There are few things worse than feeling lonely. Loneliness comes, in my experience, from the most surprising places. You can have a stable of caring, supporting friends, a solid family, a husband, a sister, a cat, and you can still feel it. Because loneliness does not always come from the outside. Sometimes it crawls into your stomach like a tiny moth, and flies up against your organs with a fierce and fluttery resilience.
That is the loneliness I’ve felt, even as a parent, and it has come, primarily, from living with illness in a healthy world.
When I was 26 I spent 22 straight days on the couch. I couldn’t move, my skin was raw and peeling, my stomach distended, my eyes perpetually at half-mast. Thyroid cancer and Crohns disease had me under their thumb, like little invisible gangsters. When I had surgery to remove my thyroid, a nurse — on her first day on the job — held my bladder hostage while she practiced inserting a catheter for over two hours until finally she shoved the tube into me with an actual proclamation of “ta-da.” She never cleaned the sheets. I’ve shit in my pants on the subway, I’ve fallen to the floor and stayed there for five hours while I waited for my husband to come home and help me up. I’ve been scared. I’ve been sad. I’ve felt like it was all pretty unfair. But screw that. In sharing this, I’m not after pity. I just want to feel less lonely.
I don’t know Lisa Bonchek Adams. I am so sorry she is sick, and I hope that her life is full of the love and grace that we all deserve. But as I have been reading about her live tweeting of her stage 4 cancer and the backlash against it — which I can only describe as bizarre — I am struck that no one is talking about what to me seems so obvious. I imagine Lisa Bonchek Adams is sharing her experience in an effort to be less lonely. To share the pain (and also the beauty) that human suffering offers us. That is what is so magical about the Internet: the ability to connect with people you don’t know who can support you when you are lying on your couch, or the floor, or for that matter anywhere in your own devastation.
Again, I don’t know her. I don’t know what her loneliness feels like. But if it is anything like mine it makes its appearance in the most unlikely places: late at night when a new strange pain is the only thing left in the room, at soccer practice while other parents are jumping easily for joy, or watching friends lift their toddlers with elegant ease.
The idea that I could connect with people who understand this, or connect with people who could support me in it? Well yeah, I could get into that.
The truth is there is a thin line between having it all and losing it all. And it is on that line we balance, listening, always, for the low hum of the terrifying possible. It only takes an instant to be lonely. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
First Published on The Huffington Post, January, 2014