What Loneliness in the Forest Feels Like

I’m happy with the general course of my life so far. But this attempt to figure out how “back to the basics” I can get has run me into some problems. So I’m in a period of transition right now, trying to figure out how to respond to them and, hopefully, resolve some of them. I figure I’d share some with you.

I’ve mentioned a few times on social media that I’m suffering from a terrible sense of loneliness. It seems that you have two options with incompatible trade-offs: You live in the city and can have a thriving social life; or you live in the forest and suffer from an inadequate social life.

I’ve said that very carefully. Many people in the city still suffer from an inadequate social life, often because of their own problems but just as often for reasons outside of their control — jobs, school, a general sense of dissatisfaction in a concrete cage. Perhaps most people in the city feel that way. I can’t quite tell because I’ve been disconnected for so long, but Asheville and Chapel Hill certainly give me that impression. Either way, I wrote that you can have a thriving social life because the possibility is there in a way it simply is not off the grid.

Which is why I also wrote that the social life in the forest, though present, is inadequate. The people who live in the forest are pushed there by the same circumstances that push people to the streets. They go there because they feel like they have nowhere else to go. They are marginalized from society, often for a reason, and those reasons are exactly what you’d expect: things like drug problems and mental illnesses, a fundamental inability to face basic hardships of life, etc. etc. This is all stuff you generally want to avoid, of course. But this means forest bums, if they reserve themselves solely to the forest, have a hard choice: spend their time alone, or form friendships with people who are pretty fucked up.

I’ve chosen to do it mostly alone. Even the people I live with, who are, fortunately, not part of the groups I just described, are great as individuals, but together do not form a social environment adequate to my needs. Many people aren’t my age, and those who are my age I can’t relate to, in a fundamental, close sense, for reasons that would apply just as well in the city.

I thought, at first, that I could put my feet in both waters, so to speak. When I’m lonely, I can just go make friends in the city. But there are, I now realize, a lot of problems with that. For one, it’s hard to make friends now. I’m marked. I’m dirty, have different manners, and am often lumped in with highly stigmatized people. Which means terrible, shitty things happen to me in the city. I once asked a couple for directions and the woman said, “No thank you.” She thought I was panhandling. I walked away and shouted behind, “I was asking you for directions.” She didn’t seem to care. Sometimes I’m just flat-out ignored. I’d experienced this before, of course, last time I was homeless. But it’s harder now. I’m already craving healthy, fulfilling social interaction. Being ignored in that context just sends you down a spiral. Getting grimaces from people who will never take the time to listen to you — which I’m sure would change their perception in this case — well, you can imagine how that feels.

I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot lately. I’ve discovered recently that my time at Wild Roots is nearly at its close. I love the place, and I like each of the people individually, but the social problems are intolerable — too many people don’t like each other. Besides, I’ve learned pretty much everything I care to learn at that place, and I need to go somewhere else to learn essential skills, like hunting. The decision I needed to make seemed clear: go back to the university of Chapel Hill and figure out how to address that problem of loneliness. What better place to contemplate your human condition than a university?

Except, so far, it feels a lot like Asheville. Worse, actually, because the people giving me grimaces and ignoring me are sometimes my former friends. It’s not most people (not yet?) but it’s enough to make things hard. And even once I clean up — long overdue — people who are familiar with my story seem to speak to me with pity. I feel stigmatized. People hint that I have a mental illness. One former friend — one of my best friends — told me explicitly that I shouldn’t expect to associate with him unless we are at events together, because I might affect his career, his class, his social standing. I thought the loneliness would be simpler than this. A need for a hug, a conversation. But it’s much more biting, much more existential. You feel alone in a very fundamental sense. It’s excruciating.

Finally, I find it hard to relate even to the people who aren’t worried about that kind of thing. We just live such different lives. I find bear claws fascinating — they find them appalling. I want to talk about the plants of the region, they want to talk about classes and their job. I want to hang out and be friends and be human, they have an appointment at noon.

So while I’ve learned to provide for myself materially, in a way I, at least, am more than happy with, I cannot provide for myself socially. I exercise and I eat well, but I can rarely hug anyone, I lack intellectually stimulating conversation, I consider walking down the street a chore, I can’t relate when I do have conversation…

How can I address this? I simply don’t know, but I’ll be spending most of my time the next couple weeks sorting it out and will update you then.

5 Comments

  • Matt Colombo says:

    This loneliness you speak of is one of my (or maybe my top?) greatest fears. Thank you for sharing your experience in such raw terms in this difficult time. I hope you find yourself a way back to meaningful relationships. They are so important. I can understand how the desire to be out in the woods on your own terms is strong, but can be at odds with developing satisfying relationships. It’s a crazy and challenging world we live in, or at least in the way most humans perceive the world and their place in it, and you have been very brave to take the steps you already have.

  • Robert P. McGuinn says:

    Jacobi,

    Buck up man! You are awesome and adventurous. Many people think so, even though we are not there with you to celebrate. You have embraced the full range life experiences, whereas many are confined to a small bandwidth. I really enjoyed your recent photos of the bear cleaning and canning. You are right though, social isolation can occur anywhere. It is a condition of floating on a piece of dust through infinite space. It’s bound to be lonely. Just suffer through. It is the only way. There is no solution. It is all bullshit! We are here to feed our faces and little else. Not one of us asked to put here. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. Forest, city, university, it is all the same meaninglessness. Go, feed your face and enjoy. You are doing good!

    Love you man!

    -Robert

    • Jacobi says:

      Thanks Mr. McGuinn! You’re right, social isolation can occur anywhere. I mean, it took two years before I had any friends in college — I was to the point of buying candy bars at stores so I could talk to the cashiers! But I made it through, I’m sure I will again. It just takes time.

  • ken foley says:

    Yeah, a lot of loneliness going around lately in an ever crowding world, bizarre. I have nobody in any kind of physical proximity to me that I can relate to in any meaningful way especially pertaining to the crisis of the bio sphere and our loss of the kind of human we used to be.

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