The Laughing Cure for Loneliness

I threw away all of my high school journals about fifteen years ago. I was 23 at the time and they made me feel exposed and vulnerable. Did I really feel that shitty about myself as a teen? Was I really stuck in the dramatic hamster wheel of high school? I will be the first to admit that my projection of high school was from an overdose of daily intakes of General Hospital. My self-awareness questioning often fell to one main question: What would Brenda Barrett do? Now, I’m not proud of having a fictitious soap opera character be my basis for decision making but I’d be lying if I said that I was looking to Eleanor Roosevelt for some solid life advice at the time.

I don’t regret chucking the journals. I do feel regret berating my teenage self at the tender age of 23. I look back now and realize that 23 wasn’t that different mentally from 15. I was still a kid. Just a kid now on my own in a big city. I ran Joni Mitchell’s lyric, “Oh it gets so lonely, when you’re walking and the streets are full of strangers,” on a loop in my head. I was scared, insecure and incredibly aware of how I was perceived by people. The good girl and rebel spirit were at constant battles in my brain. Doused and numbed with nicotine, sex and alcohol at an electrifying speed. The more I consumed the less I would be truly “seen”. At least that was a great story to tell myself. As an acting instructor once observed, “Wow. You really have your antennae up sky high when you’re being watched. We’ve got to soften that a bit.” Good luck with that, I thought.

What I realized then and can articulate now is that loneliness runs deep. It’s a feeling known all to well by the vast majority of us that creates false images and a desperate need to be seen and heard. When loneliness is the root of our communicating then the need becomes devastatingly desperate. Which is heartbreaking to see and debilitating to feel.

So different from when I was a kid. My single digit years were filled with running around aimlessly and urgently. I was completely unaware of time and utterly unaffected by being observed by people. I always re-entered the house with dirt, grass, snow, leaves or a colorful mix of take your pick. I laughed A LOT. I got lost in play and curiosity. I knew how to laugh at myself and laugh at life — easily.

I had a privileged life. I had both parents in the house, lived in a comfortable house and my first relative didn’t pass away before 80 years of age. So, why did the laughter stop so suddenly and for so long? Yes, of course there was some laughter but after 12 I remember more moments of loneliness than I do otherwise.

I wish I could remember when the change happened. When the heaviness of the mind took over. Was there an event? A moment? Who knows?

All I know is, brinking on 40 and reflecting back, I feel more now than ever the way that I felt as a kid. Curious and open-eyed more than ever before. Maybe it’s because I have kids of my own. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing more than ever before which is allowing me to pay more attention to life. Maybe I’ve learned tactics to plow through the self-critic with laughter instead of dread. Maybe it’s because I’ve quit the nicotine and eased back on the booze. Maybe it’s because I’m creating more than I’m consuming. Who knows. All I know is that the laughter has returned and it’s never felt better.

When the loneliness does rear it’s head I indulge it for a brief moment and then make a conscious point to find laughter — somewhere. Anywhere. I don’t care if it’s from me, my kids, my husband, a stranger, Funnyordie or YouTube. Lightening up can really work wonders. In her dog-ear-able heavy book, Bird by Bird, Writer, Anne Lamott mentions a scene from the movie, Stripes that touches upon this exact belief. Watch it and you’ll understand. You may see yourself in there and even have a good laugh from it.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you find the laughter as long as you find it.

“We need more kindness, compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.” — Ellen DeGeneres