The Bipolar Lens

My view from the rollercoaster.

Reality: I Know What It Isn't

Are Feelings Facts, and Who Cares?

It's embarrassing to say that you're lonely, even if you only say it to yourself.  So let's just say I feel neglected.  A bit unwanted.  A trifle out of tune with the rest of the universe, which seems to be having a very good time without me.  Oh what the hell.  I'm lonely. 

It started first thing this morning.  A good friend ignored – no, let's be kind – failed to remember the fact that it's Wednesday, and we almost always get together on Wednesdays.  I hung around, waiting for him to call.  When he didn't, I finally called him.  "Oops, I forgot," he said, which I understood.  Sometimes people forget.

But it was a beautiful summer's day, and I didn't want to waste it.  So I called up a few other friends.  They were busy.  I emailed a couple more.  Busy, busy.  It was okay, I understood.  Sometimes people get busy. 

By then it was mid-afternoon, and my mother hadn't called me yet.  This was highly unusual, since she normally starts her calls to me in the early morning and finishes somewhere around nine p.m.  Not a peep from her today, though.  I was a little concerned, and called her to make sure she was okay. 

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"Oh, it's you," she said.  "I can't talk.  The gardener's here and I want to time him."

"But Mom, I --"

"Can't talk now," she said, and hung up.

It was fine, I understood.  Sometimes mothers are human, right?

Wrong.  Mothers are supposed to be there when you need them, and especially if you feel lonely.  Lonely is an essential wound, and mothers are supposed to bandage it, kiss it and make it feel better.  That's why they're entitled to a national holiday.

For that matter, friends have their function, too.  When you're bored or listless or feeling blue, friends are supposed to be there to buck you up, listen to your rambling stories, and make those nice tisk tisk noises that tell you you’re not alone.  It's why they're entitled to share your joys as well as your sorrows.

By six p.m. I'd exhausted the television, read all the magazines on my iPad, done a crossword, and kicked my novel around the block a few times.  No one had called, no one had emailed, and I had officially entered the land of self-pity.  So I took myself off to a movie – Woody Allen's latest.  Even at his worst, there are always five minutes in a Woody Allen film that are better than anything else out there.  At the very least, I knew I could count on a laugh or two, which might make me forget my gloom.  People do forget, after all.

I drove to the theatre.  I even bought my ticket.  But while I was waiting to get inside I made the mistake of looking around me.  Everyone there was coupled up.  Even the boy and girl dishing out the popcorn were making eyes at each other. 

I asked the ticket taker, "What's this movie about?"

"Well, from what I hear there are these four couples in Rome, see . . . "

I thanked him and left.  More couples was more than I could take in my condition.

Feeling sorry for yourself is a very lonesome business.  It's just you and your homeless heart, wandering around with nowhere to go.  But the really frustrating thing was, I knew I shouldn't believe what I was feeling.  As anyone who's ever been in therapy or a twelve-step program or a mental hospital can tell you, "feelings are not facts." 

I've really tried to understand what this saying means.  So many people I respect have said it to me, it has to be correct.  I even brushed off my law degree and tried applying logic, as follows:

A)  Facts are true.

B)  Feelings aren't facts.

C)  Therefore, feelings must not be true.

But sadly, this never made sense to me.  I don't know about you, but my feelings are so strong and maintain such a hold on my mind, they are often the only things I believe.  If I'm lonely, it must be because I'm all alone in the world.  Now, I know intellectually that this is not true.  There are lots of people I could contact who would come to my rescue if I asked them, who care deeply about me.  But when I'm lonely, it's as if those people simply don't exist.  They might as well be ghosts or snippets of fiction.

Reality:  I know what it isn't.  It isn't a feeling, supposedly.  But for today – and only for today, I hope – the truth is, so what?  I'm still lonely.

Terri Cheney is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

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