When I started working from home last summer, I thought my introverted self would revel in the alone time, all day with no coworkers poking their heads in or loud conversations heard through thin walls. And yes, the physical solitude and quiet of being alone in my space has been wonderful for my creativity and productivity. But there’s something about being a part of an office, of a team, that is bigger than just physical proximity. There’s other people to share the load. When you’re having a rough day or you get an email that sends you off the wall, there’s another person in the next office over who’s also impacted by that same inbox surprise. There’s someone else counting down the hours until 5pm and someone else to ask for help when you’re not sure which direction to go. But working from home, and for myself, I’m alone. I make decisions alone. I do my accounting alone. I build spreadsheets and websites and write blog posts on my own. I try not to eat every snack in my house when I’m bored alone. I stare at blank word documents without a clue on how to start writing alone.
I’ve been participating in this 40-Day program now for 2 full weeks, and the biggest thing I’ve taken from it is the reassurance that I’m actually not alone. There are dozens of other women in our group, people who I’ve met and seen and thought, “Damn. She has her shit together.” And we stand in this room, and we share, and sometimes we cry. We feel each other’s struggles so deeply because they mirror our own, and it’s a relief to hear someone else give voice to our own fears and pain. We are so, so, so not alone. And the act of sharing ourselves with others takes away some of the heavy burden of our feelings that we carry around. Saying it out loud, to someone who is genuinely listening, lifts a bit of the weight.
This program and my yoga teacher training are the only times I’ve really been a part of something like this, a big group of women who are open, vulnerable, supportive, and brave — and who are looking for a way to make themselves and the lives around them better. It’s not even about having friends, at this point. I may never go and grab a cup of coffee with any of them, or invite them over to my house, but I will know every time I see them that they’ve seen the REAL me. That we understand each other in a different way. It’s powerful to know you’re — I’m — not alone.
I’ve been carrying this poem around in my notebook for months, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to wrap my brain around the way it made me feel. It feels like this: a hug, a hand, a knowing smile, a laugh after tears, a high-five.
Uncommonly Low, by Heidi Rose Robbins
If we meet this afternoon in an elevator on the way to the 22nd floor,
And you smile and happen to ask: “How are you?”
If I dare speak the truth, I would say “I am uncommonly low, my friend. Low like a reptile – barely moving, hardly breathing, shifty-eyed, low.”
At which point, you might grow silent or shake your head or say “Sorry to hear that.”
And I would, of course, understand -- saying something like that makes everyone uncomfortable.
But what if you said, “Honey. Child. I know.”
And reached out to hug me,
And I just fell into your arms?
And what if we just kept hugging?
Even through all the announcing the 22nd floor dings?
What if the doors opened and someone got on and tried to ignore us,
But we started laughing and crying at the same time?
And that someone joined in because she knew a seismic shift was underway?
And it looked like huge relief with all that weight and sadness and fatigue flinging down the elevator shaft?
And then what if we all just sat on the elevator floor and rode it up and down,
Like I did once in college, greeting everyone with a giddy hello?
Forgetting everything but the sweetness of an unpredictable ride.
That shift — that seismic shift that happens when you let go of a little bit of your heaviness and let someone else in — is where the magic happens, when we just drop to the floor, allow for help to come, and accept someone else’s hand. Just think of a hug: It’s 2 people with their hands on each other’s backs. They aren’t pats on the back — they’re hands, resting gently, holding space, nudging each other forward, and not letting each other fall back.
It takes a lot of bravery to be both sides of that hug: to openly admit, “I’m low.” And to genuinely say, “I know.” But what if we just did it? What if when your feelings felt too heavy, you didn’t pretend it was all okay, but instead, you let someone in? And what if, when you saw someone who needed that hand, you gave it? You didn’t offer some “It’ll get better” platitude and shuffle on your way. What if you dropped your own story, reached out with empathy, and rode the elevator together?
The ride is unpredictable, but oh boy, is it sweet.