I say knew me, in the real world. As most everyone knows by now, “Walt Flanagan” is not my real name. It is the identity I have assumed for all my dealings online and otherwise. When when I created this blog in 2011 I paid the extra couple bucks to have an anonymous registration so it could not easily be searched and associated with my real name. Of course, if you have read this…ever or are even remotely capable of putting two and two together, it’s likely you can figure out precisely who is the person behind this madness.
Over the last year, I have undergone what I can only describe as truly moving and profound developments in my life. Moving away from PA was an “easy” decision because I always knew it would happen. Granted, I didn’t expect to end up in the ass end of North Carolina, but it is sometimes hard to know exactly where the current will take you. I had attempted to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for that parting. It did make the leaving easy, but the long tail has been the undeniably difficult part in this (for those unfamiliar, you can read up on the “long tail” here ).
I have spent numerous hours looking into some of the possible causes for my madness. The curse and blessing of being me is that I am very much in tune with my own stunning levels of bullshit. I know who I am and what I intend. I also know my strengths and weaknesses, especially when it comes to psychological instability. I am many, many, many things in this world. A doctor is not one of those things. That said, I know, without ever having been tested for any such maladies, that I “suffer” from a variety of psychological issues, including manic-depressive tendencies. Many of you have seen it in action when I am riding high or falling real low. Sometimes within the span of a few hours.
I have been struggling, for years, to understand my uneasiness and displeasure in the world. I am perfectly happy with being a generalized malcontent with society and day-to-day life. The world needs people like me to balance out those who think everything is sunshine and gumdrops. I will say the things others are afraid to say and think the things others are afraid to think. And this train of thought allowed me the jumping off point to understanding things. I absorb. I take into myself other people’s problems and make them my own. I seek to improve the world by bearing some of its shame and sorrow. I -attempt- to make other people happy by bearing their burdens, as well as my own, because I value my own worth as very low. In a crude, impure way of saying – I don’t care about myself. Obviously I care enough to have spent all this time inside my head and inside of books and research materials to ensure that I keep going, but purely on a basic level, I don’t “care” about myself. I care so deeply and passionately about the people around me that I will allow myself to be crushed under the weight of burden bearing.
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. I feel, truly, it is one of my more charming and redeeming qualities. Among my negatives, which are ample, I do have some incredibly powerful and positive qualities. Those who know me well know that I am frighteningly and fiercely loyal and dedicated. If it gets to the point that I give up on you…things have gone really, really bad. I will walk with you through the fires and until the last of days, but if you give up on me or ignore me, we’ll have trouble. Your problems are my problems. I make them mine. It becomes my responsibility to fix those problems. I can’t save myself so I want to say everyone else possible.
Of course, some of you are rolling your eyes at the notion that I cannot save myself. I know what you’re thinking. I say this because, well, you can’t fix the past. What’s done is done and you learn from it. That is exactly what I have been doing. I’ve been learning from the past. I cannot go back and change the experiences I had as a child. I can’t prevent those around me from making the choices they did. I can’t simply think positive and make the world a happy place. To do so would be to deny what makes me who I am. I could deny the past, but past events molded me into the person I am today. I would much sooner be upset with myself because of failings as a person and friend knowing I tried than be upset with myself for being fake and denying who I am.
To return to the topic at hand, I am writing to discuss a revelation I had and felt I needed to share. I am not the most…openly emotional person. I have emotions. Deep, profound, and dangerous emotions, but I often keep them sealed away and shared, only briefly, with people very, very close to me. For the longest time, regrettably, I relied on a few very close friends for all of my emotional needs. Doing so was incredibly unfair to them and for that I apologize with every fibre of my being. The bank vault in which I store my emotions is neither easily unlocked nor is oft visited. When I enter the vault, it is typically for reasons I cannot explain. I become so fantastically overcome by something, even something simple, that I have a complete and total meltdown.
I had one of those on Friday, October 5. I don’t entirely know what triggered it, but as the day wore on I became more and more sullen and removed. By the time 4:15 hit (the end of our school day), it was a fight just to keep it together enough to drive home. I was washed over with this incredible wave of sadness that I could not explain. Even the things that were funny were no longer sufficient. I’d been down this road many times before. I knew where the path led. Nothing good was going to come of it. Sure enough, I come home to the empty house and just curl up on the old couch and go to sleep. I had texted a few friends and posted some items to Twitter, but it was mostly a lost cause. My brain had won and there was no indication how long this episode was going to last.
An already sour mood was worsened through the night because I was unable to sleep. I roused myself from the couch about midnight and stumbled my way to bed. Thankfully remembered to take my contacts out before falling back asleep, but was so tired and miserable that I fell asleep with the bedside light on. That alone is enough to break my sleep, but I got to experience a thoroughly horrifying episode at about 4 a.m. when I was awakened by an odd feeling across the upper part of my back and lower part of my neck. Thank whatever deity was looking out for me and made me leave the bedside light on, otherwise I would never have been able to identify the Goddamned centipede that found its way both into the house AND into the bed. Thankfully, I avoided being bitten by the bastard, but holy crap was that terrifying. Needless to say, I didn’t really get much sleep last night. I slept on and off for 2 more hours (after spending 30 minutes looking up centipede species local to North Carolina) and gave up and got out of bed at 6 a.m.
The emotions I felt this morning could not easily be put into words. I had felt them millions of times before, but could not quite place my finger on it. There was a level of melancholy that extended beyond sorrow. There was hopelessness. It wasn’t full-blown depression. I still functioned normally and I could see beyond today and tomorrow and so on. I don’t deny that I am in a somewhat perpetual state of depression any more, or, at least, the manic episodes are fewer than the depressive episodes.
And then I got the idea in my head and all the things started to make sense. And that brought me here. I think I discovered the root to my troubles. It sounds so simple and something that I’ve touched on before, but never with any level of depth of specificity. In my research and reading about my suspicions, I felt compelled to share this with you. What I feel to be at the core of many of my problems?
I know, a little bit of a letdown with all that lead up, but loneliness is a dangerous beast. One recurring theme I’ve found in my reading and researching – people don’t discuss loneliness. It has become somehow painfully stigmatized as something insignificant and easily fixable.
Allow me to tell all of you – No, it is not insignificant or easily fixed.
Having left everyone and everything I knew in Pennsylvania was difficult, but I managed. Moving to North Carolina afforded me the opportunity to begin anew. I was moving up in my professional life, really becoming my own person, and having to live entirely apart from people. It was an “easy” choice to accept the job (not to mention the fact that teaching jobs are few and far between in PA). As time moved on, though, I came to realize just how much I absolutely despise this town. There’s nothing redeeming about Fayetteville, NC. It is a culture-less, classless, thoroughly forgettable town. Not that Pittsburgh was the cultural center of the universe, but there were tons of things to do and places to go and people to see. There is -none- of that here. The few things that are redeemable here become stale and tired after the first time or two.
I could even manage that. I don’t necessarily see this (or want this) as my permanent home. I’ve adopted my dislike for the town as a charming part of my persona at school. I have become openly antagonistic toward the state of North Carolina by declaring my undying belief in norther supremacy. Hell, I recently updated my Facebook information to reflect my education from Troll So Hard University.
But because of the composition and make-up of this town, I have absolutely NOTHING in common with 99% of the population. I have no religious affiliation, I’m openly antagonistic, I dislike the military industrial complex, I’m one step away from being Karl Marx, and I enjoy reading and writing. I basically have zero level of commonality with the average resident of Fayetteville. As such, I don’t meet people here. The only people I know are the people I work with, and I do my damnedest to separate personal life from work. So, I don’t exactly have friends here. Certainly I consider my co-workers my friends, but it’s a little different. Even within that (small) group, only a few of them are people I talk to regularly. Many of them know very little about me. I keep things to myself and don’t allow them in.
The loneliness is, I admit, mostly self-inflicted. Prior to leaving Pittsburgh I made a choice, an active, deliberate choice, to begin cutting off ties to people. I knew I would have to leave PA for a job, so I stopped pursuing romantic relationships. I began to focus solely on online friendships. When the day came that I had to move, it was easy. It was made even easier by my bunch of bastard friends leaving me high-and-dry the Friday before I left when invited to get a drink and/or join me at the Improv. Yes, I’m still salty about it. Deal with it.
I purposefully began to cut myself off from the world. I was already persona non grata in many circles because I was rarely able to be social because of working off-and-on as a substitute (but still needing to maintain the schedule associated with day-in-day-out teaching) and later with my weekend gig as the janitor. March of 2011 was the start of my “end of the world” mentality.
As many know, my living situation was not…ideal. We’ll just leave it at that. Getting away from that was, and still is, a big boon to my psyche, but it was at something of an extreme cost. Here I am, in a state I had only ever visited a few times, to work in a non-traditional school, in a town I had never visited full of people I didn’t know. Hell, I only knew one person in the state when I came down here and that individual lived on the complete opposite end of the state.
But I was happy. I am actually OK with living alone and being left alone. The loneliness isn’t simply about being around people. That’s most people’s common response and answer. “Just go into town. Go do something. Join a meet-up group.” That isn’t my problem. Monday-Friday, sweet mercy, I see and work with enough people of all varieties. Being around people drains my social batteries. I enjoy them. I like being around people and conversing and learning, but it takes a lot out of me. I am, have been, and likely always will be a strong introvert. My Myers-Briggs typology is the INFJ. I’m rare, hard to get to know, even less willing to share details, but also painfully observant and dedicated.
It is not a social thing. The loneliness is far-reaching and deeper than being around others. Being in a social setting would do the opposite of what I needed. It would stress me out and make me want to withdraw even further than I already have.
There are multiple types and levels of loneliness. The very fact that being lonely has been stigmatized and made into some sort of joke is shameful. For the last few years, I have been dealing with a truly ontological type of debate with myself. I have said before, and maintain this belief, that I really don’t know how or where I fit in the grand scheme of the Universe. I don’t belong here. I’m not actively looking for a way out of this life, but I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I’ve accepted my mortality. I am ready to die when my number is called. It might be tomorrow, it might be 60 years from now. I’m not afraid of dying because it will ultimately release me from this torture and torment inside my head and my soul every day. Until that day comes, though, this is simply my cross to bear.
So, I am dealing with a loneliness on a cosmic scale. I don’t know what to believe in terms of a higher power. I’m not saying there is no God, but I’m not saying there is. I just flat don’t know. So, I’ve got that going. Of course, the easy answer is “find God” or “embrace science,” but there’s more to it than that. I could do either (or both) and still will be left feeling alone in the world. Something like “finding God” would need to happen naturally, not as a stop-gap for feeling alone and forsaken.
There is the obvious loneliness, too, which is simply not knowing people in this town and not making an active go of it to get to know people. I’ve already made the active choice that I don’t plan on staying here forever. Why get attached to more people I will have to sever ties with if/when I leave in the next few years? On top of that, there are all the previously listed items as to how/why I don’t belong here. Sure, I could join the meet-up groups for people new to town, but who really gives a shit? The groups are made up mostly of other transients who are just keeping themselves busy while their so-and-so is stationed on base. The level of impermanence of this population is staggering, but also completely understandable.
And then there’s the ever-present and looming idea that I have neither a wife nor a girlfriend at this stage in life. While I understand there is the sometimes unfair perception that one should be married and have kids by a certain age, there is a little something to it. I’m not getting any younger.
But it’s more than that. I haven’t had a steady girlfriend since 2009 (broke up right at the start of 2010) and I really have only spent some level of energy and time on it since coming to NC. I met a few people, had some successes and some failures. Did make a good friend out of it. Sadly, she lives 70 miles away in Raleigh. Apparently all the cool people live in Raleigh.
I do miss the companionship of having someone. Not that I don’t miss the other perks and benefits, but I really miss having someone to share a life with. That’s been one of the harder challenges for me. I’ve survived before, and I will continue to survive, but there is a certain level of “Oh, God, this blows” that is attached to this type of loneliness. Nobody to call when feeling down. Nobody to go see when you’ve had a rough day. Everything, again, falls squarely on me.
The bigger issue with this lacking a partner type of loneliness is that I now feel emotionally bankrupt. I don’t even know if I am capable of loving another person any longer. I yearn for true intimacy (not physical intimacy) that I continue to fall deeper and deeper into the well of isolation and despair as I move farther and farther from the last meaningful relationship I had with another person. And I fear what has triggered this last round of whirlwind madness has been allowing my mind to recall what it meant to feel wanted and to share a bond with someone.
I am forever chasing ghosts. I am hunted by predators of my past. I am always searching for answers as to why things happened as they did. I try to dig a hole and bury those emotions. I try to forget what it meant to love. I want to forget what it was like to be important so that I can continue down the path of righteous loneliness, but my mind won’t allow it. I am reminded, too vividly, what it felt like to be near to someone, both physically and emotionally. I am reminded what it felt like to unexpectedly lean in and give or receive an incredibly tender kiss that had roots deep inside a person’s soul. I remember these things and then remember where I am and who I am and the whole demented house of cards world I’ve created crashes down around me. I’m lonely because I remember. I remember because I cannot forget. I cannot forget anything. Especially those things I wish to forget.
At the core of this, I’m lonely. I’ve -accepted- the possibility of being alone for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted that possibility. If it happens, I’ll make do, but it is not my preferred way of life.
I’m no longer afraid to admit it. Nor should any of you.
I am alone. Loneliness is a long, dark tunnel with no visible exit. This sucks.
i worry about you. i always have. the problem with being so far inside your own head is that you are too close to the problem, so to speak. you can only see your own warped perspective (all of our perspectives are warped, me, everyone, not just you). and if there is one thing i’ve learned from therapy is that your “fine tuned” notions of yourself aren’t really as fine tuned as you think. and no one is saying go be sunshine and lollipops fake happy, but i don’t think your use of humor covers your issues as well as you think it does. some of this post reads like rationalizing some of your behavior. if you have to rationalize then you’re not as ok with these behaviors as you think you are. loneliness sucks, i know loneliness, but i think in fixating on that aspect you’re sort of ignoring what seems to me to be major clinical depression, if not as you said bipolar disorder. these are serious things and there are treatments. they don’t always work, but it is worth a try. meds or therapy.
cheesy as they are there is something to the notions of “be here now” and “be in the moment” and i don’t think your one foot out the door mentality is helping you with the loneliness or anything else. so what if you don’t plan on staying there, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t connect with people. exist in the time and moment you are in. just because you feel like your not part of/connected to the Universal design doesn’t mean you aren’t.
Look i i get it. i do. i suffer from depression and anxiety as well as a long list of physical ailments. i don’t work because of it. i have at best 1 or 2 friends and i never get to see them because the dizziness keeps me from getting out. i’ve never been in a relationship. i turn 35 this month, so i get to celebrate official spinsterhood (wooo). i spend my time reading and wondering and analyzing. at one point i had a working theory that i was born without a soul. i get it. and your post makes a lot of sense to me, but i also see the flaws in the design. I’d hate to see you continue to be this miserable and lonely when you can try to change things. get diagnosed. try therapy if you don’t want to pop pills. be kinder to yourself.
Though we’ve never really discussed the above in any great detail, it was an undercurrent I have picked up on from you over the past few years. I can offer you no real solace other than to tell you I understand where you’re coming from. Self realization is both a blessing and a curse. Like you, I often wish I was just too plain stupid to realize what was going on around me. About a year ago, I drove out to the UPS depot in New Stanton to collect a package. On the way back, I decided to stop at the Sheetz there for some jalapeño poppers. The cashier was this guy in his late 20’s talking about his upcoming weekend with a friend at the counter. The cashier had 3 days off from work, it was his birthday, and he was going up to his buddy’s camp to get “fucked up”. I furrowed my brow in disgust at his plans and went back out to my car. When I got there, however, I realized this guy had it going on. His plans were all he needed to be happy and complete, if only for a couple days. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this other than to say, I’m your buddy. We’ve had enough late night fence conversations that you should know by now I won’t judge anything you have to say or feel. My perceptions and opinions of you as a person have long been cemented and they are all good. Don’t get too caught up in “I should be at this point by this age in my life”. Things will happen when chaos allows it. And just like I’ve showed you in the shaded areas between my shed and your mother’s backyard, there’s remarkable and beautiful things beneath every stone, log, and brick. You might have to flip a bunch of them over before you find what you’re looking for, though. Give me a call, text, email, whatever… whenever you want to.
Oh, I know I can. It will be a cah-ray-zee week at school (I’m a featured teacher for the study visit), so I probably won’t be able to do anything of substance until the weekend.
I knew a lot of this wasn’t just “Ho hum, things suck, depressed hurrrrrrrrrr.” It was something far more invasive and sneaky. I’ve been doing all kinds of research on the psychology of loneliness and just how much it is downplayed in society as something insignificant. I can say, first hand, how major it is and how it can be a truly painful and destructive force.
And I think it has been amplified by a billion because of not having an animal around. Sable all those years was the best friend anyone could have. Then the guinea pigs and Lenny. Now? One stray cat that I will see sporadically.
And the recurrent theme in all of the research I read – there’s no “cure” for loneliness. I plan on seeking out professional help to deal with some of my other issues, but loneliness is something I need to find my own answer and solution to.
I’m glad to see that you plan on seeking professional help. I wondered if it was available to you. Research is one thing, but an official diagnosis and someone who’s paid to listen to you can help a *lot*. As someone who’s dealt with depression and social anxiety for most of her life, I know. You can approach the therapist on your own terms, too. After a few unhelpful experiences, I went to the last one with an opening statement prepared: “Look, I am here to talk about my current problems, now. I don’t want to talk about my stupid childhood and how bad it sucked. I don’t want to cry.” She laughed and said, “You know what you want. That’s good.” Eventually I would cry and talk about how bad my stupid childhood sucked, but I felt like it was productive for once, too. Lexapro was helpful, too.
I understand what you mean about feeling alone in the middle of a crowd of people. That’s a horrible, bone-deep kind of lonely. Sometimes I still feel it. I was fearfully dependent on my wife for my first two years in NYC, and she’s never exactly been a social butterfly. I tell you this to tell you that sometimes, not even being in a relationship can stop it entirely.
You live in a town of transients. Maybe some of them don’t feel that they fit, either? Are hiding? Are lonely in the crowd? Is there a way that you can find out? And what are the ones who aren’t lonely doing that you are not? It may be worth doing whatever you can to find out. Just because you don’t plan to be there forever doesn’t mean the time you spend there is meaningless, and that you don’t need connection while you’re there.
I don’t know you aside from our communications on Twitter, but I know you don’t have to feel this horrible, and that you can feel better. I hope you find everything you need.