11 days ago — 5:35pm. Tokyo, Japan.
It just started to rain.
It’s times like these where the hopeless romantic in me is love-drunk with the scene around him: a creative-type, sitting in bed writing; occasionally peering through a raindrop-covered window, listening to the gentle pitter-patter, mixed with the occasional slushing of a car passing by, working on something artistic inside while the wet world continues to busy itself outside. It’s so cliché it kinda makes me sick, but I’m sad right now, and it suits the mood, so I like it anyway.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been kind of emotional. I’ve had a lot of feelings I just needed to get out somehow; to do something with; to focus the attention of.
Most of it… comes from the feeling of loneliness.
And as a bit of background on me; this is a feeling I’m very familiar with. This is a feeling I’ve dealt with my entire life, probably more so than others. It’s one that never truly goes away for me, no matter how hard I try. The feeling that I’m a little too different, the feeling like I’m always misunderstood, the feeling that I always have a hard time fitting in, or at least I have to work harder than everyone else to do so and still never really reach the level of how I truly want to feel when I’m with people, no matter how hard I try.
I’ve always felt like a bit of an Ivory tower: feigning untouchability, but connected to the world with a certain perspective that others don’t often see or understand or share. A perspective that I try to hide or reshape in some way, for fear of the repercussions of looking too weak or too emotional or too weird. And if I do eventually decide to let it out and it’s not well-received, well, it’s back to the tower we go. Back to self-isolation and deep introspection – before it became the cool thing to talk about right now given the situation we’re in.
This Ivory tower feels like sheltering my true self at an unconscious arm’s length away from most people, even if I don’t mean to. Even if I don’t want to. Even if they’re special people who actually do mean the world to me. It’s something I’m conscious of and working on, but I still suck at it.
And it’s not like I don’t love people and feel things deeply – I do, a lot. The idea that most of my beloved friends and family are 7,828km away from me hangs heavy around every corner in the corridors of my mind every day – although it really doesn’t help that I decided to ditch my previous career in favour of spending a life on the road (a decision that I’m looking to revisit in the near future); a little loneliness was always going to be inevitable. Life choices… I think they’re called.
All this to say that for most of my life, the emotion that is human connection and its polar opposite – the idea of loneliness – has always been at the forefront of my mind. Mental health has always been at the forefront of my mind. Safe to say I know a thing or two about it by now; I’ve learnt how to deal with it and function just fine as a grown-ass adult, for the most part.
But – over the last few months, with the slow-death of connection around me and around the world as the pandemic sunk its claws into our global society, before I knew it, what I thought I could deal with, I could no longer.
Because pre-pandemic I was already straddling the line between being alone and being lonely, these events really pushed me over the wrong side, and I found myself and my mental health in a dark, damp, rain-soaked box for one, covered by a heavy cloud – alone.
See, isolation doesn’t just mean that you don’t get to see all your friends and family whenever you want. It means you see everyone less. The people at your favourite coffee shop. The people jogging in front of your house. Your favourite clerk at the combini. Everyone.
The social connectedness we feel, offline and online; the comfort and stimulus of others; these emotions we take for granted every day through the very simple act of just being in the world… although I understand the yearning in my own feelings to be accepted by and to connect with other people I deliberately interact with, I don’t think I truly understood how important it was as a collective consciousness when the context is everyone.
And then suddenly, everyone had a story to tell; and it usually didn’t end up great. I got emotionally sucked into tales about deaths, and panic, and fear, and stories about people literally beating each other up in a contest over toilet paper – I missed my friends, I missed my family, I missed my dogs and the feeling of home.
The cycle kept spiralling: it was all you would ever see on the news, it was in every feed in every social platform, it was in every conversation you’d ever have with anyone. It was omnipresent. It was inescapable.
I’m already prone to getting stuck in my head, cycling through thousands of thoughts and feelings, trying to process and reconcile them in an effort to find the best way through it all, albeit with varying degrees of success. I’ve had an endless stream of rumination about people, connection, and fear, and about life, death, and everything in-between.
Usually, this is the function that saves me (the Ni-dom/Fi jumper INTJ in me [I’m very into typology and the study of human behaviour. Haha, I guess I am weird after all.]). But when it goes into overdrive, it’s no longer tameable. Thoughts and feelings explode and crash into each other like excitable asteroids in an asteroid belt, manifesting itself in the real world as a sad, depressed, laying-in-bed-and-never-seeing-the-sunlight Pat.
And down the spiral, I continued. For a time that felt like months; although when you’re stuck in your own damn mind for long enough, you lose touch of reality and all sense of time – a real-life hyperbolic time chamber.
Life wasn’t great. It was pretty terrible, actually.
Today — 4:30pm. Tokyo, Japan.
The sun shone pretty much all through the last week, but right now, it’s raining again. Either the powers that be really want me to write artistically romantic metaphors into this article, or, I can somehow control the weather with my emotions while I’m writing I’m in bed.
This last week has been better. I’ve been in a much healthier headspace after having processed a bunch of crappy thoughts, being kind to my mental outlook, and eating a metric fuckton of snacks with reckless abandon (don’t judge me, Japan has fantastic snacks).
On reflecting over the last month and what happened, I saw the pattern. It’s one that I’ve seen many times before: one of a subconscious, surreptitious, build-up of emotions and thoughts, and the inevitable release and resolution that comes after it. A rollercoaster, of sorts.
It’s a pattern that happens all the time in humans, and it’s bound to happen to you at multiple points in your life too. It’s necessary, which means it’s okay.
There’s always value in going to a dark place for a little while, so don’t be scared or ashamed of it; life isn’t all sunshine and roses all the time. It pays to be a little vulnerable with yourself every now and then so that you can feel and ruminate and learn through the experience.
But getting yourself out of the hole is always a tough ask for anyone deep in the depths of despair.
And over the last few days, I’ve done some things that have made me feel better. Things that have brought me back to life. Maybe they might help you too.
I’ve been counting my blessings; I researched the misfortunes of others so I can deeply understand what’s going on in the world and compare them to my own situation. I’m lucky I’m not in serious financial trouble. That I can afford a roof over my head. That I don’t have an entire family to feed with only food stamps to give. That I have a big, loving group of friends and family back home and around the world that I can always rely on. That I’ve had many successes in life, and a vision and a will to execute on many more in the future. So many people have it way worse, way worse than I do. So focusing on the things I do have and the fortunate situation I’m in given the circumstances really puts things back into perspective.
I stopped indulging in places I shouldn’t stay too long in. I know myself pretty well, and for most things, I’m an all or nothing kinda guy. But that also means that when it comes to binging on TV shows, movies, and anime, if I’ve committed to it, it’ll be pants off the entire time.
And while that sounds like a great idea while I’m in isolation, I know myself well enough to know that doing it that much, to that extreme, will make me feel utterly miserable and guilty. Great in the moment, terrible when I break free from the Netflix trance.
So I’ve been spending time re-envisioning my future. The things that truly give me fulfilment in life revolve around moving forward towards my ideal vision of it; ruminating in it; executing on it.
And so having felt like a lost baby lamb for the last few weeks, constantly doubting myself and my life decisions, I forcefully refocused all of my visions for the future – this post being a small contribution towards that.
I also started getting out of my Ivory tower, reaching out to friends and loved ones, organising time to video call them, organising time to play games with them, or even organising time to see them (carefully & thoughtfully).
All of these actions coalesced into a re-ignited inner fire. It’s a warm, soothing light. A tamed flame. A stillness. A quiet calm. It’s nice. This is my preferred state of being, pandemic be dammed.
But it took a while to get here, and I had to fight through the dark. And if you’re in that place right now, know that you’re not alone. Know that you’ll get through it too. Know that the lows make the highs worth fighting for; that life is always one big-ass rollercoaster of shit-sandwiches and cotton candy, and that it’s okay to not be okay every once in awhile. What you gain on the other side will be worth it.
So, eyes up, complex beautiful human. You’ll be just fine, as soon as you need to be.