I’ve known loneliness for years now but there is one night in particular back in the summer of 2014 that sticks in my memory. My life seemed a bit discombobulated at the time – I wasn’t getting a lot of work, I’d recently moved and things weren’t really slotting into place. And it was one of those evenings – I was out at dinner but wasn’t really connecting with the people around me and didn’t feel very listened to. I said goodbye and cycled over to see some newish friends in a pub but it was too late, I was slipping away and those stories were coming home to roost. The stories of how I had no friends, that I was pointless and worthless, that what I was doing wasn’t really contributing to anything and that I wasn’t living the glamorous 20s lifestyle I was supposed to be. The stories were coming and the cracks were opening. So I left the pub, got on my bike and cycled away.
But for the first time in a long time I did something different. I sang. I just started singing nonsense rhymes as I cycled, not because I’m much of a singer but because I wanted to block out the stories. I wanted to stop them creeping in and making themselves at home. So many times before those stories had destabilised me and often tipped me into periods of depression. I sang to stop myself from thinking. I got back to the random little house I was lodging in and got ready for bed. And there, in the bathroom, I felt something well up inside of me. It wasn’t a story because it wasn’t coming from my head instead it was a feeling in my chest. It felt like an emptiness, it was bleak and desolate, growing between the cracks, and slowly it pushed its way up from my heart and that’s when I started to cry. I cried a lot and hugged myself too as I washed my tears down the sink with toothpaste and Listerine. The feeling bloomed and I knew what it was – loneliness.
I thought I’d share this experience because I think that was the first time I ever psychologically and physically held myself through loneliness. Rather than just let it overwhelm me and flood me with its stories I acknowledged the feeling underneath. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, not at all, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it was a feeling rather than a fact. And to let myself feel it, rather than push it away or succumb to its stories, felt like an achievement of sorts, as lonely as it was. This was by no means the end of the story, things didn’t magically get better and I didn’t suddenly feel fine. I’d need much support from my friends and family (and for once I had the guts to ask for it) and I would need to start slowly, slowly changing the things in my life that were bringing me down. I started with those oft-repeated stories, the ones that thrive off the potent and powerful emptiness of the feeling of loneliness. I had to keep reminding myself that they weren’t true and that I wasn’t worthless. But I guess the real reason I’m sharing this experience is that I’ve heard many people tell me that they fear loneliness. And, yes, it is not something nice and for many it is devastating and can’t just be witnessed and ameliorated. However, for others including myself, it is a feeling and it does pass. And it’s also perfectly normal, a part of all of our lives, and that’s why I was very proud of myself that night I met my loneliness. And now for a suitably melancholic song from Regina Spektor’s new album (yup, I’m just trying to get her to retweet me, one day).
Britain doesn’t strike me as a very happy place at the moment. For example, you might not have read that burger chain Byron regularly employs staff who do not have the correct documentation with regards their migrant status and then recently ran a fake training event at which the same staff were met by immigration officers and deported. It seems Byron is more than happy to have its burger and eat it when it comes to exploiting a cheap and vulnerable workforce and then getting rid of them should the government decide to ‘crack down’. However, what you may have read is that following the deportations a group of activists protested outside Bryon in London and threw cockroaches, locusts and crickets into the restaurant. They apologised for any “irritation” caused but said “we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment.”
It’s a funny world when deportations only get news coverage once swarms of locusts are involved but then it’s also a world where we prioritise cheap burgers over human rights. Of course, it’s not actually funny, it’s tragic. The political-economic system we live under, namely consumer capitalism, encourages us to be self-interested and self-absorbed and to spend more time consuming stuff rather than building meaningful relationships. Now, I’m not judging anyone for doing this, I do it all the time and, until recently, was a fan of Byron’s burgers. But what also annoys me is when people try to justify this lifestyle. For example, I’m often told that the system is like this because human nature is inherently selfish. Oh! So suddenly everyone is an expert in psychology and knows the fundamental motivations of the human being? Actually no, human nature is not merely one thing but a diversity of drives, motivations, conditions, genes, hormones etc, many of which we know nothing or little about. I’d say if anything were inherently selfish it’s capitalism – I mean, Diet Coke or Coke Zero is presented as a dilemma whilst trampling on someone’s human rights isn’t.
So, yeah, of course it’s annoying to have a whole bunch of crickets hopping over your chips but what’s worse is how we treat each other so the food can get on the table in the first place (and even if Bryon are being honest, which I doubt, when they say the relevant members of staff used forged documentation, they are still very much part of the exploitative system). Our everyday world of consumerism is completely untenable – it is built on historic and present legacies of exploitation and abuse, and it’s undermining the future. It is unjustifiable however we try to rationalise it. But I’m not writing this to try to make you feel guilty. I regularly consume but one thing I don’t do is pretend I can justify it. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d be a vegan human rights activist and I hope one day I get there but in the meantime I would urge us to reprioritise. I dare you to forego that burger and go join that protest instead. I dare you to step outside of your usual social groups and make some new friends. I dare you to get beyond the repressive and limited conditioning of our society and explore more of your human nature. And you can do that tonight at 6.30pm outside the Byron at Holborn. Facebook event details here!
This is episode two in my series about apologies. A quick re-cap from the previous episode: we’ve let one of our friends down by flaking on an event of theirs and we feel bad about it. We’re now building ourselves up to an apology. Yet it turns out there are an awful lot of different ways to say sorry and how we do it defines what sort of apologiser we are. Read on for a list of said apologisers…
The One In Denial: Many of us really don’t enjoy feeling bad and that feeling of regret we have can prove very difficult. We just want the feeling to go away and to not have to deal with it. So, we do our best to ignore the feeling and pretend it’s not there. We push it deep down into the recesses of our subconscious to let it fester with other negative feelings that live there just waiting for the day they can break free and cause chaos. However, in failing to acknowledge the feeling we will also fail to realise we’ve upset our friend (or we’ll just pretend we haven’t) and so we won’t end up apologising. Meanwhile, our friend’s feeling of sadness will never be allowed to heal and that too will fester into resentment. There’s no chance for closure and that pretty much guarantees a bigger bust up somewhere later down the line. Good luck.
The Defensive One: It’s not just that we regret what we’ve done it’s that we feel guilty about it and many of us don’t just dislike feeling guilty we actively hate it. Of course, this feeling of guilt is perfectly normal – it’s just our body/mind’s way of telling us that we haven’t behaved optimally, we’ve caused some social disruption and we need to do something about it to patch things up. But rather than see guilt as an emotional call to action we see it is a threat. And when threatened our defences go up. Yet defences are designed to protect us from stuff outside and even though this feeling is inside us we’ll look for the source of the problem external to us. What we find is our friend and when they want to breach the subject of our ‘flaking’ rather than take responsibility for our actions we project our feeling of guilt at our friend. They become the problem because they’re making us feel bad about ourselves and we lash out at them. We dredge up all those past grievances and the times they’ve let us down and hurl them at our friend just to hide our own bad behaviour. So we upset our friend and give ourselves something else to apologise for!
OK, I’ve realised the first two apologisers in my list are both examples of people who don’t say sorry, so technically they’re not actually apologisers. I’m sorry if I gave you false expectations. Actually no, I’m not, deal with it. But hopefully it’s clear that denial and defensiveness are no great paths to apology success. The next episode will focus on the infamous over-apologiser, the one who says sorry almost at the start of every sentence. In the meantime here’s Bieber having a shot at saying sorry (and getting paid millions to do so, well done him), although I’m not 100% sure he means it.
Do you struggle with the S Word? Or does it come easy and you find yourself saying sorry almost every other sentence? Yup, it’s my post about the word ‘sorry’ and it’s been a long time coming. So, I’m sorry it’s late…or am I? It’s also going to be more than one post because when I started writing I realised that apologies are quite a big deal. So, I’m sorry for the length…or am I? But seriously, have you noticed how much we say sorry these days? We say sorry for being late, sorry for taking so long to text back, sorry for wanting to pass someone on the street and sorry for flaking. But what actually do we mean when we say sorry and why do we do it so much?
To avoid any confusion I’ll start with some dictionary definitions. Firstly, sorry: “feeling regret or pentinence”. And regret basically means feeling sad or bad about something and pentinence is “the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong.” In other words it’s another word for apology – “a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure.” Boiling it all down it goes a little like this: we’ve let someone down, say we flaked on an event they’d organised, and now we feel bad about it. What normally ensues is an apology but before we move on I just want to focus on this feeling.
Not many people like to feel bad unless, of course, you’re a masochist. But that’s another blog. It’s a visceral feeling of unease that sits somewhere in our body and I think it’s composed of at least one major ingredient: guilt. We’re feeling guilty because we know we’ve let someone down. Our action (or, in the case of flaking, lack of action) has resulted in a sub-optimal state of affairs and may well have upset our friend. We’re feeling the regret and it’s not a very pleasant sensation. However, it’s what happens next, it’s what we choose to do about that feeling that is crucial and defines whether or not, when we say sorry, we actually mean it. Blog number two will take a closer look at the act of apologising and all the different types of sorry-sayers there are out there, y’know, the ones that say sorry waaay too much, the ones that don’t say it enough, the ones that get all defensive and angry, and many more. In the meantime here’s Blue and Elton John struggling with the S word.