The Body Knows When It's Alone

Dec 4, 2020

I drift between rooms like a spirit with unfinished business. After almost a year of lockdown, every corner of my home is etched into my subconscious. I can traverse my halls in total darkness with feline ease, my face lit by tiny bodily appendages known as screens. I stubbornly strive to recreate the before times, feebly sticking life’s puzzle pieces together with duct tape.

Riding the endless merry-go-round of instant messages and video calls, I’m always immersed in conversations. I feel like a social butterfly, flapping my digital wings with abandon.

And yet, all the digital calls in the world fail to stave off a nagging sense of discomfort. Something’s wrong, but I don’t know what.

Thankfully, my body knows.

When I see the virtual faces of friends and family throughout the week, it’s easy to forget the reality: I spent that week alone. Today’s technology offers only a crude approximation to human interaction. A video call is a far cry from the experience of being with others.

My body knows this. It always knows. It cannot be fooled by a video call.

A myriad of signals are dispatched by my body, hoping to warn me of my own loneliness. They span the full monty of fatigue — headaches, drowsiness, exhaustion. I am not listening. I hear nothing. I fumble along, blind to its warnings.

One day, my body sends me a signal I cannot ignore. It shuts down.

The Body Knows Best - Comic by Salman Ansari

I wake up with chills and a sore throat, my bones announcing themselves all at once in an orchestra of stiffness. As I mope around the house, I experience the oddity that is a ‘sick day’ under lockdown. Normally, the day would be marked by staying home and avoiding everyone you know. Instead, it’s just like any other day.

Every day in lockdown is a sick day.

I can barely recall the last time I saw a friend in person. I’ve been extremely conservative with self-quarantine, and the cost of my self-isolation becomes brutally clear in that moment. Something has to change.

I reach out to a couple friends to meet up (socially distanced and outdoors). We eat food. We drink coffee. We break bread. Immediately, I feel better. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the most effective.

The mind complicates. The body simplifies.

In a past life, I took in-person social interactions for granted. I would see people at birthdays, weddings, and more events than I wished to attend. Ah, to be blessed once again with the privilege of too much human contact.

It’s a different world now. If I want to stay healthy, I need to see people. And if I want to see people, I need to take the initiative to make it happen. I need to think of in-person interactions like diet and exercise: crucial parts of my mental and physical health.

Luckily, I’ll always have my body to remind me. All I have to do is listen.

P.S. Dear body, if you’re reading this: I’m sorry it took so long to listen. You deserve better. Know that I’m listening now. I hear you. I love you.

Special thanks to Shelby for the insightful discussions on the wisdom of the body, for planting the wonderful phrase “the body knows when it’s alone” in my head, and for sharing an excellent article filled with research on the price of isolation.