Additional Thoughts on the Loneliest Year

Since I last posted (see “The Loneliest Year of My Life”), I’ve been talking with more people who’ve felt as I have this year, and I’ve talked with others in different situations who have been through the wringer in their own way this year.

I feel like I missed some things in my last post, partly because some of the context for my loneliness is in a post I wrote in May but haven’t yet shared and partly because my last post was already long (shocking, I know). So I wanted to add three more clarifying thoughts, or three “footnotes.”

First of all, Covid has not caused my loneliness. That’s been lurking beneath the surface for the past couple years, and it really ramped up in January, sparking a frien-tervention before Covid even became forefront in our consciousness. Covid has, however, magnified my loneliness because of the resultant and even sometimes needed isolation. So isolation during Covid has exacerbated the struggle I’ve been sitting in for a while. I don’t know why it feels important for me to say that, but it does.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to give “2020” and “covid” too much personified power, but maybe it’s also because I know once Covid “ends” and stay at home orders lift, the loneliness will likely still be there. There will just be more distractions and ways to divert my attention from the pain of that loneliness.

Secondly, I said it in my last post and I 100% mean it: This is not an indictment of anyone for not reaching out or for closing their doors and homes. In 2020 it feels like we have to have a million disclaimers about everything we say so as not to offend, but I’m hopeful that at the end of the day, we can give more benefit of the doubt to others and trust their hearts—who we know them to be—rather than supposed offenses in social media and tone-less words on a screen or page.

I digress though. Back to my second point. One of the things I learned with much more angst when walking through cancer was to be grateful for those who show up rather than disappointed by those who don’t. So many people showed up then—many unexpectedly!—so I wasn’t dwelling on who didn’t show up most of the time. But afterwards, I looked back and it took the slightest bit of conscious effort not to note the absence or void of some I assumed would have shown up.

I got over it—and pretty quickly at that—because of who did show up, and I learned in processing that many people just don’t show up because they have no idea where to start or how to do so, or because they’re going through their own muddled mess. Let me tell you: It is far more fulfilling to look around and be grateful for who shows up and then look up and see how God has provided than to look around and count anyone who’s absent.

In this season, I’ve leaned on that lesson much more readily and less painfully (progress, woohoo!). I am sincerely grateful for those who’ve shown up, opened doors and lives, and been the lifeline in this season. I’m not keeping track of who has closed doors nor marking people on the naughty list (had to; it’s December).

In addition to having (hopefully) more maturity than when I was 21 and struggling with those who showed up and didn’t, I also have learned tons about grace in the past few years. “Grace” is what my name means, and the more I learn about it, the less I know I have inside and more I need to receive from God. I am the worst, but God’s holding me to a standard of grace, not perfection or success, so I’m getting much better at resting in my worst-ness.

Furthermore on the grace train, in this season, I have 100% NOT shown up for people. Hopefully that hasn’t been across the board—I’d like to think I’ve shown up for at least one person in 2020—but I’ve pretty much been working off of a 2 month delay with following up and being intentional and even just responding to texts and DMs this year. There’s not going to be any way I can actually explain it to you since, if ya girl can throw up some sardonic post on her Instagram story, one would think she should be able to respond to a text.

All I can say is that my head and emotions have felt at or above capacity for much of this year. That doesn’t make logical sense for why I can do one thing and then not simply respond to a text, but when your brain is over capacity, the logic center is a shamble shack (it’s science). I know that makes no sense, but when your brain is a shamble shack, the logic center is thrown off, so that reinforces my point—there is no logical reason because there is no logic happening with my 2 month delay and failure to show up.

I’m not sharing that as an excuse—remember, I’m the worst and I know that. I share about my shamble shack capacity struggles and ineptitude at responding this year because I know if that’s where I’m at, others who “haven’t shown up” this year are probably fighting off their own shambles in some capacity (because truly, we all are and could all use more empathy and compassion since 2020 is the shambliest of all shacks).

In wrapping up my second point, the challenge is to look around and make the choice to be grateful for those who’ve shown up. And the second part of that challenge is to extend more grace and empathy to those who haven’t while praising God for what He has given and how He has provided.

My final point is this: I know that last post was dark and probably heavy. Much of 2020 has been just that, and seasons of 2018 and 2019 have been, too. “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices” has long been one of the most sobering and poignant song lyrics for me. But if you look back just a bit further in “O Holy Night,” the lyrics right before my favorite lines are equally powerful: “Long lay the world in sin and error, pining til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

This previous couplet is why “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices” is my favorite. The incarnation—God showing up!—is my thrill of hope and the reason why my weary shamble shack self rejoices. Out of my being the worst, the most in need of grace, and the least proficient at living up to my name PLUS my brokenness in the pit and deep loneliness—out of all that, Christ appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Wow. That is why the pit hasn’t swallowed me in this apparently never-ending season. It’s probably come close, but that thrill of hope, where Christ chose to enter in through the incarnation, to enter into my mess and to choose that knowing how shambley I am—that is why my weary heart rejoices. And it’s able to because I know Him and my soul feels its worth in Him alone.

I don’t have a spouse or my own family I’m building, if I stay in California I will never own a home, my job was tenuous this year, my rent increased as my pay got cut, my health is often an annoying hassle, and I fail at even simply just showing up for people who’ve shown up for me and aren’t asking a ton. Let me reassure you that my soul isn’t feeling its worth from anything but the incarnation, from Christ entering in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again: read Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation for more on the hope and profundity of the incarnation (not a theology book, though, so #understandable).

To summarize: Covid hasn’t caused this deep loneliness, though it has certainly magnified it and stripped away any veneer of distraction from it. Amidst this, I’m grateful for the gift of those who have shown up, for their presence and open doors, and I’m reminded to look around at those who’ve shown up then look up in gratitude rather than taking stock of who hasn’t shown up. That is a way more freeing posture, especially when I have failed to show up for others, too, in this season.

And finally, my experience has been that there are some really dark days. I hate being so self-referential, and I know we all have different experiences, but I’m also convinced most of us walk through those really dark days. This is not the first time I have sat in seasons of loneliness and pain, and it won’t be the last. The reason I have hope amidst that is because out of the long seasons of waiting, of “pining” for relief and rescue, the incarnation happened. Christ chose to enter in to our world and mess, causing the “soul to feel its worth” and bringing that thrill of hope a very weary world is desperate for.

The end. Off to work I go (also had to). Please don’t let any of this or my shamble shack self stop you from reaching out. I’m working on cutting my 2 month delay to merely a 1 month delay, I promise. But in the meantime, I’m resting in grace and the hope of the incarnation.

The Loneliest Year of my Life

2020 has not been the hardest year of my life (cancer card), but it has certainly been the loneliest. It’s very likely been that way for a lot of people across the board.

I’ve had multiple friends stay really low-key and quarantined, which for them means taking their spouse and children on family road trips and not seeing anyone else. Or they’ve bubbled with their parents nearby.
What’s the equivalent for a single person who doesn’t have roommates and all her family lives in different states? I quarantine/do “bubbled” household vacations with…Netflix? That’s coming from someone split on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, so I can only imagine the pain and deep loneliness for single, roommate-less people without family nearby who are also high extroverts.

Before anyone gets upset and thinks this is an indictment of them (gosh, 2020 is exhausting), it’s not. Also, I’m not looking for a trophy or medal for “you had it the hardest” pity. I don’t think I’ve had it the hardest by ANY means. It’s just been uniquely challenging with its isolation.

I’ve actually had my core group in CA invite me over—and more importantly—IN to their lives in this season. Because truly, that’s what others isolating themselves with their family unit feels like: a closed door to their lives from my place of already-deep loneliness before covid hit.

It’s been a long season of having friends who are cautious saying, “Hey, we’re just kind of isolating with our household” which is great and admirable and I GET it. We’re literally being told to do that. But then I start to wonder, “Am I just really selfish for wanting to see people and not caring about covid deaths?” until I realize that for some friends, isolating with their household means family vacations in a bubble or road trips with the 4-6 people of their immediate family unit. Again, does isolating with my household or bubble vacationing for me mean more time on my iPad but in a new location?

I genuinely know that people are being cautious and NOT callous by isolating or insulating, but over time, it starts to feel like closed doors. I know we have to be cautious, but there’s also a cost in that.

Again, this is not an indictment of anyone and not meant to shame anyone. It’s just to share a perspective that, at least among my friends, is somewhat unique since most of my friends and acquaintances are married, have kids, and/or live near family.

This season has genuinely made me grateful for those who, instead of hunkering down and shutting doors, have reached out and invited me in. I’m so grateful for people like Jerri and Stephen Middleton—both of whom have been really cautious and covid-safe—and yet, they have invited me into their world amidst that caution because they see the cost and toll. They have been a lifeline and gift. Where others are closing doors—100% understandably!— the Middletons have opened their door despite their own caution with the virus, and that’s been a gift.

Or take my core friend group which has been cautious and covid-safe overall. None of us has thrown caution to the wind and been crazy, but what would seem wrong and unsafe to others has been a lifeline in a suffocating season. They’ve said, “Hannah, get in the car and come see and spend the night with us.” Again, they’ve opened doors in a world where there’s been a lot of insulating and closing of doors. My friend group and the Middletons may have done it just because it’s who they are, but I also think they’ve been very intentional about saying, “Hey, let’s take care of our friend.”

My parents were a lifeline in May, letting me crash with them for a month during the first stay at home order after 6 weeks alone in my 1 bedroom apartment; my small group has been an encouragement out of the depths; my cousin and her husband inviting me on their trip in October was life-giving and a breath of fresh air; my sister and brother in law rescued me for Easter; my boss called early on recognizing that I’m in a uniquely isolated situation; and these friends above have been a lifeline locally.

This is going to sound really dramatic, but let me tell you: masks may well save lives, but so have these friends’ actions.

Cancer was severely isolating in some ways, though I’ve written about how people rallied around me and I felt such an incredible sense of community. It’s isolating in the sense that few people around you truly get what’s going on and what you’re going through. Even if you’re surrounded by people, you’re the one getting filled with chemo at the end of the day; you’re the one losing your hair.

But this season has been isolating on a whole other level. During cancer people tried to understand and they rallied around me, and I so appreciate that. During Covid, people are intentionally closing doors—which I know is what we’re being told and mandated to do, and it’s probably wise for public physical health—but hopefully you can see the challenge.

All of this when I’d like to consider myself well-adjusted with some good community (and I see a psychiatrist every month—not actually for counseling, but every time I know I could bring it up when my doc asks how life is going). So if that’s how I’m feeling, I just can’t imagine what it’s like out there. It’s been challenging and there’s really no better word for it than utterly lonely.

On top of all of the other ways the world has felt stalled in covid, it also feels like I’m sitting out another year of my life as the clock ticks, while my friends continue to build their families and I continue to sit alone under stay at home guidelines and orders in my apartment, watching some of my hopes slip even further out of view.

I know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and that being stuck with a spouse and kids has had its own challenges. I’m 100% sure I would be so sick of a spouse or kids or roommate or family after 9 months at home with them. I’m not saying it’s been a walk in the park for others because I’m sure it would drive me crazy, and I don’t know a single person who’s coming out of 2020 unscathed in some or multiple ways. I’m saying that at end of the day, most people I know are isolating or at home with someone who either chose them or is stuck with them, and I’ve got lots of streaming apps.

I try to have a point to what I write, a “complete thought” of sorts. There’s not really one today.

I have friends whom I love arguing with me about the need for stay at home orders as I sit alone in my apartment, writing in the dark, feeling suffocated by another stay at home order that will go through Christmas. Travel is now “restricted” (though the state said they know they can’t enforce that, lol), and I know I will be judged by friends I love dearly and one-time acquaintances who follow me for some reason (honored, but nothing to see here) for traveling over Christmas. I also know that the pervading weight on my chest in view of 3 weeks of isolation even more strict than what I’ve been experiencing for 8 months since the last stay at home order means if I don’t travel to see loved ones for Christmas, the odds of me keeping my head above water for these next 3 weeks are not in my favor.

In May, I wrote a post which I haven’t yet shared because it’s probably the most honest and vulnerable thing I’ve written over the years. It feels too much—maybe too raw or just too honest. This one’s a close second. But I keep coming back to it and thinking I should share because I know there are others out there feeling as I am.

So maybe that’s the point of this post: to put words to what I know some of my other single, roommateless, and sometimes family-less friends are feeling, too. And if you read this and can be the Middletons or the “Wildcats 4ever” text thread or my parents, cousin, and small group to someone out there struggling under intensified isolation, be the lifeline, the open door they may be desperate for.

Jesus is my Rock, this I know. And I have spent some intense time with Him and had some raw and frequent, guttural conversations with Him this year (I know that’s not really the right use of guttural, but words escape how to describe some of my prayers from the depths). He has reached down from on high to sustain me despite the isolation—something He knows more deeply and profoundly than I do. He has also extended these few lifelines to me this year, and I am profoundly grateful. If I ever recover enough of myself out of this, I hope to repay them in kind.