solitude

My social life has changed radically in the past seven years, and it’s hard to distinguish how much is due to Lyme, and how much is due to COVID. Now I’m trying to figure out why I like the quieter life so damn much.

“There is a difference between solitude and loneliness.”
― Maggie Smith

This is profoundly important to recognize. I am not lonely, nor am I pining away for FOMO (for those of you who’ve lived under a rock for too long, FOMO is “fear of missing out,” something most of outgrow sometime between middle school and the twenties). If I wanted to see people and be more social, I would.  But (she says in her best pouty voice) I don’t wanna.

Therefore, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what this means to me. I was stumped. I am not someone who shies away from people. Some might call me an extrovert, but I’m an extroverted introvert, i.e., someone who can be outgoing and enjoy chit-chat, but absolutely need to be alone to recharge. It’s quite a fascinating subject to read about, and there are some fine books written on introversion. Which brings me to the obstacle I kept coming back to:

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
― Honoré de Balzac

Our society is adamantly focused on extroversion. Whether it’s a commercial showing shiny happy people getting together or a Hallmark movie highlighting the exhausting search for family and love, we are rarely shown people who are alone and content. This was getting under my skin and causing me to judge myself; to deem my desire to be alone as a negative, rather than a positive.

So of course I asked my therapist about this conundrum. He asked me how I felt when I was alone. It brings me back to the comfort and safety of childhood, those nights when I curled up wherever there was privacy in our home and read. I remember staying up late in our study, watching the little tv dad had in there for watching golf and tennis, and discovering the joy of watching a good movie (I vividly recall in particular Oklahoma and On the Town.)

I answered my own question and there was my “permission.” If solitude was what I wanted, then I should have it.

“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

I have never loved my own company more than now. It’s a preference to be alone at this time. My craving solitude is more than a reallocation of my energy (still a necessary component of having Lyme).  It’s more than a safety precaution in COVID times. I’ve always been this way.

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
― Michel de Montaigne

Note that I say “at this time.” I don’t know if I’ll always prefer the level of solitude I have now.  But for the present, I not only prefer it, I demand it. I’m certain this all has to do with healing from the past decade.

A lot has happened between 2010 and now. Mom died. My marriage went downhill. My ex took a buyout and left his job. Katie came back home (that was a good thing, but still stressful). We decided to divorce. That’s when life went into overdrive.

Between December 10, the day we decided to divorce, and January 17, the day I went to Bennington, I packed the house and got it ready to sell, and found another house. I was still negotiating the contract on the bus from the Albany airport and Bennington. I moved four weeks after starting grad school. There was much solitude during those two years, but not the kind that recharges, as anyone who has gone to grad school can attest.

And then came the Lyme years, where solitude was a given, not a choice. Being sick is a special kind of solitude, and it required all of my energy.

“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.”
― George Bernard Shaw

Now that I am in remission for long stretches I have time to process this long stretch of change and begin to heal. Healing is a very subjunctive thing, much like grief, pain, sickness, and love. My process for healing is to immerse myself into things want to do, including napping, walking, reading, cooking, swimming, cleaning, writing, studying, and yes, solitude.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but I’ve grown positively crotchety about guarding my time zealously. I am enjoying the peaceful feeling of the freedom to do what nourishes you after a long illness.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
― May Sarton

This is the truth. I can’t be the only person I know who prefers solitude. I find my newfound solitude to be the the rewards of major lifestyle changes. I wanted this. I downsized my world to get this time, so my job is to honor what I have created.

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symptoms

I don’t write much about the symptoms of Lyme. For one, it’s a rather long list. For another, who really cares, except for me, who experiences them? But I’ve been thinking about symptoms lately, because now that I’m getting out more, people ask me what my symptoms were. I kind of hem and haw and tell a light anecdote to give them the picture. Here’s the big problem: there are over one hundred symptoms for Lyme (http://www.anapsid.org/lyme/symptoms/ , http://www.lymenet.org/BurrGuide200810.pdf). Lyme mimics fibromyalgia, MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and up to 350 more diseases. To try and standardize the list for all patients is impossible. I never had much problem with arthritis-like swelling and pain, where others are wheelchair bound. Every Lyme patient has their own peculiar set of symptoms.

Taken one by one, most of the symptoms aren’t that bad. Combined, though, and suffered day after day after day, they wear on you. The final insult comes when you start treatment. You get sicker! Woo-hoo! Nothing like endotoxins and side effects to ice the cake on sickness. I’m not sharing this for pity. I don’t want to hear “I’m so sorry you’ve been so sick”. Well, maybe I do, sometimes. What I want is to help anyone avoid Lyme in the first place. I want people to understand what Lyme disease can become if not caught early. The physical, emotional and financial toll is too high stand by idly.

I keep journals. I have kept them off and on for the past twenty years, but I’ve been fairly consistent post-divorce. There is a row of notebooks in my office, each one filled out from the top of the first page to the bottom of the last page, front and back, no paragraphs or indents. Just words. The ones from living with Lyme this past fifteen months give me a glimpse into my sickness, in case I want to forget.

Okay, here is one from  December 8. It was crisp outside and my one goal for the day was to walk the dogs. I had returned from New York where I was diagnosed with mid-stage Lyme disease: borrelia burgdorferi, babesia , and bartonella. I had fifty-six symptoms checked off. One of the worst was an abnormally slow heart rate. That morning I shuffled one quarter-mile. I have a pulse rate app. I did it three times during the walk. 42. 88. 44. I talked to myself, told myself I could do this. Every bone and muscle in my body ached, I had foggy spots in the middle of each eye. My teeth hurt, as did my head. I had to stop twice because of dizziness. I made that damn walk. I went to bed and slept. I woke up and took my meds (I’ll write a blog about that soon…it’ll blow your mind). I watched the Hallmark Channel (still trying to figure that one out!). Cried. Ate. Went back to bed. And that was all the entry said for that day. I’ve paraphrased here, because much of my journal writing is a stream-of-consciousness blast of cheerleading and venting.

You get the picture. Telling this out loud, in public, is almost as terrifying as taking off all my clothes in public. Why do I balk at talking about this? Was it my parents’ no nonsense midwestern sensibility? My own bias towards sickness and sick people? What? I can’t figure this one out. Maybe it has to do with whining? I am NOT a whiner (I’m a bitcher, but that is a whole different skill set). Or the ‘poor me’ syndrome. Awful. This brings me to play time. Now that I’m getting better, I am eager to date, to play pickleball, see friends, get out and do something. Well, what should happen but guilt. Big chunks of shoulds and have tos weighed me down. I should be working if I feel better. I have to get this yard in shape and take care of business. I bitched about this problem (curse words were involved…see the difference from whining?)  to my therapist. I’m pretty sure he answered with a question. “Why should you feel bad? Don’t you deserve to have some fun?” W.T.F. Have fun? Was he mad?

I felt a tremendous sense of guilt about being sick for so long. After all, if you are sick, you are not being productive. And not being productive is a sin. A mother’s definition, America’s definition, and mine, apparently. So. I am working on this notion that it is okay to have happiness after a long illness. I don’t have to plunge into everything, all at once. I played pickleball this morning. It made me happy. I saw old friends and felt the heady rush of playing a game. The rest of the day has been better. I’m actually working harder in between bouts of playing. It could be that play is vitally important to recovering health. Play gives me a truer taste of life as it was. Life has been lots and lots of watery gruel the past sixteen months. I’m ready for spice and comfort food.

 

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