Isolation, pt. I

3.14.20

This moment in time is a pinnacle. A turning point. This moment is presenting us with an opportunity: change or be changed. Choose love or choose fear or choose ignorance. Choose growth or choose to remain in old habits.

We won’t be the same after this. 

As a walking human energy sponge, this week has felt like the volume up in your noise cancelling headphones at full blast, and you are unable to turn it down or hear the actual world around you.

Exhale.

As an empath, I find myself needing to come home each day and unzip myself out of my skin. My nervous system has been in overdrive for so long, I have found myself passing the time by quite literally just staring at the wall, because I can’t seem to tolerate doing much else.

Anyways, this brings me to this note on a turning point — while I’ve been busy creating energetic boundaries and remembering to breathe, my subconscious has been doing some pretty huge processing. In this unprecedented time of uncertainty, I’ve observed myself behaving differently — I go to bed with a pit in my stomach, and somehow, I keep waking up with this strange sense of calm. A knowing, a momentum that is much larger than me reminding me to listen to the whisper, the kindling I’ve been quietly stoking for the past year or so.

And what I really can’t get over is, at least right now, I’ve felt more connected to humanity than I have for the past three years (and probably, maybe, ever?). And I recognize this paradox so strongly, as my city begins to shut down and this period of self-isolation begins.This time working from bed, slowing down, listening to the melody of silence, is a thread connecting me to another era. An era in which I was doing all the same things but the experience of them was so wildly different.

As someone who was bedridden for the better part of 8 months last year due to what turned out to be a chronic autoimmune condition, I can’t help but feel like a shadow of a former self is slipping through the door frame just as it shuts, cozying up next to me during this present period of isolation. All of this talk about loneliness, all of this fear of being removed from society, of having routine taken away and losing touch with loved ones — this is a story I know all too well. And one that I pretty much kept hidden and to myself, because I was still very much in the midst of processing it all. The initial response I got to my pain was shame, fear, distance, and misunderstanding, which led me to swallow my crumbling and turn inward into the black hole that sucked the life out of my existence for the better part of two years.

It started with a sudden hip injury that never healed, meaning I had to stop running (my coping mechanism at the time). Then my ankles became weak, and even walking became a challenge. A wave of exhaustion so deep descended upon my body and settled into my bones, nestling itself into every crack and crevice that held up my skeleton. I slowly lost the ability to do more than one ‘thing’ a day (see a friend, get a coffee, go for a walk, go to work, bake a cake, run errands — take your pick, but only one). My joints became inflamed to the point where I started dropping things because my hands were too weak to hold on (so many pint glasses dropped at pubs, it became embarrassing. It became “my thing,” but secretly I was terrified – I knew I was losing my grip in more ways than one).  I lost 30 pounds in a couple months. I became too weak to walk down the block. Walking up stairs caused my body so much pain that I would burst into tears — my commute was like an insurmountable Everest. I started forgetting my way home, fumbling around the pavement I knew that I knew so well but that kept slipping in and out of the short-term recesses of my brain. I would pick up the phone and forget my name, momentarily forget how to say hello.

All the while life churned on around me — everything felt so fast, I felt like I was being left behind. Even worse, I felt like I was falling, fast and hard, down a steep cliff – and no one had even seen me fall. I turned even further inward, silenced myself, silenced my pain so only I could hear the screaming.

When the vertigo began, so did my life in my bed. I lost contact with most humans — not to mention I lived across an ocean from my family. Most days I woke up with a taste of disappointment in my mouth — another day. 

I would get panic attacks when I had to leave the house, because I truly didn’t know if I would be able to make it back.

I had a massage booked for my birthday that I cancelled — one, because the thought of getting there and back was too exhausting, and two, because I couldn’t bear the thought of  that much intimacy, of being touched, of being exposed. I shuttered myself off and locked the door.

The amount of time I subsisted on toast and eggs and English breakfast tea was honestly impressive. 

I remember going to a nail salon and not wanting the technician to let go of my hand. Her human touch, the only contact I’d had for a while, felt literally electrifying.

My insomnia became a destructive companion, the setting sun like a devilish smile, winking as my creaky bones set in for the long night ahead. In those dark early morning hours, I journaled and I cried and I prayed and I grieved and I cleaned my entire apartment and I lay still, counting my breaths, inhale exhale, until the rest of the world rose to meet the day.

All of this is to say that the amount of inner work I did during my “year of rest and relaxation” is finally rising to the surface. The ink has set, the dough has risen. I find myself anchored to a sense of inner peace that is much bigger than myself, and I have my year of isolation to thank for that.

So I’m now entering another round of isolation and it feels, well, different. Different and yet the same, in the classic dualistic nature that seems inherent to most things in life, so I’m learning. 

I’ll fast forward through the darkest pits of my last year, the nights I felt so empty I thought I might float away and the days that passed like an excruciating haze. The behind the scenes secret is that there was some force at work, something driving me to keep digging — keep pressing into the wounds, lean into the pain, FEEL. IT. ALL.

And I did. Boy, did I feel it. And in all this time alone, I wrote. Pages and pages and pages. I dug deep into my history, my maternal and paternal lineages, the trauma I was carrying that was not my own and the PTSD I was working through that was acutely personal. I was forced to slow down, to re-examine my relationship with my body. I gobbled up books on neuroplasticity, rewiring the brain, the mind-body connection, quantum physics, and Buddhist philosophy. I took a course on Vedic Meditation — me and a community of about 15 other Londoners, men and women ranging in age from late twenties to mid 60s, gathering in a community hall to be given our mantras and to recite Sanskrit prayers and to learn how to be still, together. What a precious memory that I hold so close to my heart. I’ve practiced TM, my 20 minutes of meditation twice a day, nearly every day since.

I stopped seeking. I realized no one was going to swoop in and save me. Healing was up to me.

This self-imposed agency gave me an ounce of power back, a reason to try to get out of bed.

I had no idea what the future would hold, but I held a vision for it. An empty container, for the universe to fill in ways far beyond what I could imagine myself. 

I realized that in the waiting, there could also be life. Small glimpses of it, but still more than I’d seen for a while. I rediscovered myself in ways that I think the majority of people wait to do until they are far past middle-aged. I took myself on long walks on the days I had more energy and catalogued my favorite flowers, my favorite sounds, my favorite doors on my neighbors’ houses. When I gained some strength back, I started working with horses again — I filled my days with the manual labor of filling feed buckets, mucking out stalls, cleaning tack, leading lessons. I relished in the feeling of sweat on my skin and the force that the presence of these animals commands. I turned my phone off and learned how to rise with the sun. I opened up to the beauty, and the miracles, all around me, every day. That doesn’t mean I necessarily saw them every day, but I just slowly began to crack the shutters.

I made friends with the local service people in my neighborhood, because they became some of the only human interaction I had. They broke my heart wide open with their kind spirits and souls that were so alive — one day I hoped to have a similar joy nestled in my chest that shone so brightly you could see it through the whites of my eyes.

When does isolation end, you ask?

Your body will tell you. You’ll just know. There will be a tickling feeling in your ribs, an energetic shift when you wake up one morning. 

The hardest part is the uncertainty. The unpredictability. But this also IS the whole point, not just a part — sitting in the discomfort of not knowing. Remembering that life happens in the middle, too, so don’t hold your breath. Breathe through it.

Oh, and the PEOPLE. I feel like a child just entering the world when you get me started on the absolute magic that is awakened humanity. My self-isolation only got me so far — the majority of this healing has come from being plugged back into community. Like the first hit of oxygen you get from the mask they put on you in an ambulance, my introduction to humans who see me and hear me and understand me and value me has been like the sweet nectar I never knew I needed. Like a missing puzzle piece for a jigsaw I didn’t even know I had.

So, somehow, I find myself nearly brought to tears by the way our world is being brought to our knees right now. All of our cracks exposed, our vulnerabilities on full display. If you tune out the noise and tune into the collective shift that we are on the verge of entering into, I dare you not to feel the mounting momentum, the eye of the storm.

This is a time of reckoning, to be sure. But also a time to lean into the work that comes in times of solitude. Don’t stay blind out of fear. Slow down. Listen. Be still long enough so that the changing tides can pick you up on their way out.

As we step into the beginning of this period of isolation, that anchor in my core has gotten even stronger. I can feel the buzz of the collective like a humming in my ear — we might be scared, we might be unsure, but we know that something powerful is coming. It’s up to us to step up and meet it.

And in order to do that, we need to pause. This probably seems scary, with the fast-paced lives we are so used to living. But trust me, it’ll be worth it.

xx mm