Today I've been musing on the difference between solitude and loneliness. I believe solitude is a positive experience. I have always loved being by myself. I never get lonely or bored. I enjoy my own company. For me, time alone is a time for growth and reflection; my thoughts are free to roam hither and yon with no one putting a kibosh on them. Solitude promotes feelings of joy and serenity. However, because I am a sharer, I do not want to be alone too long or too often, or my brain will explode with all the thoughts I want to share and get some feedback on, but some alone time definitely uplifts my spirits.
Loneliness, on the other hand, crushes my spirit. Loneliness is the flip side of solitude. It is a painful aloneness. I've found that the loneliest place can be, paradoxically, when I am with someone.
And I think that I've finally figured out why. Our family's current situation results in me spending much too much time at home alone with my husband who has dementia. Dementia destroys the possibility of meaningful interaction; there can be no sharing, no connection, no shared laughter. Yet, because my husband sits in a chair in the living room or at the dinner table, there is the presumption that the possibility of meaningful interaction can occur. So, night after night, I feel a desperate, despairing loneliness when I want to share a thought, or a comment about our children, or a laugh at something on TV, but I can't share because my husband sits in his own world, uninterested in and often oblivious to my world. When it is just the two of us, our house is no longer a home. It is a lonely, empty, hollow shell.
I often feel like running from the house like Edvard Munch's screamer, channeling Conrad's Kurtz's "the horror, the horror." But I don't. Instead, I try valiantly to find slivers of solitude in the unbearable loneliness, slivers that will keep me going until one of my children or friends walks through my door, and all my thoughts, ideas, and feelings that I've been storing up can pour forth and be shared. In that moment of sharing, loneliness is vanquished, and our house once again becomes a home that is full of love and laughter and connection.
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