When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with sadness — the feeling itself, the comfort foods I associated with it, the Tumblr posts that resonated with me. ‘I’m addicted to a certain kind of sadness’ was my life motto for a while.
Two summers ago, I experienced a feeling of isolation and loneliness I had never known before. To say it was one of my darkest moments would be an overstatement, but at the time, I thought that I would never feel joy. By chance, I discovered CBC Radio’s original podcast Love Me during that summer, and I was hooked.
Even after the podcast’s first season ended, I listened to the episodes on repeat constantly, waiting for the hiatus to be over, immersing myself in its stories of hurt and loneliness. I needed more personal stories about “the messiness of human connection.”
CBC Radio released Alone: A Love Story this fall. It’s a podcast and memoir written by Michelle Parise, who recounts her life as a young journalist living in Toronto during the ’90s and early 2000s, and her passionate but complicated relationship with her husband, referred to as ‘The Scientist.’
Parise shares her journey from love through heartbreak and the aftermath of what she terms ‘The Bomb’ with such refreshing honesty that I found myself made uncomfortable by how much her story resonated with me.
A major theme Parise discusses in Alone is learning how to be alone. She reveals her experience with postpartum depression, the loneliness of maternity leave, and unhealthy attempts to cope with The Scientist’s ultimate betrayal.
When I asked her how long it took her to stop feeling lonely after The Fallout, Parise responded, “It’s still a struggle but definitely now, five years later, it’s not as profound. I can definitely go home and hang out by myself. And in fact, I look forward to that, where before, at least until this year… I still had trouble going home to an empty house.”
Parise’s talent for storytelling reeled me in to learning more about her, her story, and her feelings. But the production of the podcast — its mixing and soundtrack — also heightened and amplified my engagement with her journey through heartbreak.
“I wanted it to be cinematic, where [listeners] feel like they watched a movie even though they just heard something,” said Parise. “I wanted to immerse people in the story, and I wanted to tell this specific story so that it would draw out universal truths. Through these specific stories is how we understand each other and ourselves better.”
Even while listening to Alone for the second time, I was struck by the effect of her long pauses in between sentences, the hurt in her voice when recounting The Bomb, and her ability to make the listener feel as if a close friend were telling the story.
“These first 10 episodes are really just the first part of a larger piece that I wrote. I have enough material for three seasons, already written. I could keep on writing forever because it’s a living document. Because it’s my life,” she remarked, laughing.
Now when I reflect on my middle school self, I realize it wasn’t sadness I had been addicted to, but rather the shared and communal feeling of sadness and loneliness that the online community offered me.
Tumblr, despite its unfortunate tendency to romanticize mental illness, had introduced me to a community of people connected through emotional hardship who felt alone in their real lives and resorted to the internet to feel a sense of belonging.
I think that’s why I fell in love with Parise’s memoir. She reminded me of the power of vulnerability and storytelling, and the importance of using one’s craft and artistic expression to give voice to universal truths.
Parise’s story is not unique, nor is it the first of its kind to be shared. But the medium through which she presents it gives shape to a shared experience that offers a new perspective.
“As an artist, I feel like it’s my job to tell these stories because they’re other people’s stories as well,” said Parise. “Shared experience is really important in human existence.”
Season one of Alone is available on iTunes and CBC Radio. Season two is expected to release in spring 2018.