I’ve been here before, this hollow even God cannot reach.
I’ve sat in bed at night staring at the wall, wiping away tears that seemingly come out of nowhere. They fall sometimes over spilt milk, literally. Or a photo on social media of friends out to dinner. The dresses in my closet I don’t wear anymore. The empty house that creaks like my worn-out joints.
It’s not the same loneliness that took over my spirit as a child and a young teen, when fear over my sexual orientation made it impossible for me to live without a mask that made it difficult to breathe. Without armor that made me walk with a stunted gait. Without weaponry that turned me into a cold-blooded monster.
But this is loneliness, nonetheless, because chronic pain isolates. It dismembers. It shames.
Once I exorcised my crippling anxiety regarding being queer as an adult, I never thought this type of humiliating loneliness would ever haunt me again. “I’ve tackled this,” I told myself throughout my mid- and late twenties. “I’ve moved on. I love myself.”
Then my body turned into a guest who crashes your house and refuses to leave. The windows shuttered and fogged over. The doors locked, the key thrown away.
I was quickly taken hostage, and it wasn’t long before the cruelty of hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome turned me into wallpaper as I faded into the background of my own existence.
Six years later, here I remain, a vague memory locked inside the mind of a dementia patient.
Feeling lost to myself is one thing, but feeling forgotten by and lost to friends and family as a result of chronic isolation makes me feel more pathetic than a man with a cold. It vomits up the grotesque emotion of envy, that puss-filled zit that only spreads with each attempt at release.
But denial is uglier, and the first step to healing is admission, and I can no longer pretend I don’t feel exactly that, even if shame comes along with the package and I have to face it — like I did while coming out — all over again.
I have to admit that, yes, I am envious of couples who have a partner to lean on during the holidays. I am envious of friends who seem to be just fine without me. I am envious of colleagues achieving professional milestones I used to dream of. I am envious of people who don’t wake up every day dreading the mundane acts of living.
Some of those folks walking past my secluded hut and peering inside might say I have no one to blame but myself for my isolation, and maybe they’re right. But I’ve endured enough self-loathing to know it’s no cure. It is a disease that only brings further dis-ease.
Yet isn’t that exactly what this is? Hulking, drowning, debilitating, humiliating. Shame and self-loathing are just two sides of the same rusty coin.
I used to pride myself in being independent. I was always good at being alone. In many ways, it is still my preference, but only when I have a choice.
My chronic pain has left me without the ability to make decisions in relation to nearly every aspect of my life — when and if I shower, what and if I eat, where and when I work — including socializing and romance.
Knowing I desire connection and comfort but have very little of it to give back results in deep embarrassment, like when you’re so hungry your stomach growls louder than a hurricane wind and everyone hears it.
“I’m fine,” you say, laughing through the reddening of your face. “I just need lunch.”
But lunch is a buffet line that requires a ticket you cannot afford and mobility that was lost, like your social circle, long ago.
Good thing there’s takeout, though the food is cold by the time it arrives, and there’s no one around to split dessert.
Nights like these I tell myself that Jesus Christ scorned the shame of the cross, so I, too, should scorn the shame of my chronic pain. I should look at my scars and know they have no power. I should be grateful that my body, bruised and broken as it may be, still functions at all.
I’m not there yet. I am still on my knees, glancing upward, waiting for my strength to arrive.
But I’ve been here before, this hollow even God cannot reach. And I know there is light, somewhere, up above.