You learn a lot from being alone. A LOT.
Having spent nearly an entire year somewhere between housebound and having limited mobility due to a reoccurring leg injury, and while I continue to write this, I am still mostly housebound due to having surgery only yesterday, I can share my thoughts with the reality of isolation still raw and fresh.
Now, to clarify, I am an independent person. I live alone, and I have no issue with spending time in my own company. But I have never been in the situation whereby I am alone for significant periods of time against my own choice. I have never had the choice of being in someone’s company removed, nor have I ever been in the situation where I did not have the freedom to change my situation if I so wished.
Having these freedoms removed has been a huge learning experience, and not an easy one.
Now, to clarify, yes – I have friends, loved ones, and those dear to me. And these people have helped me get through my darkest days. They have brushed my bed-hair as I lay crying. They have got me drunk. They have taken me out, they have been present for me, they made me laugh when I hadn’t spoken for days. But they cannot be around me 24/7. And, yes – the cliché of people disappearing from your life when things are tough is indeed true. The past year has been a very good vetting service to discover who I am truly loved by, and who just hung around during the convenient fair-weather times of an evening at Wetherspoons.
I have heard now too many times “I’ll be there for you”, when in fact it was an empty assurance. I have been let down, disappointed by, and been forgotten by people whom I cared for, or whom I thought cared for me.
When whole seasons of the year come and go, when your local bus route changes and you don’t even know, and when you forget what it is like to walk in the park with sunshine on your shoulders, there’s a feeling for that which I have never had before. It’s combination between feeling like your life is a dream, and having your chest fill with hot pins of desperation which prick you as you breath in from the frustration of it all.
Think of the scene in Aliens where Ripley and Newt are stuck in the Med Bay with the face-huggers. Ripley is banging on the bulletproof glass, screaming inside the room for help, but from the outside, she is silent. Frantic, but silent. That’s how it felt on the difficult days. You feel powerless.
However, I am always one to find an upside to things, even if it isn’t in the immediate situation, and this past year has indeed been a learning experience for me. One which has forced me to discover the positives.
Firstly – I know I haven’t lost my identity, despite the situation. I am still the person from a year ago. This perhaps hasn’t always helped, because the person from a year ago (and now) is energetic, sociable, and outgoing. I just haven’t been able to always act on it. But this past year has taught me that situation does not define ‘self’. That part is untouchable, and I am now more sure of myself than I was a year ago. Even though it has been harder, I have still made moments happen. I have moved forward, and I have grown. The sense of momentum which I feel inside now is significant.
I have learned to cope with disappointment. This has ranged from cancelled holidays and missed one-off events, to simple nights out or just having the freedom go to the cinema. I have never been one to suffer from ‘FOMO’, but when there is a good 60% chance that most of London is probably having a better time than you, even if it is just having the freedom to browse the cheese aisle at the local supermarket, it does cut you a bit. Okay, it cuts a hell of a lot actually. But disappointment doesn’t end things. It just fuels the fire. That good heat which you feel that makes you more determined. I have that a lot now. I am now full Phoenix.
I have learned patience beyond measure. Now to start with I am the sort of person who can wait the full allotted defrost time of a Super Mouse before eating it. I was born in the Seventies. When I was a teenager, we had to wait upwards of TWO YEARS to be able to rent a VHS of a movie after its cinema release. And then there wouldn’t be any VHS’s left to rent in the store, and I’d walk home with just a packet of Ringos and the fortitude to return the next day in the hope that I could rent Robocop. I can bide time like a trooper, trust me. I once waited a whole year to send an email. But there have been days where time froze, and where I didn’t know how I could find the patience to wait another month before my next hospital appointment, or if I had a setback, how I could wade out the time to get stronger. But I did, I have, and I will continue to do so.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Tolstoy wisely stated. True that. And I am a Warrior Phoenix.
I’ve learned that jobs don’t define you. I have been unemployable as an actor for a year now. I have been booked in for jobs that I have had to pull out from. I have been this close to getting roles of my childhood acting dreams, and I have not been able to proceed. But I’m still the same person. The fact that I am getting these opportunities shows that I am no less capable. It is just a case of circumstances. I have learned that the right kind of opportunities will remain out there for you. Nothing is lost, or too late. It’s all in the future, after all.
Conversely, I’ve learned what to avoid in the future. I always wondered how it was possible for seemingly savvy people to fall off the radar. Turns out – it’s very easy. After a while you lose contact with the routine and reality of the outside world. Days blend together, and after experiencing a spell of agoraphobia earlier this year – something I never expected – I have a fuller understanding of how vulnerable or older people can slip into a life of fireside crosswords and getting surrounded by unopened junk mail. That will now never happen to me. I’ve had a glimpse of a possible future. Old Rosemary is going to be out there. Doing stuff noisily.
I’ve learned more than ever that we don’t NEED people, but the good people in my life I know now I don’t want to live without. Nobody is unbreakable, and nobody is infallible, myself included, and the people who have, and continue to be there for me, and those who have found their way more in to my life, and added colour to it, I treasure. All we have in life are people. It is a simple as that. People give life texture and depth. They give us challenges, surprises, joy, stupidity, release, and dreams. They are the sparkly thread which ties us together. And they have a place in the meaty ticking organ which sits within the mediastinum of my chest cavity.
Finally, I’ve learned that I am stronger than I ever knew. I have been told recently how strong I am. I have only ever viewed my strength from the inside. The side with my messy thoughts flying around. The side with first person perspective emotions. The side which is tired, and the side which is in pain. But to be told that I am strong, even if I am being told so whilst in a literal horizontal position (possibly with tears) has meant so much. We can become blind inside to things, and sometimes we feel weaker than we are. But I am seeing now that I am stronger than before. Strong Warrior Phoenix.
Despite this past year, and whatever may be still ahead, I know I have remained true to myself. I have learned that I am more vulnerable than I previously permitted myself to be, but also stronger than I ever imagined I was capable. Being alone can be difficult, but what has changed is my appreciation of the significance of it. Place or displace us anywhere. Remove our choices. We are still the same person. We are still visible, and we are still beautiful.
Oh, and I have played a lot of Playstation. That’s another thing.