Being unaccounted for during the month our peers are coming together is against the natural order of things. To them, we are the aberration straying from the centre. To ourselves, we are the centre everyone is straying from, as if declared unworthy of attention by common consent.
During the space of a few weeks, familiar landmarks lose their meaning, familiar faces may transmogrify into perfect strangers who vaguely look like people we know but behave quite unlike them. Or sometimes, the landmarks no longer exist and there are no people; everything is empty, hollow.
But you are here, the beats of your heart are filling your body and mind with life even when it feels like you’re glued to the spot and unsure about where to go or what to do. December is the one time of year when you can stay put yet feel utterly lost and adrift, especially if yours are non-standard circumstances. There are many for whom the end of the year spells utter dread but those emotions are generally kept under wrap.
There’s always been something vaguely shameful and taboo about loneliness and this gets much worse during the holidays; loneliness becomes a black mark against our character, proof to some that we’re somehow failing at being fully human.
If this is what’s happening to you, know you are neither alone in going through this nor invisible and certainly not unlovable in the least.
Isolation happens at all levels of society around the world and it will keep happening as long as we refuse to tackle it, together. Because making loneliness history is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of those society overlooks or leaves behind.
Society is no more abstract than loneliness; much as society is us, loneliness is us too, leading parallel lives.
A culture that relentlessly promotes individualism over the common good is one where lives only intersect for transactional purposes. Capitalism has elevated greed to a virtue and servicing it by any means necessary hasn’t only become acceptable but laudable.
Online, nothing gets people drooling faster than paycheck porn, for example. Bragging about how much one earns or has is now a niche of its own, a lucrative one because greed is seemingly self-perpetuating.
Transposed to human relationships, this formula has led to the commodification of everything, including emotions which are being used to sell us all kinds of consumer goods and services. For example, this is why nostalgia marketing works so well with those who long to recapture happier times.
During the festive season, greed gets out of control, bloating bodies and minds while lonely hearts continue to starve. To hunger for a crumb of human warmth, a crumb of thoughtfulness, a crumb of kindness when everyone around you is feasting on indulgence and excess is a singular form of torture.
It is also difficult to address on your own but not altogether impossible.
You’re the only one who can never leave you behind, even though that’s scant comfort and you still can’t hug yourself. While self-care has become yet another commercial catchphrase to justify the purchase of things that can never palliate the absence of human warmth, it does work when framed as self-compassion.
Taking stock of your circumstances without attempting to put any spin on them or dismiss them can actually help you weather them. Accept that the holiday season will happen regardless of how you feel about it then start making plans that work for you.
Disappearing into work is my favorite way of coping with everything life throws at me because writing is vocation and I process life in print; in this respect, I am uncommonly lucky. Putting things down on paper can take self-inquiry to the next level and help you gain much-needed critical distance. If a problem shared is a problem halved, it also applies when your one confidant is the page rather than another human.
And when you decide to share your writing online, chances are it’ll resonate with at least one other person, thus alleviating loneliness a little. The act of writing is an underrated and accessible way of conjuring up clarity on complex issues; it’s also the way I’ve been rebuilding a life word by word since July 2018 and it has changed everything.
Words are how we humans connect and everyone has something to say, including — and especially — those who feel cut off from the world around them for any reason. It was my situation when I started putting pen to paper again after my writing voice disappeared for five years and it no longer is even though the festive season remains a complicated time for me.
So how about opening a blank document, pouring your mind out on the page so the harried heart might stand a chance of survival when the two meet in print?
It can take a while but they will sooner or later and you will feel different afterward because writing is one of the ways the mind sifts through the detritus of pain and transforms it, one narrative nugget at a time. You can then shape them together into a small jewel that reflects light and leave it right here, hoping its glow makes someone else feel seen.
Because writing is alchemy.
No one ever tells us that hope is messy, inconvenient, contrary and difficult to corral and even more difficult to hold on to because otherwise there’d be nothing to carry us when we need it most. Hope is but another name for love when applied to life in general, it guides us through darkness until we come through the other side a little dazed.
And dazzled by the light we never expected to see again because everything changes. All the platitudes are absolutely true and the most simplistic ones read like prophecies. In a month, the festive season will be a receding memory.
Whatever hinders you right now will morph. It may intensify for a while or go away or become something else altogether: a form of understanding.
We detangle mental knots out loud in print, one line, one poem, one essay at a time, teasing out knowledge from the most traumatic of lessons so we may commit them to memory.
Please do take heart. As per German philosopher and social critic Theodor W. Adorno,“To those who no longer have a homeland, writing becomes home.”
What better way is there to transcend exile, alienation, isolation, and even rejection or abandonment? When we make the page our home, we never again have to question where we belong, be it during the holiday season or at others times of the year. Why not dive into your emotions and see what comes out? Whatever writing format you choose, chances are innate human creativity can transform them into something else, art even.
Writing is a gift not just to ourselves but to others because it is how we build bridges between us and eventually find greater ease, one word at a time.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.