Diving Bell and the Butterfly


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My upper back has been strained lately.

The most likely culprit is my complete lack of ergonomics when it comes to working on my laptop. I sit in comfortable chairs that quickly turn tortuous as I hunch more and more over my keyboard.

The remedy has been two tennis balls tied up in a sock, under my back, as I lay still in one spot and then move the sock balls down my back inch-by-inch, staying in each spot for a minute.


This takes time.

More time than I usually dedicate to lying still in one spot unless I’m sleeping or trying to unknot my f’ed up back. As I did this the other day and stared out my living room window, I began to wonder what it might be like to be paralyzed.

Laying passive in one spot for that long for someone like me, who typically flits about like a butterfly dancing from here there and everywhere, will conjure that type of crazy thought.


What if I was paralyzed – completely – like the guy in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly*?

What if people slowly stopped coming around and visiting me? How isolating and awful would that feel? How could I go on like that?

I imagined visitors coming to see me and talking like I wasn’t there. Their uncomfortable acknowledgments of my condition would turn into careful whispers and then into straight-up dismissal of my existence as they talked amongst themselves over my silent, but alert, body.

Then, the visits would wane. My friends would deliberately, but not maliciously, decide to meet for chats over coffee, rather than over my lifeless form. And who could blame them? I wouldn’t be the best company.


The greatest fear in my twisted fantasy wouldn’t be death.

It would be isolation. How alone I would be. How insane that would make me. How eventually I’d feel like death would be better than this even if I had a comfortable room, with a beautiful view, and the basic care keeping me alive.

There’s a reason solitary confinement in prison is the most ominous of punishments. Not having someone else to talk with, share ideas, and interact with can drive a person insane and be the fiercest castigation.


Social isolation is something we humans try and avoid.

We are inclined to bind together in tribes and interact with each other for the health, safety, and betterment of our species. We dread ostracism because it would mean not having the protection of the pack.

Well, at least that’s how we used to be. Many humans are choosing to exclude themselves from discourse, relationships, eye contact (!), intimacy, thereby isolating themselves either directly or indirectly through their own action or inaction.


What the hell’s going on?

Are we too closely packed together in cities that are overwhelming and living too unlike how tribes live? Are we buying into an ethos of individuality as the pinnacle of humanity? Are we seduced by a culture of competition and living in a heightened state of comparison that drives us apart?

Whatever the reasons, the results of social isolation are crippling.

Numerous studies suggest loneliness and isolation lead to worse sleep, high stress, greater cognitive decline, and greater risk of certain diseases and premature death. WTF!


Can we all agree no one wants any of those things?

And yet, people are buried in their phones and computers. The sheer convenience of our devices makes the escape into them an alluring substitute for awkward conversation and potential rejection.

We’re also not communicating with our elders. For some reason, we believe we can do it better and their wisdom and experience don’t matter. In the same vein, we don’t talk nearly enough to kids. We seem to coddle their demands but not follow their lead into their conversations and play.

We are quick to judge and cast stones before hearing another’s point of view and seem to be more comfortable with shutting people out than embracing their humanity. We want, we expect, others to accept our flaws and our opinions and don’t offer the same to everyone else.


There is a toxic “us vs. them” environment proliferating. 

It isn’t helped by each of us isolating ourselves from things that are “other” to us. We live in a global world with the ability to connect to almost anyone with any differing opinion or lifestyle. Maybe it’s too much for our amygdalas to handle.

It’s easy to band with your own tribe and it feels good. It’s affirming and comforting and safe. But our species has evolved through expansion and exploration. We have learned by connecting with others and sharing our knowledge.


No wonder we don’t like to be isolated.

Let’s not devolve and return to the safety of our primordial soup. We need to continue exploring the challenging landscape of human thoughts, ideas, behaviors, and emotions. Ours and others.

We need to stand up for ourselves and speak out even if and when we feel we’ll be rejected. We need to listen and open ourselves up to people in and out of our chosen tribes.

We need to connect in a real way to all the beautiful humans around us and figure out how to work through our differences and learn from one another. Otherwise, you might as well be locked in your body, in a room, overlooking the horizon with nothing left to live for.


In the spirit of connecting, please leave me your thoughts on this post!

*The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of my favorite books. It’s the memoir of Jean-Dominque Bauby after he suffered a massive stroke and woke from a coma to discover he was quadriplegic and could only communicate by blinking his left eye. His reflections on life with locked-in syndrome and his indomitable spirit are chronicled in this book (and movie). A stunning and achingly beautiful examination and celebration of life.


2 Responses

  1. Thank you for enlarging this conversation. I love your posts and find tremendous value in what you share and have to offer. I can’t wait to read your book!

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