When I was in college I dreaded being alone. Each night I found myself without plans, without my boyfriend or roommates I silently sulked at the world. I was the poster girl for “Everyone’s Hanging Out Without Me”
It has taken me well into my 31st year to enjoy, or even seek out solitude. The solitude that I enjoy though is a far cry from the forced separation from friends and family that we have all grown to expect. I travelled by myself for the first time last fall, brought on by a continuing education conference I wanted to go to, and a desire to try out being alone for an extended time.
I exited the plane into the middle of a warm fish tank. The humidity instantly soaked my skin and forced my waist-length curls to stick to my shoulders and neck. I had chosen the Big Island of Hawai’i as my first solo adventure, her moon-like appearance the exact opposite from my lush Pacific Northwest home.
While travelling alone for nearly two weeks I settled into a happy rhythm. I woke to the still-cool breeze floating through my open windows, curtains fluttering and filling like sails. I read voraciously, unlike I have since I was a book-hungry teenager devouring texts as soon as I laid my hands upon them. Kona-grown coffee and freedom to do what I willed filled me with a buzz I have rarely experienced. I talked to myself, and strangers, often. I was assertive with my time, adventuring out to as many parts of the island I could get to. There was no one else there at the end of the day to decide if I had made my time worth it but me.
Then there are the unhappy alone times. The times when it seems as if the morning will never come, the strip has looked bad for hours, but not bad enough. Not good enough either. Worry and despair and exhaustion fill you in those dark alone times. Self-doubt, anxiety, imposter syndrome creep into the tired recesses of your brain. You’re never truly alone but the weight of decisions, the feeling in the room all relies on your skill. Your skill to appropriately calm those who need calming or to subtly raise the hairs on the backs of the necks of those who might need more prompting that things are not all right.
All you have to rely on is your own instincts. At the deep, dark, end of the day, I can honestly say that my gut has never been wrong. Have I always listened to that gnawing feeling, that intuition which acts as my own internal compass? The times I haven’t I often come to regret it.
Is it easier to “go with the flow” and be reassured by things that shouldn’t be reassuring? Easier to watch the boat sail into choppy waters without raising a red flag, and risk being seen as the one being overly cautious or alarmist?
My last three months have been filled with wondering if the loneliness I feel is the right kind. The good, warm, sunshine soaked, self-directed alone or the terror of the dark night that doesn’t seem to end. Most of the time it has felt like a combination of the two. I knew prior to starting this new job, literally building up a clinic and midwifery team from swatches and threads, that it would be a challenge. I knew I would be pushed in ways I hadn’t yet experienced. I worried that now was not the time but feared that if I didn’t take this leap, this well-supported, encouraged leap, that I would always regret recoiling into safety.
I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime but many days feel crushed and terrified by the imposter syndrome living within that the day is soon coming where it is discovered that the Empress has no clothes. What lies ahead feels so big, so full of more growing pains but, pain, like in labor, that has a meaning, has a beauty and an instinct and a primal drive behind it.
I’ve been learning a new language and drinking from a fire hose and building a plane as its flying and telling myself I’m having type 2 fun. It’s been so easy to get bogged down in the weeds–how are we going to get sinks? Why is our electronic medical record not letting me send prescriptions? Why am I in so many god damned meetings?
It’s easy to drown. It’s easy to shrink away, to let the loneliness, the aloneness eat you up. But what the aloneness is making me do is lean hard on the support of midwives and doctors (ok, just the one doctor at my job, we all love you, Kate <3) that I trust implicitly. Being alone makes you strip down to brass tacks, sharpens and hones what is actually important and worth fighting for, worth raising the red flags for. Helps in determining what requires calling in the cavalry and the subtlety of compromise and building trust and teamwork.
I recently started re-reading The Martian, a nerdy deep dive into what it would take to get a single man off the surface of Mars and safely back to Earth. Our Martian was alone, but even in his aloneness, he had the whole world rooting for him and problem solving with him.
A few weeks ago I was talking out my fears, my loneliness, my trepidations with my mom as I walked down by Lake Washington. As the small waves lapped up on the retaining walls I recounted all the things that could go wrong, all the reasons why I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, all the stress and fear and everything that I was holding.
But what will happen if things go well? What if it works out, my wise mother asked me.
Well, I sheepishly state, in that case, in that case….I slip my sandals off and let my toes dive into surprisingly warm waters, in that case, we change the world.