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What kind of 'ship' is this anyway?

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Relationship by definition is 'the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected; the state of being connected by blood or marriage; the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave toward each other; an emotional and sexual association between two people' (Credit: Google). So to sum it up, plain and simple, relationship just involves two or more people that connect in some way- whether that way be emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually, socially, sexually, or otherwise. I don't know about you, but all I have to do is scroll Facebook or Instagram for as little as five minutes and I can see examples of 'ships' on about every level. The 'we are each other's forever' mushy love relationship. The 'no one will ever love me as much as my fur baby' pet relationship. The 'my kids drive me bonkers but I love them more than life itself' parent relationship. The 'look what's shiny and new to me' monetary relationship. The "<3 my relationship with" our job, the government, our veterans, that fabulous vacation, our beautiful family, this kick ass state, those fabulous new boots, our gym (insert muscle emoji), our Pinterest board, or our current Netflix binge. The list of 'ships' is truly endless (insert exhausted Emoji). We live in this world with relation'ships' of every size, shape, color and definition... yet so many find themselves feeling lost, lonely, forgotten, and (dare I say it) invisible. To them, it feels as if the world is going on around them, the people they know and love are having a grand ol' time living life (as proven by their social feed alone), yet somehow don't seem to notice (or care) that someone has been left behind, or worse yet, forgotten. As they stand on that shore of life, just waiting for someone to notice that they are dressed and ready to get on board, that ship- and everyone on it, just seem to slowly pass on by leaving them lonely, and once again feeling invisible. Maybe to some, it doesn't feel so much like standing on the shore as it does clinging to a life preserver in the middle of the ocean with sharks on the horizon (those sharks being depression, anxiety, isolation, despair, & hopelessness) just waiting for someone, anyone, to notice they are overboard.

I once was part of a large group of women having a rather heated discussion on if it is a choice to feel lonely, if loneliness is a real thing especially when you have a relationship with God (or your higher power, or the universe, or insert your chosen term here). The 'right' answer was that you are never alone if you have that power source in your life, which I believe is true- but only to a certain degree. In this world, we were intended for relationship. We were intended to enjoy one another's company and affection. No one, not one single person, was intended to be left lonely- mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, sexually (unless you have chosen celibacy- even for just a season), or otherwise. We were created to be in relation'ship'. If that is the case, why are so many left lonely?

Some of you who might be reading this, get it. You are someone who feels like they are left lonely (and if that is you, I feel ya. BIG hugs!). Some of you who might be reading this, and don't even have a clue what I am talking about, mostly because you are aboard that big-ass party 'ship' unaware that anyone has been left standing on the shoreline or clinging to that life preserver. It is not a bad thing that you don't notice, but it isn't a good thing either. It is true, you do better when you know better (quote: Maya Angelou). Maybe your life is filled with family and friends who text you, call you, visit you, invite you, hug you, kiss you, laugh with you, cry with you, hold you, encourage you... notice you. And, believe me, that is a very good thing. That is something you should be very, very grateful for. Every.Day. But just for a minute, I would like to ask you to pause your life. I would like to invite you into the heart and mind of someone who has experienced being left on the shore or clinging to that life preserver. If you feel a strong inclination to clap back that it is a choice to be left lonely, that it is 'your' issue if they feel alone, I will ask that you tell that little MoFo in your mind to sit down, shut up, and be nice! It is easy to judge, it is not so easy to just be kind. And kindness goes a long way. I will admit, I have been left lonely many times in my life... even at times when I thought (and believed) I had met the love of my life, my BFF, my 'peeps', my homies, my tribe. Yet my phone remained silent. My door was not knocked on. My mailbox remained empty. My calendar remained wide open. But I knew that life was moving right along outside my front door. All I had to do was open up social media. The love of my life, my BFF, my peeps, my homies, my tribe... well, they were meeting with someone else for dinner & drinks, gathering with friends to go see a movie together, taking walks together or going hiking, enjoying coffee dates, planning vacations together, attending parties... even throwing parties, planning outings of every shape and color... yet I was not invited, informed, or thought of. It is a very difficult thing to silence those old tapes in your mind that rattles off insecurity, abandonment, and not being good enough when life around you just stays silent and you watch that big ass ship just keep cruisin' on by not noticing you standing on the shoreline or clinging to that life preserver in the water. It is a very painful place to be. I remember one New Year's Eve when I had been going though an especially dark time, extremely depressed, and unsure if I wanted to greet- let alone live through, a new year. I was clinging to that life preserver surrounded by a school of sharks (depression, anxiety, isolation, despair, & hopelessness). Social media did not help my mental state. All it managed to do was to enforce the reality, my reality, that not one person thought to invite me, thought to check in to see if I was okay, thought to even text to make sure I was in a sane space. Now don't get me wrong, just because some friends want to get together with other friends, and not choose to include you (or me)- that is not a horrible thing. We (each of us) are allowed to have more than one friend or to have a group of friends to spend time with. I am referring more to simple awareness. When I next talked with one of my close friends who was splashed all over social media ringing in the new year, I decided to be honest (and that took every ounce of courage I could muster). I told her that I had spent my New Year's Eve alone, that I didn't know there was going to be a 'thing'. Her response was to ask me why I just didn't invite myself along. Ouch! Anyone, and I mean anyone, who deals with depression, anxiety, isolation and hopelessness... does not think to 'just invite themselves along'. Being encircled by those sharks, the last thing you want to do is to have to beg someone to include you, to notice you, to even just think about you. So, here I was, facing a new year with the reality that no matter how close you think you are to someone (or to a group), you might just still remain nothing more than an afterthought. The person thought of after the party is over, after the outing is done and everyone returns to their own life, or after the get together where everyone told stories, laughed, and connected- without you. And that is a very lonely place to be. Now don't misunderstand. In no way am I implying that it is someone else's responsibility to include me. I do understand how relationships work... I text, you text back. You call, I call back. I make plans, you show up. You fall down, I help you back up. Relationships are intended to go both ways, sometimes the two sides are a bit lop-sided when one person is down and the other is up (which is a life-long reality since no two people are always up), but relationship by definition takes at least two that connect in some way. There are days when we should meet in the middle. There are days when I should walk your way. There are days when you should walk mine. But how are you supposed to feel when you are left lonely standing in the middle and no one- not one person, is in sight? Is this that place where you are supposed to just 'invite yourself along'? Some of you will resonate with what I have just said, some of you just won't. Unless you have been left lonely, you really don't (or can't) understand how painful of a place that is to be. And the last thing... the very last thing in this world you have the capacity to do, is to invite yourself along.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It is a time to recognize that there are those people whether it be a friend who has become more distant, a family member who fails to keep in tough, a coworker who seems to be preoccupied, the cashier who went through the motions without emotion, or the man holding a cardboard sign that says 'Need Help', who are struggling to be alive. More importantly, struggling to stay alive. This world can be a pretty lonely place. And some days can seem pretty damn dark. A smile is a connection. A simple 'hello' is a connection. A 'how are you... really?' is a connection. An unplanned phone call is a connection. A dollar offered out the car window is a connection. An invitation for coffee is a connection. Showing up is a connection. The littlest effort can go the longest way in helping someone who is in that dark place. The tiniest investment of your time and attention can help someone else decide to give it just one more day. And hopefully one more day after that... and one more day after that. It is not your responsibility to connect with someone, it is your privilege (insert heart emoji). This world can be a very lonely place to be, and for some that loneliness is very painful. They are unable to see the brilliant blue of the sky like you can. Or smell that delicious bread baking like you can. Or taste the sweetness of a watermelon just split open like you can. Or hear the giggles of a child like you can. Or feel the touch from another human being like you can. They have become so lost in the dark that all of their senses have went dormant, completely numb, whether just for a short season or much longer. This month of September is intended to remind all of us that some are struggling and that any connection, no matter how insignificant it may seem, may be enough to bring a little bit of light into that darkness they feel in their soul. Those moments you take to connect may be enough to melt off just a little bit of someone's loneliness, hopelessness or despair. You don't have to part with your money, or possessions, or reputation... you get to connect with another human being and make an impact by just offering up some of your time. And it is a wide truth, that sometimes the ones we are trying to impact, actually end up impacting us. We come away different, more filled, and less self-focused. We come away better because of it.

I do want to speak to those who have lost someone by suicide or overdose, who may read this and feel like you could have (or should have) done more, said more, tried to connect more. In no way am I implying that. Losing them is not your fault. You are not responsible for their pain- or their choice to no longer be here. The truth is, you could have done any one thing, everything in fact, and they still might have made the same choice(s) that led to losing them. My heart aches for your loss. I cannot begin to imagine how different your life is without them in it. The loss you feel without them, it has changed you. That loss has opened your heart and mind to the painful reality of that darkness and pain that exists in the world. To the reality of depression, anxiety, isolation, despair, and hopelessness that others are living with... and trying desperately to survive. Life's greatest tragedies can lead us to life's greatest blessings. All pain has a purpose. It can teach us something if we will allow it to. There is no greater way to honor someone you have lost than to reach out and connect with someone who is struggling. Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear others' pain and anguish. Be willing to sit them, for as long as it takes, until they feel like they can take just one more step forward, face one more day, or allow in just a sliver of hope that this dark season will pass and that life will get better (not always easier, but better). I guarantee your investment of time in the life of another will come back to you ten-fold. You will walk away being the one impacted, knowing you made a difference... in you.

For those struggling right now, please believe that this dark season won't go on forever. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, worn out, or without hope, please consider talking with someone. There are many good counselors, psychiatrists, doctors, and support groups that are available to help you navigate your pain. And it is okay to be honest with your family members and friends that you are struggling. I know it is hard to ask for help, I have been there myself, but you have to do whatever it takes to take care of you. And if someone is reaching out to you, allow them in. I know it can be so hard to open yourself up, but in doing so it creates this wonderful, safe space where you can let someone in to see and to feel your world through your eyes and experience. Their physical presence or touch alone can make the world seem a safer place to be. There is a good chance they might not understand the depth of your pain, or the loneliness that surrounds you. Share it with them. Even if they don't have the words or the answer, they are showing you they have the time and that they care. And that matters. You matter. You both will be changed by the time you spend together. I know being vulnerable can be very hard to do. Opening yourself up and showing your underbelly is scary, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable is how you start to heal the loneliness, the despair, the hopelessness that keeps you in the dark. Be willing to be vulnerable and see what God can do with that. He might just use your experience to help someone else who is struggling.

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