As of Saturday, April 30th, 2016, I will be 40 years old. I’m right where I always thought I would be: I have left behind two great teaching jobs over the past two years because my fragile brain can’t keep pace anymore with the energy of people half my age; I have been forced to leave behind the home of my dreams for something more modest…something I could afford what with all this leaving of jobs; my wife has gone back to work to help us survive; and I moved out of my house for six months of the past year, probably leaving my kids with some confusion and a scar or two…Just how I dreamed it up!
But despite all of this recent trauma of late, most troubling of all, I’m still scared of the dark. At age 40.
So after the separation, my wife and I are trying again. One of the things we’re working at is intentionally spending more time just the two of us. Kids, after all, make meaningful conversations impossible. I swear, some couples must go 20 years without actually talking to each other while they’re raising kids.
Last weekend, as a surprise for my upcoming 40th, Ann arranged for us to go up to Lake Hartwell for two nights away while her parents were in town and could keep the kids. I grew up going to the lake in the summers, and it is, without question, my happiest place on earth. This particular rental place was rather out of the way, and getting to the house required driving past many, well, to put it politely, very run down mobile meth labs. I mean homes. Sorry, I’ve been binge watching Breaking Bad.
Truth be told, I got a bit concerned about where we were going after we hadn’t passed a lawn without a wheel-less car for seven miles. I know, I know, I’m making terrible assumptions about people with rebel flag covered windows and “Guns don’t kill people; I kill people” bumper stickers on their cars, but remember: I’m a liberal, so I make these sort of unfair judgments about people. I mean really, just look at the unfair things the liberal media is saying about Donald Trump for proof that liberals just aren’t fair to conservatives.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was a little worried that Ann had rented us some sleeping bags under a holey tarp when we finally found our weekend home. It was very nice after all: two bedrooms; one bathroom; clean…just the right amount of cabin/real home mixture. And a spectacular view of the lake.
As soon as we walked in the door, we dropped the bags, looked at each other with that “game on” look in our eyes, and did what any couple who was finally kid-free-for-the-first-time-in-forever would do: we opened a bottle of wine and drank the entire thing.
But back to being scared of the dark…When it came time to turn in for the night, it hit me how physically far from anything familiar I was. We weren’t quite Bear Grylls out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, but I was grateful that I knew how to skin a deer and make a delicious stew out of its spleen thanks to Mr. Grylls, just in case. At my real home, I know my neighbors and could walk to 50 people’s homes I know before starving to death. Here, on the other hand, I wasn’t entirely confident I was still in Georgia, or North America. I’m not great with directions to begin with, and we had taken the scenic route to get there, so there was literally no chance I could drive myself out of there on my own. Cell phone service was non-existent, so as I lay there trying to fall asleep, I couldn’t comfort myself with useless news or scrolling through Facebook. I remembered what it was like to be a little kid, lying awake in the dark, 100% sure that I’d be dead in some horrific way by morning.
The thing is, I didn’t actually feel alone or frightened. Instead, in that moment of uncomfortable, overwhelming solitude, I was entirely comforted by the simple fact that Ann was there too, even though she was sound asleep. And then something truly fundamental to my human existence struck me: It literally only takes ONE other person to alleviate someone’s loneliness.
There I was – truly in the middle of nowhere, essentially alone and isolated from anything familiar. But right next to me was just ONE person who knew me, who cared about me, who would know where to look for my body if went out looking for the source of the banjo music and never came back. I’m sure of this: had I been literally alone, I wouldn’t have slept too well that night. I’m not really all that scared of the dark (I lied earlier for literary effect), but I’m scared as hell of loneliness…of isolation. If I had to lie there truly alone in that strange house, deep in the woods, far from everything I’m familiar with, I would’ve slept like a baby…with colic.
And I realized that I had the perfect metaphor for what this blog is about: it’s about helping to alleviate the worst of all human burdens: loneliness. In this case, I’m interested in specifically addressing the loneliness created by mental illness, as it just so happens to be THE raging reason I have suffered from excruciating loneliness throughout my life. If it were up to me, we’d all just naturally care for each other even when everything was hunky dorey…it would just be a part of the human fabric to stick together whether things were good or bad. Sadly, humans aren’t very good at the sticking together when things are good part, and it takes tough times to remind us to keep giving those hugs. Another way of putting it is this: It takes poop to make fertilizer (sorry, but FB won’t publish these with naughty words, so you’re getting a somewhat-less-than-intellectually-honest version of foul-mouthed me). And the poop of both mental illness and loneliness have fertilized in me a desire to help others feel less alone – to be someone who lets them know they’re not alone…or, better yet, just helps them find that one person. It doesn’t have to be me. Maybe it’s you.
And that’s what I want this blog to be about – connecting those of us who have suffered from the loneliness inflicted by the illnesses in our brains. We need each other, and I want to provide a way for us to connect.
So, drumroll please…I’d like to formally announce this: At the beginning of this post, I wasn’t just complaining about my job status…I was foreshadowing (see, I’ve taught English for 20 years, and it’s hard to stop doing English teacher-y things). I am currently without a formal job, but I’ve invented one: I am going to start a non-profit organization called To Know We Are Not Alone. On top of continuing to write, I would like to begin doing more speaking (anyone out there need a speaker sometime soon?), and I will be developing both online and face-to-face resources where people who suffer from any and all mental illnesses can find each other and feel a little (or a ton) less alone in the battle. I am also hard at work on creating a podcast…should have it out early next week. Otherwise, in the coming weeks and months, I’ll add addendums to my posts to let you know what’s going on. For now, if you’d like to send me a check for $5,000 or even just send me a word of advice or encouragement, I’d certainly welcome it.
Oh, and please make checks out to Tim Blue since I don’t have an official entity called To Know We Are Not Alone just yet.
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