Late last week, I got stung by a bee in the back of my right thigh. I was at the pool at my gym, happily reading a magazine. It was my treat for having a great run on the treadmill earlier. I saw the bee creeping along, and thought, “Oh, what a cute little bee, just bumbling along, doing its bee thing.” I read a bit more, and then suddenly I looked up at a little tickle on my thigh: the bee landed on me. I stood up as quickly as I could but it stung me. I am not Epi-pen-level allergic to bee stings, but I am highly sensitive, and almost immediately the pain spread well beyond the sting site. It swelled up like crazy and it hurt like freaking hell.
I went to the first aid station, which were manned by two teenage lifeguards who were kind of just slacking around, playing with their cell phones and talking smack at one another. Interrupting their fun times, I asked them if they had any ibuprofen and an ice pack. I knew they might not be able to administer any medication for insurance reasons, but I don’t think I was unreasonable in hoping they’d have an ice pack. But after sleepily putting their phones away, the pair shuffled through the messy office, but were unable to locate an ice pack. In the meanwhile, my leg started to really hurt — it was beginning to throb, and every shift in weight sent shooting pains up into my leg and joint. It was just so painful. And of course, I was still in my bikini while all this was happening.
I stayed calm about everything, but inwardly I was really starting to ache, and I could feel the pain escalate to the point where I was really trying not to gnash my teeth. Finally another lifeguard came in, and I did derive a moment’s amusement through the sheets of pain as she rolled her eyes and found an icepack buried underneath a mountain of paperwork and windbreakers, giving her colleagues exasperated looks.
I went back to the pool, holding the icepack to the back of my thigh, trying to numb it even just a bit. I tried to go back to reading my magazine for a little bit, basically trying to regain my equilibrium, but you know, I hurt. It hurt to sit. It hurt to walk. It just hurt, hurt like little stabs of a hot knife jabbing into the back of my leg. In all honesty — and I know this makes me sound like a big old baby — I wanted to cry, it hurt so bad. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to be that weird lady who cries at the pool why clutching an icepack to her butt. So I sat there for a bit, holding back tears, trying to breathe and read as all the other pool patrons streamed past in their sunglasses and bright swimsuits, talking, laughing, sipping their Cokes. I felt like those weird scenes you see in movies where there’s someone sitting alone at an airport, isolated and in their own world, as the world blurs around them, completely unaware.
Finally the hurt subsided just a bit, and I was able to walk out to my car to drive home. I carefully set the icepack underneath my leg and pulled out of the parking lot. About five minutes into the ride, my leg started to hurt as much as earlier — maybe even more, because of sitting on a hot car seat. And suddenly, just tired and overcome by the effort of trying to be grown-up and capable, I just burst into tears. I cried and cried and cried, like gulping wailing howls of pain. I cried because it hurt. I cried because I felt forsaken. I cried because those two teen lifeguards were such indifferent jerks. And then I started crying even harder because I was crying about everything else in my life I could cry about — it was like the bee venom hit a vein of deep, buried sadness, and it just gushed up to the surface. Crying and crying and crying, trying to race home fast enough so I could take some Tylenol or whatever. I’m sure I must’ve looked really bananas to anyone who was watching.
I finally got home and got a frozen pack of vegetables on the sting, took some Advil and just settled on the sofa to veg a bit. I had that feeling of being light and hollowed out after a big cathartic cry. And of course I was wondering: Jeez, what the hell was that all about? I mean, the sting hurt like hell, but that was some crazy existential pain crying there, like, I am so alone and I could fucking die and maybe no one would know for three days and by then a jackal will have eaten my face and I never got to Antarctica and no one loves me. I knew in my rational brain that this was ridiculous: there are plenty of people who love me, and there are no jackals in this part of the U.S. that can eat my face off. But I wasn’t operating from my rational brain; I was crying from the wounded inner child or whatever. And sometimes, well, you just need to give yourself a pity party and let out all those pity party demons and let them run rampant until they tire themselves out and fall over.
But of course, you know me — I have to get philosophical about emotional experiences after I have them. And I’m kind of enough of a pagan to believe that when creatures enter your life, whether it’s through your dreams (like my beloved dream-elephant from ages ago) or in reality, there’s a message there, and if that’s the case, then this bee really wanted to make sure I was getting the lesson. I just couldn’t believe how a bee sting could let loose a huge torrent of latent loneliness and sadness. This whole summer has been hard for various reasons, and I’ve been processing and processing and processing, and maybe finally the sting gave me an excuse to let it all out in one tsunami of feeling.
But I thought about it some more, and I knew it went deeper. I went back to the scene of the crime in my mind, and realized my first instinct — outside of throttling those teenage lifeguards — was to call someone to help. My mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, anyone. And I didn’t. I thought, Oh, it’s just a sting, it takes forever to drive out here, it’s just a little thing, I can take care of myself, everyone is so busy with more important things. I didn’t want to be a burden; I was a capable person, I could deal with it.
But as I dealt with it and tended to myself, I just got sadder and sadder and raw-feeling. Why is my instinct always to not reach out for help when I need it? I thought about all the times in my past when I was suffering in ways great and small — and how little often I picked up the phone to say I needed to talk, or to have something picked up, to be hugged, anything. I always made an assumption that I’d be a burden; I always felt embarrassed by my own vulnerability; I always minimized whatever emotion I felt in hopes that it either went away or didn’t seem as overwhelming as it was.
But then I realized: that’s how you create your own loneliness. It’s like a feedback loop: you never let anyone in, and no one gets in and becomes close. You don’t respect the authenticity of your feelings, and no one else does, either. I’ve spent years feeling alone, different, an outsider — and a lot of it was because I excluded myself or held myself back and wasn’t honest about the truth of my experience. Here I was, in legit pain that made it feel like stabbing heat blades were stuck in my leg, hobbling around in my freaking swimsuit as the bee sting started to transform like a huge purply welt…and I genuinely felt like it was just too much for me to call and ask if someone could get me some ibuprofen or Benadryl. I’d been isolating myself for some time over small pains, but when it really counts, you realize you’ve forgotten how to reach out in the first place.
Bees, of course, are a very community-oriented insect, which strikes me as a most beautiful irony about the situation. They’re good communicators; they’re very connected to their fellow colony dwellers, all working towards the same goal. It’s like it had to sting me into realizing that I need to stop holding myself back, from feeling as if I’m a burden to the people who love me, and stop robbing them of the opportunity to be loving, generous and kind.
I don’t really have any enlightened, easy “1-2-3 Ways to Feel More Connected” suggestions, other than pick up the damn phone and call someone. I don’t have a nice wise way to end this post. I just wrote it in the hopes that other people feel lonely at difficult moments, and maybe there’s a tiny mirror of their experience in here, some “aha” that they can experience without having to get stung by a bee. The truth is, it’s been less than a week later and there’s still a yucky-looking bruise-y welt on the back of my thigh, and it itches like crazy and occasionally it gets really hot to touch. It’s not comfortable, or fun, but then again, sometimes insight into your self is not all pink rainbows and silver glitter and dragonfly wings. It isn’t as gentle or as graceful as you’d wish. But you sure get the message. Even if it hurts like hell.