Living Around the Blues

When the people around you suffer.


Be Not Solitary. Why? Will I go mad?

That's what it does to you sometimes.


It messes with your head.

And that's what I am. Often. Lonely. An isolation borne of my geography. My far-flung African outpost living.

(But you can be lonely anywhere my friends in London and New York remind me impatiently: it's not an accessory exclusive to a remote lifestyle, you know).

Loneliness unhinges you. Reduces everything, in the enormity of the abandonment you feel, to smallness. Tiny in comparison to the big scary, deeply unfashionable, emotion that overwhelms. And - in your head - everything distills. Thoughts swallowed. And collected in the small void that your mind becomes. Where they rattle around in discontented irritation.

Does that make sense? (Oh but how silly! How could the flight of what feels like sanity make sense, for God‘s sake!)

It could be island fever. Loneliness is an island. My home life is too. I'm not surrounded by cobalt seas: I am surrounded by khaki scrub and white high-powder skies. And nothing. Just miles and miles that stretch taut. To breaking point.

So my thoughts are distilled to a potency that sometimes make me lose sight of sense. Lose my head. For a bit.

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Trap too many thoughts and you will begin to obsess. You will. Unless there's a way out. And often here, often from loneliness, there isn‘t. Not, at any rate, an obvious well-marked one. Way Out.

So my husband said, ‘let's go camping'.

And let's leave the worries and the frustration and the week's disappointments (for there had been a few) behind where they can keep each other company instead of haranguing you and needling you to fretful, tearful wakefulness all night.

So. We packed the car and the kids and the dogs. And we drove hours into the big blonde savannah that spills recklessly in all directions and we struck camp and we built a fire and I walked and walked and walked and I felt so far away that I didn't feel lonely anymore. What peculiar irony. I felt that if I spread my arms out wide, I might be able to fly.

Sometimes my solitary life keeps them claustrophobically pinned to my side so that I am straitjacketed by myself.

Be not solitary, warns Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. (Why? Will I go mad?)

Sunsets and sunrises that got caught, briefly, in the snagging embrace of thorn trees before struggling free (like me: I must go, really, I must) and big skies and the distant, gentle, rattle of cow bells and the call of doves and dust in my hair and the taste of woodsmoked tea.

Could there really be better balm for the soul?

When I got home, I found that some, not all, but some, of those worries had got bored of waiting for me.

They'd hung around for a bit and then shuffled off to bug somebody else.

And I felt my head empty and still.

And without my rudely jostling, finger-pointing worrisome anxiety, I felt less lonely.

Funny that.






Anthea Rowan is a British journalist based in Tanzania.


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