You Are Not Alone.
Yes, the title of this post was inspired by one of my all time favourite Michael Jackson songs.
It has definitely been a long time since I have written a deep and meaningful blog post – that is not to say that I have not thought about deep issues, no. In fact, my mind is constantly deconstructing the things that I encounter to seek meaning. Whether it be body language, speech, actions or a series of events – through observation and careful attention to the smaller details, one can begin to learn about his or her surroundings
and the futility of life. Constantly deconstructing. Please, make it stop!!
Anyway, my insanity is not what I wanted to write about.
Yesterday began just like any other day, yet a number of things happened that really intrigued me. The context is this: When times are bad, we often think that no one else around us knows what it feels like to experience the things we are going through, no one else can relate to the emotional roller-coaster we are being taken on, not even my best friends will truly be able to empathise with the hard times and confrontations I encounter, no one is like me. I am alone. Everyone reacts differently. Some will talk (and talk and talk and talk) to others until they are absolutely certain that they have adequately transmitted the experience of their highs and lows on to their unsuspecting friends. Others disappear from social interaction altogether, preferring to deal with it themselves (or not really having any hope in finding someone who will be able to relate to them). The reasons for each of these approaches differ, but that too, is a topic for another blog post. Meet the friend, the cousin and the stranger.
I met up with a friend for lunch yesterday. A friend I had not seen for over a year and a half. It was a pleasant time spent chatting and catching up on the latest news and stories from the last 18 months. She started her Honours research four months ago, and thought that considering I had gone through the painstaking process of writing an Honours thesis myself only recently, it would be good to get some practical tips on how she should manage it all. Fair enough, it is not easy to start on something as big as Honours without knowing what you are in for. I answered her questions and gave her the best advice I could.
It wasn’t until the very end of our long chat, however, that I felt the need to bring up something important, yet a little difficult to address. When in a laboratory, you are constantly feeling that you are all alone. Yes, you might have other lab members working around you, but often, you don’t get an opportunity to establish the deep connection with any of them that human nature yearns for (this largely depends on the people and the type of laboratory you are in though!). You work your own hours. You have your own deadlines. You might not ever cross paths with other lab members if you didn’t help it. It can be so “independent” it errs on the side of being damaging to the human condition. It also takes up so much of your time that you no longer see your friends and family, you no longer have the time for your partner or to even seek out a significant other, you find yourself no longer engaging with your hobbies and favourite passtimes. These things can only lead to one thing – emptiness. And very often, depression.
So, when I warned her to make sure she looked after herself and gave herself the opportunity to rest and play, to make the time to be outgoing and fulfil those cravings for social interaction, to spend quality time with family, to reward her hard work with equally valuable time away from the lab – when I warned her to not do as I did – tears welled up in her eyes, she took my hand and whispered that she couldn’t believe that I had just addressed one of the hardest issues she was facing. She didn’t believe that anybody else could actually also feel all that. She, a normally bubbly and cheerful social character, had felt as though this new life (of only four months!) in the lab had already completely drained her of her true self. It had choked out all of the enjoyment and happiness that she once had. All I could whisper back was “You are not alone”.
So, picture this, you get a phone call one morning from a mobile number you do not recognise. You pick up and say hello. The person on the other end sounds a lot older, but addresses you by your name and asks if you are in the lab. You are. You wonder who this might be. How did they know you were in the lab?!? You ask who it is. The response? “It’s your cousin Nabil, I know we have never met or spoken before, but we’re in Sydney and want to try and organise dinner with you tonight!”. Incredible. Here he was, my first-cousin who I have never met or spoken to before in my life, calling me to organise a dinner date for us to finally meet. Mind you, the fact that he has lived in Melbourne his entire life (almost double my lifetime!) and I have lived in Sydney my entire life (only a one hour flight away) and that this was the first opportunity for us to cross paths is in itself a bit ridiculous, but such is life. I jumped on the opportunity and as a result, yesterday evening I met my cousin Nabil and his brother Ash for the first time.
The conversation was great. There was so much in common. The cultural gap that I might have otherwise had with some of my cousins still back in Egypt no longer existed. Being raised in a western country when you come from an originally conservative and strict culture is no easy feat. You have much to reconcile between the two in order to make the appropriate decisions as to how you wish to live. It is a very careful balance between integrating with a western civilisation while also holding true and not compromising the strong upbringing by your loving parents. I was free to express myself, and they were in total agreement. After all, both of them had two decades on me! All I could think to myself as I sat with my Portuguese chicken wrap was that finally, I was not alone.
I woke this morning to find that last night I got a comment on an old blog post. The post discussed how it important it was for us to be careful about what we define our happiness in terms of. We often define our level of happiness with respect to the amount of material wealth we possess, so that when when the day comes that we lose some or all of that wealth, we put ourselves at risk of far greater issues than just being a little poorer. Anyway, it was touching to see how that post inspired a complete stranger to share some of her deepest thoughts and concerns. To share your inner and deepest thoughts to your friends is no easy task – but to share it on a public forum to complete strangers is even harder. For her to have been driven to write out that long and thoughtful post means that she truly must have been able to relate or connect to it in some way. Which gives even more credence to my argument, that we are not alone.