A Glass Case of Emotion

I’ve been getting preoccupied lately thinking about what it means to feel alone versus what it means to feel lonely.

There are circumstances in which they overlap: in the wake of heartbreak or loss, during a bout of depression, during periods of isolation, etc. But as I’ve managed to finally sort out a lot of the thoughts and beliefs I had previously about myself that enabled these two things to coexist I was surprised to find that while I no longer feel lonely, I still feel alone.

On a certain level, it just a human thing. You’ll never experience life through any other eyes but your own. The only emotional experience you’ll ever have is in the body you have now. Of course you’re alone. The only constant in your life is you. But it feels strange to me, to be out with friends or at home with the GF, and to still feel alone.

It’s not distressing. It just is. But I have begun to wonder how normal it is to feel this way all the time.

As I’ve become more aware of this general feeling over the past few months, I’ve been wondering how this aloneness quality has informed the decisions I’ve made in my life. As though sorting through the consequences might tell me if it’s fine to feel this way or if it’s making things subtly worse.

Probably the biggest thing it’s influenced is the way I’ve structured my life, since I’ve always believed that the only person I could count on to take care of me was myself, a lot of the decisions I’ve made about school and jobs and the way I live my life have carried the unstated assumption that I’m in it alone, so I better not fuck anything up because there won’t be anyone to catch me.

It’s an approach both cynical and sensible.

On the cynical side, it means my default setting in life is to not trust anyone to support me. Ever. This doesn’t mean I can’t accept support (well, it did for a long time – I still sometimes get a bit squirmy about it). But it does mean I never expect it.

So it’s hard to write about whether that does more harm than good because there are compelling arguments to be made for either side.

It has meant that I’ve made decisions in my life to ensure that I can always take care of myself (and I’m fortunate to have been privileged enough to be able to get the kind of education I got and have the job opportunities that I’ve had). That has meant stability, which, when you’ve been struggling with depression off and on for your entire post-pubescent life, is really fucking important.

It has also meant that I periodically hurt the people I am closest to. I have had some hard times in the past few years. Since my default setting is to cloister myself away and deal with things by myself, it became a source of profound irritation to those who love me and just wanted to help.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for me to feel any other way. This has been such a big part of my personality, and between the chronic health problems and the mortality questions dug up this year, that part of feels emboldened.

Maybe on that existential level, accepting that you’re alone can be protective. But on the day-to-day level, it can be damaging.

I suppose maybe the reason it’s been bothering me lately is because now that I’m not feeling depressed anymore and everything’s actually going well, it’s thrown into stark contrast how it has and continues to inform the relationships I have with other people.

Which means I recently find myself getting trapped in an argument with myself about what I want versus what I deserve. And I can really see how my depression helped foster a massive rift between them.

And it feels uncomfortably selfish because of what it means to me to deserve something. To deserve something is to receive something of equal value to your worth. Who gets to make that determination of worth? The other party. Which puts a ceiling on what you deserve based on someone else’s determination of your worth.

I’m incredibly lucky that the people in my life aren’t shy about telling me why they value me. What I mean to them. It has helped me more than I can say in recalibrating my feelings of my own worth. But as a question it still makes me uncomfortable.

And like any existential question, pondering it is as unsatisfying as the end of this blog post is.

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