A few months ago I was standing in the kitchen at work during an organisational wide meeting. It had been a hectic few weeks. I had come out of a particularly busy period in work and had been on the road alot. We had been evicted (for the second time in 15 months) and moved house within a 9 day window. A long standing former colleague had passed away tragically, and while I did not know her well, the atmosphere in work was heavy with grief and loss. My Mam had been in hospital for 10 days.
I was tired, the kind of tired where my skin felt stretched too tight and my legs felt like they had lead weights hanging off them.
I was overcome by the urge to just lean on someone.My whole body ached to just feel the support of another body. I side-eyed my colleague standing beside me and figured he might think it a bit odd if I just leaned my whole body weight on him..
So I stood there in my too-tight skin, and took the creeping question about when exactly I might have someone to lean on and packed it away in the box of feelings I keep somewhere in my chest.
I remember walking home some days during the referendum campaign when I would be overwhelmed with exhaustion to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure if my legs would keep going. I’d look down at the footpath and want to lie down on it, to feel its solidity hold me up. More than once, I stopped and leaned against a wall for a few minutes. I don’t think that type of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, laced with stress and fear and a kind of frantic activity was in any way unique to me at that time.It would have been stressful and terrifying and exhausting any which way because it was a version of that for everyone. But I think there were days when coming home to a hug could have eased some of the rigid physical tension out of me. Hugs release endorphins, they are soothing, they tell us we are safe. There’s a reason why tiny babies love cuddles and what are we only grown up versions of our newborn selves. An intimate and trusted physical presence would not have made the campaign, or indeed its aftermath, less awful but it would have eased the weight a little.
Being single is tinged with a lacking in many ways; a lack of someone to wake up with, someone to go for autumn strolls with, someone to cook breakfast with, someone to call with good news or bad news, someone to watch the evening draw in with, someone to bring you tea in bed, someone to argue with over what to have for dinner. Being the only single person at a social event or work meeting or family event, smiling along to other peoples’ big life news, has become pretty normal but I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t also become pretty tired.
The small things all add up. Wanting to be able to put my head on someone’s chest and know that I’m not alone. Having someone put their arm around my shoulders while I talk about whatever happened during my day. A familiar arm around my waist in the early morning. They may not seem like the biggest deal, but I certainly feel their absence.
There is an emotional, mental and practical undertow to an intimate and trusted physical presence. Knowing that whatever is going on, they will listen and take your side and bring you tea. Knowing that no matter how terrible other people might think you are, there is one person who thinks you’re great. One person who will be your cheerleader and your critic. One person who will look after you if you’re sick. One person saying ‘It’s ok, I’m here’.
I’ve gotten pretty good at locking away the feelings that lurk in the darker, lonelier corners, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping the lid on that box I keep somewhere in my chest. I don’t know if I can ever take those things out of the box. I don’t know if it’ll just be me, every morning, for the rest of my life. I don’t know if all the words and hopes and love I want to share will have to stay locked away. I don’t know if I will ever have someone to lean on when the weight feels heavy. So I make sure the lid stays on tight and try not to think about it too much.
And I’m supposed to ‘be fine’ on my own, embrace my freedom, cherish the little things, appreciate my wonderful pals, practice gratitude, make my own damn tea. And believe me, I do all of these things. But I still want someone to cuddle, I still want someone to share Sunday mornings with, I still want hugs, I still want to wake up with someone I care about, I still want to know I am someone’s priority, I still want a body to lean into when my own strength is failing me. And I want to be those things for someone else. Because I am human and that is how I am designed.
This is what comes out now when I sit down to write. I guess we write what we know, what is real for us at a given time, we let little bits of ourselves out onto through our words. I can only write what is true for me, in the full knowledge that everyone’s truth is different. Owning your truth, whatever that may be, embracing your authenticity and your vulnerability can be a truly powerful and subversive thing. Telling a bunch of people on the internet that I had to convince myself not to randomly lean on a colleague shouldn’t feel hopeful – but it kinda does.