Spending Time With Your Damn Self, British Edition
"Traveling alone is cool and not at all depressing," she said to herself as she embarked on a solo trip across the Atlantic.
I don’t often write about the gifts being ill has imparted on me, because they tend to pale in comparison to the trash heap of negatives that come with having a chronic disease.
Crohn’s has taken a lot from me over the years –– it’s minimized my social life, it’s taken a real chunk out of my self-confidence, and it’s nabbed a lot of money I could have otherwise saved for my future. I’ve covered this stuff before. But I recently realized something that life with a chronic illness has given me –– and that’s contentment with being alone.
I’m not going to preach to you about how my illness is a gift that’s made me a better and more grateful person! If an autoimmune disease is a gift, it’s like a really ugly sweater your great aunt gave you without a gift receipt. So consider this post as me, stuck with this horrendous sweater, trying to find a use for it.
I just got back from a week-long trip to London by myself. I traveled alone for practical reasons –– I’ve been itching to go on a trip, always wanted to see London, and couldn’t nail down anyone with the vacation time or extra funds to join me. So I went alone. I’ve traveled alone before, but never this far away for this long. Almost everyone, upon hearing my plans, commented on how cool and brave and adventurous it is to solo travel abroad. I couldn’t figure out why going alone didn’t seem like a big deal to me, when it did to everyone else. And then it hit me.
I spent the majority of 2016 incredibly ill and nearly bedridden. I missed a ton of work, could barely run necessary errands, and barely attended a single social outing all year. My friends and family were good about stopping by to see me, or facetiming, or sending little cheer up gifts, but the moral of the story is I spent the majority of the year alone. Not alone like, “I’m single and living alone right now because I’m a metropolitan woman in my twenties!” Alone as in, I rarely interacted with people who weren’t doctors or my cats.
While that situation was incredibly trying (and a great example of what anti-depressants were made for!), I got through it because I had to. And in the interim, I developed a really valuable new skill. I developed the ability to be alone often, and not just make it through, but to occasionally enjoy solitude.
I firmly believe that learning to enjoy being alone is one of the hardest things to do in life –– and if I hadn’t had to do it via immersion therapy, without a say, I might still not be comfortable spending days at a time without my people. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t lonely on occasion –– on those long sick days, fictional characters were pretty much my closest friends –– but if you can learn to separate out being alone from being lonely, it allows you to do amazing things.
Some of the amazing things being comfortable alone just let me experience include seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, having afternoon tea in the same room Oscar Wilde used to frequent, sitting front row at a musical on London’s West End, and haggling my way through Camden Market. If I’d still been afraid to be alone, instead of writing in Hyde Park last Sunday, I may have been sitting on my couch, watching reruns of Buffy (which is also a fine activity, but you see my point.)
So whether illness drives you to spend time solo, or a breakup, or a move to a new city where you don’t know anyone –– my advice, no matter how scary it seems, it to lean in to the lonely. Get to know your damn self. Read a book, go for a walk, find a cafe you feel at home in. You’ll be a better, well-traveled, and happier person for it.