When I was a kid, I preferred television over going out to play. I would set up my beloved dolls around me on the sofa and we would watch TV together. I loved “I Love Lucy” and “The Joan Davis Show”. Both were bold women who were not afraid to be funny, unique and strong. Of course, I watched Popeye and was so disturbed that he let Brutus get the better of him until he ate his spinach. Why couldn’t he be strong all the time? I watched The Nearsighted Mr. Magoo, I don’t know why I watched so religiously because it made me nervous. I am very nearsighted, and it just upset me to see him get into clumsy situations, because he looked more foolish than someone trying to live his life with a handicap. Did I look like that? My poor vision was and is a major issue in my life. I watched TV for what seemed like hours and I was quite content with the company of my dolls, until my father came into the living room and demanded that I go out to play with the other kids on the block. I complained that I didn’t have anyone to play with but it hardly mattered. Watching so much TV was bad. Going out to play was good. He wanted what was good for me. Even my mother wanted me to go out to play and it was odd that it hardly seemed to matter to them that I had no one to play with nor did it matter that that I was quite content to stay home and enjoy the company of my dolls who never ridiculed or made fun of me.
So, I would be forced to be go out to play. I would leave my dolls in the living room with the TV on while I went out. I remember finding some kids to play with for a while here and there, but odd things would happen to put an end to our relationship, and I’d be back on the couch with my favored companions. What things? Well I remember a boy named Richie. He vomited and his mother got all weird. I remember Andrea only insisted on being Barbie and I had to be Ken. Debbie’s mother was divorced. Who heard of that? Robert wanted to compare private body parts and one day tied a string around my neck. It wasn’t that I was so opinionated and that these issues were too problematic for me, I think I just needed a reason to go back and watch TV with my dolls, which was much easier to negotiate. I had playmates for periods of time, but I don’t recall having many friends.
As an adult looking back on my life, I see this pattern has repeated itself in different forms. I had different friends for various stages in my life. They were meaningful relationships but for some reason I would drift away. My parents’ message to go out and play with your friends became my message to myself. I felt compelled to find friends so I would try to reach out, then pull back and end up feeling sorry for myself because I had no one to play with. My parents had many friends and frequent social gatherings. So did my sisters and brother. Sometimes I would hang out with them and their friends because I didn’t have enough of my own. Was it the I didn’t have enough friends or maybe I didn’t know how to be a friend?
I was plagued with vision problems which created learning problems, not to mention difficult family dynamics, and a poor self-image, to say the least, and so when it came to escaping all that difficulty with a friend for solace, friends seemed to be an additional chore rather than an outlet for all the pent up emotional turmoil that I was experiencing.
As I write this, I am reminded again how damaging a poor self-image can be. Even when it is pushed away and ignored, a poor self-image hurts. Someone says something benign and you get upset without understanding why. Even when you accomplish things like a master’s degree, meaningful career or develop an amazing talent, a poor self-image still interferes. You know it is so because you didn’t think you were good enough for the promotion, or your talents are only for your enjoyment and not to be shared. There is always a feeling of being a fake. Yes, a poor self-image hurts even when it is ignored. Especially when it is ignored. There is no amount of compensation or success that can make a poor self-image go away.
I spent much of my life trying to ignore that kind of pain. I worked at accomplishing things with the assumption that accomplishments would eliminate a feeling of inadequacy. Then years in therapy to try to understand its origins and make peace with it so I can let it go.
Now I am seeing lessons in everything. I see my poor self-image kept me from having meaningful relationships because I believed I didn’t measure up. It kept me from seeing myself for I was, and how I evolved into who I am. I am learning that a feeling of inadequacy is just that; it is not the reality. I am learning now that when I can see myself with compassion instead of judgement, I am quite resourceful. I didn’t have meaningful friendships because I didn’t know how to be a friend to myself. As I look back, all the obstacles I faced gave me moxie, like Lucille Ball and Joan Davis! And even Imogene Coca!
So perhaps I wasn’t really lonely because I had my Self. As I grow and learn about myself, I see that I always preferred my own company, but there was a certain pressure to be like everyone else. As I got older there was still the pressure I put upon myself to be more social and it is indeed a real need but there is a clear difference between isolation and loneliness. I was lonely until I learned how to find comfort in being me. It then became easy to make the friends I do have, which are my friends for life. I don’t have a big network of friends. I find the I am content to have a small number of friends from various parts of my life and we share love intimacy and comfort from being with each other. I am also discovering that there are other people in my life as well, who are eager to share and give their love too. All I have to do is reach out. I find comfort in my friendships, but I also find comfort in my own company, and being home for over two months while I undergo chemotherapy and avoid Covid 19 taught me that I am my best resource.
I am, however, currently isolated. Covid 19 and Cancer are the culprits. Zoom, FaceTime, texting and good old-fashioned phone calls help, but I am seeing that nothing can replace face to face contact and the joy of being with others. I receive comfort and joy in my small circle of friends, but I also find peace in just being with myself. I have to be me without comparing myself to the rest of the world and remember that adage, quality vs quantity.