Saturday, April 21, 2012

STEP TWO: Reaching Out. There's No Need to Feel Alone.

     Without realizing it, over the years my need for social interaction had become limited to my work environment. It's easy to understand how this happens when you consider that on average 60% of one's waking hours are spent commuting to and from work, working or thinking about work. The organizations we join, the events we attend, the conferences we travel to all stem from our job and our business associates. It is not surprising that without an office to report to every day, I find myself feeling isolated and alone.
    At first I relished my new found solitude and the freedom to meander through my days without commitment or obligation. It didn't take long for that solitude to turn into soul searching and eventually sadness and the first signs of depression. Having spent most of my forty year career working as a team player, sharing, encouraging and motivating my coworkers, and thus myself, I am reminded how important interaction with others is for me. If I am to remain emotionally healthy, I need to find a new community to connect with.
    Here are some things I have experienced that are helping me color my world and expand my horizons.

The Company of Strangers

    Not long ago, when taking my dog for her daily walk, I decided to venture to a nearby park rather than the usual trip around the block. While there I encountered an elderly gentleman strolling with his aging Basset Hound. As our dogs sniffed noses, I began chatting with him about his dog and my own 15 year old Basset mix who had recently died. In turn, he shared the intimate story of recently losing his wife. When we turned to go on our separate ways, he called back over his shoulder, "Thanks for stopping." I told him our conversation had made my walk and my day much richer. "You'd be surprised how many people don't understand that simple thing," he replied as he walked away.
    Now, whether on a walk in the park, at the deli counter or doing business at the bank, I make an extra effort to not just greet, but to speak to the people I encounter. The rewards are boundless. I have new friends all over town who remember me as the nice lady who takes the time to ask about their day. I always smile when my name is remembered, knowing I've contributed something good to someone else's life as well as mine.

True Friends Are Never Lost

     With so much time to think and reminisce, I often find myself wondering about old friends. Thanks to the Internet - especially email and Facebook - it is now easy to reconnect.
Granted there are some people in everyone's past that should be left there, but there are many who were once important and meaningful. Why should we let them fade away?
    I joined my high school website and went to a reunion after all these years, something I said I'd never do. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. Now there are a few of us who enjoy staying connected on Facebook, despite being miles apart. 
    I ran into someone in my yoga class by a quirk of fate, that I haven't seen in twenty years. I gave her my contact information and heard back from her the next day. We now look for each other at class time. We met for lunch this past week to catch up on all that's happened in the years we missed, and found we also share new common ground.
    Another old friend and I spotted each other while dog walking, after years of separate lives. I followed up with an email and she replied. Now we meet often, with doggies in tow, to share experiences and laugh about old times.
    Old friends help us remember who we are, something easily forgotten in the fast-paced madness of our middle years. By simply reaching out to a few old friends the energy begins to flow anew. My days are much richer and my emails much more interesting, since I chose to be brave and started clicking Search, Send and Reply regularly. 

Just Say Yes to The Possibilities

     Once you become comfortable staying home, you may find it harder and harder to leave your home. I know I certainly did. In fact, I found I was saying no more and more often when invited to venture outside my new comfort zone. Invitations to dinner or for weekend excursions, requests to join a group or even a card game, became a succession of lame excuses and little white lies. Later, while flipping channels alone on the sofa, I found myself regretting my sequestered lifestyle.
     Now I'm working hard to evolve from cranky hermit, back into the gregarious companion and hostess I used to be. I force myself to go to at least one party a month, and thoroughly enjoy myself once there. I try to meet a friend for lunch, or drop by to visit with a neighbor at least once a week. While making the commitment to join a group still makes me hesitate, I recently took a 6-week class and was amazed by how creatively stimulating it proved to be. I've even invited my fellow classmates and instructors for a follow-up gathering in my home next month. To my surprise and delight, everyone is coming. 
     What I have learned is that it is easier to say yes, and take the risk of enjoying myself, than it is to say no and be forced to invent an excuse to be miserable. There is simply no reason to live in isolation, when there are limitless ways to become part of a community outside my own four walls.

Next Week: STEP THREE: Learn Something New. Knowledge is Fuel For The Mind and The Soul.

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