My loneliness is killing me

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That a pop song by Britney Spears as seemingly vacuous as Hit Me Baby One More Time would have such an existential line in it says a lot about the ability of pop music to capture the human condition, even its darker moments. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about loneliness lately. I find myself struggling with some deep loneliness, mine however, isn’t born of lost love as Britney’s song seems to intimate, but rather is rooted in the major transitions I have made in my life over the past couple of years.

I made a conscious decision to uproot my life, to move away from a world that I had invested the bulk of my adult life in, in order to help with some pressing family issues and also to reframe my own life and sort of ‘start again.’ It’s something that I wanted and still want to do, and I knew it would heral a big change, and have emotional consequences, but I am not sure I was aware of just how big a change it would be nor how impactful it would be on my psyche.

Even though I have spent a lot of time before people-speaking, teaching, performing, I am essentially a person who thrives on being alone. I can get overwhelmed by people, even those I love deeply and being alone with myself has been a central part of my life. Most of the time I do not get lonely, I thrive on being alone and all the things it affords me, but I have found myself struggling with a deep loneliness since I made my moves. There are lots of reasons for my current state, both internal and external, and, I imagine, a lot of remedies for it as well, but I have yet to find them. I know it’s a situational and hopefully temporary state to find myself in, which consoles a little, but when loneliness invades it can be difficult to remind oneself of that. I haven’t really felt the need to speak about this much, and I’m not looking for sympathy, in fact, I’m only addressing it because of Nick Cave. I received Issue #61 of his Red Hand Files in my email inbox this morning and it addressed, via a fan’s question, the very issue that I have been wrestling with, so I thought I would postCave’s eloquent response to a person who echoed the cry of many about being alone and dealing with loneliness.

How long will I be alone?

LIII, KRAKOW, POLAND

Dear Liii,

I am sorry I have taken so long to answer this question. You sent it to The Red Hand Files almost nine months ago and I have carried it with me all this time, wanting to answer, but never quite knowing how. I think this little question has stayed with me, not just because of the lovely beat of pathos in it, but also because of its extraordinary existential reach. It seemed that it spoke to all of us, yet it felt simply beyond me to answer. 

Aloneness and loneliness are two very different things, of course. I spend much of my time alone; I always have. I have learnt that being alone, as bereft as it perhaps feels to some, is busy with meaning and disclosure. For me, it is an essential place that intensifies the essence of oneself, in all its rampant need. It is the site of demons and sudden angels and raw truths; a quiet, haunted place and a place of unforeseen understandings. A place of unmasking and unveiling. It can be industrious or melancholic or frightening, sometimes all at the same time, yet within it there is a feeling of a latent promise that holds great power. Like Jesus praying alone in the garden, or Mary Magdalene alone at the mouth of Christ’s tomb, aloneness holds moments that tremble on the brink of revelation and great change.

And then there is loneliness, which is aloneness without choice, an enforced condition that yearns for recognition, to be seen and to be heard. This brave and unguarded admission appears to be the aching heart of your question. As I sat on the plane travelling to Reykjavik for the last show of my ‘In Conversation’ tour, I felt suddenly that there was something I could say to you. Having spent much time travelling on this tour alone, it struck me that your question didn’t have to be answered, but simply acknowledged; that to reach out to you, as you reached out to me, could in itself be the answer and, perhaps, a remedy – to say to you, you are not alone, we are here, and that we, a multitude, are thinking of you. 

Love, Nick

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