I never feel that I belong. I am in a constant state of not belonging. I don’t belong around the school mothers who knock back gin and wine to numb whatever it is that troubles them. I don’t belong in the spiritual tribe who all know what each crystal is and what it does. I don’t belong in the corporate environment because I’ve changed too much since my burnout.
Part of the reason I burnt out was that I wanted to be liked and accepted. My childhood experiences led me to believe that I needed to be nice and considerate to everyone and to put everyone’s needs first. I had to be interesting and I had to know about current affairs and what’s trending. Since recovering from burnout, I don’t feel the need to be liked and accepted by anyone other than myself anymore. I am free to meet my needs and to pursue my dreams,even if it seems weird to others.
I do belong at home though. I love my children and my husband and we have a beautiful home and a happy family. I feel at peace in my sanctuary, writing or working on my other projects. I feel relaxed around my children, mostly. But when I venture into the outside world, I feel that I am so different from pre-burnout Kathy and the rest of the people in the world, that I feel isolated.
I can’t eat gluten on the insistence of my specialist, since it aggravates my autoimmune thyroid disease. This means that I can’t join in with meals and snacks like other people can. I don’t drink because alcohol aggravated my ailing adrenal glands over the past few years and it interfered with my sleep. Once you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue for a few years, sleep and rest are of supreme importance and I don’t mess around with them.
So, cheese and wine evenings are not an option. I can’t just tuck into the pizza that people order after the netball or snack on the eats at a party. I have to be very selective of what I eat since gluten is often hidden in the seasoning and stock cubes within foods. I can’t eat stews or even soy sauce or crisps without checking the ingredients on the packaging. You can see how that might make me feel very much on the outskirts of social gatherings as participation around meals is difficult. I bring my own snacks and I don’t feel that I’m missing much but sometimes the host feels offended if one doesn’t dig into the food that has been prepared with love and effort.
My whole world changed when I got sick. I couldn’t go out and I was stuck at home a lot. I learnt to entertain myself with books and to feed my mind. I could not make use of crutches like alcohol and cookies. I had to learn self-compassion, I had to forgive myself for wrecking my life and I had to change many relationships. I distance myself from people and situations that are negative and that affect me negatively. I don’t watch the news because there’s too much suffering. I don’t want to indulge in blaming the government or making fun of Donald Trump. It’s boring.
What I care about are things that people don’t often talk about. I am interested in growth and how adversity shapes us. I’m interested in how the body and brain work in union to help us. I want to talk about things like deliberate practice and self-compassion. I want to hear about how people have grown from the suffering in their lives. I don’t want to talk about the weather, the economy or corruption. I’m more interested in how people have mastered skills and found happiness in the simple things in life.
I often feel disconnected with those around me because my outlook is so different and it’s hard to relate to the experiences of people in corporate jobs or those chasing something they’ll never catch. My version of success looks different from that of the average person. It makes me sad at times that I’m not like other people and that I can’t just slot into conversations freely. I often feel lonely and that I can’t belong anywhere.
Brené Brown writes about belonging in her book, Braving the Wilderness. She quotes Maya Angelou in the book who suggests that we learn to belong everywhere and nowhere. Today I felt that. I usually go to social functions with a sense of dread that I’ll feel left out and I won’t be able to engage in any conversation with anyone. I don’t like small talk and I insist on being authentic. I find it tiring to feign interest in things that don’t appeal to me.
But today I went somewhere with my kids and I had no expectations. I went with them and spent time with them and went home with them. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew or to be included anywhere or invited to join in any group. I saw dozens of people I knew and I treated everyone with respect and politeness. I was invited to join in and to drink wine with some. I genuinely enjoyed being there and was so glad to be out and in the company of people. My kids wanted to get home so I left before I was even keen to leave, which is quite rare for me. Usually I can’t wait to get home where I feel that sense of belonging.
I think it all depends on the energy we put out and our expectations. I don’t expect anyone to include me in anything because it’s no-one’s job. I am happy to be me and I continue to be authentic in all environments and at all times. I’m clear that I might never feel a deep sense of belonging in any particular place but that’s okay. I feel content with that because I’m very happy being me. I belong to me. And I feel at peace.