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  • Writer's pictureEric Dugan

Out of Isolation with a Pen and a Mic

Updated: Mar 14

When isolated, we spend too much time thinking and we are sure to find problems! We are social beings and feed off connection.

Until 43 years old, I spent a lot of time isolated. I worked at Capital One and came to realize those were not my people. 

At happy hours, it felt like people were talking to fill space. I was often asked why I was so quiet, which made me feel even more uncomfortable diving deeper into isolation.  I was left with nothing to say.  I would rather listen to nails scratch across a chalkboard than small talk.    

They weren't bad people, just not my people. I didn't relate to them and was not excited enough by their company to avoid isolation. This time period correlated with many bouts of depression. 

My turning point began on July 4, 2015. I recently separated from an unhealthy marriage and sat in the same room that I am writing this post. Gambling was my unhealthy way of distracting me from a life I was not enjoying.

I was playing poker and suddenly it was no longer fun. I shut the computer and quit a lifelong addiction to gambling in that instant decision. I never looked back. I never again gambled, not even a lottery ticket.

Immediately after, I noticed my speakers laying on the ground - unhooked. I connected the speakers and started playing music. I realized that gambling took away my love for music!  I then started to write a poem.

It wasn't the first time I wrote but I never stuck with it or took it seriously before. I finished the poem and realized that it was good enough to say in front of people. I realized that I had talent for writing.  The match was lit!

The decision to replace gambling with the pen completely changed the course of my life.

Fast forward to 2016. I started to go to a place called Tuesday Verses at Addis Ethiopian Restaurant. I didn’t know anyone but as soon as I stepped foot inside, I knew I found home.  The founder of Verses, Lorna Pinckney (RIP), used to say, "I needed a place, and I needed that place to be filled with love and creativity and people who thought these things were important".

That is what Tuesday Verses was and still is to me. For the next six months, I observed and only talked to two people- the bartender and Lorna. I did not get on the mic in those six months.

That changed in January 2017. I finally got the courage to get on the mic. I envisioned performing more than a decade earlier, even before I wrote a poem! Even before I attended an event!  I had no idea how, but belief is a magical thing.  

After I performed for the first time, Lorna sat next to me at the bar. She said that I did good and hoped to see me perform again soon. She was a larger-than-life personality, and her encouragement meant the world to me.

A couple weeks later, I got back on the mic and the audience response let me know that I did well. Then, Lorna said on the mic that I killed it, and it was only my second time on the mic. I honestly couldn't believe she even remembered me.

Little by little, I started to meet people and for the first time in a long time I felt like I fit in. I remember as I started to go more frequently, two people that are now close friends reached out to me when I wasn't there to see where I was. I realized that my presence was appreciated and knew this was my place.

Sadly, Lorna passed away in October 2017. It made me realize how quickly things could change. I started to go to verses every week and a few months later, I became staff, and they became my family. I never was close or felt in place with my own family growing up. It changed through Verses. I felt like I belonged.

For the next 6 years, I poured my heart in to helping Verses keep going. We, as a collective family, had to come together to carry the Legacy Lorna had created. I became so connected throughout the City of Richmond and far removed from isolation. It doesn't matter where I go. I know people and feel love and connection.

At Tuesday Verses, I also met a friend, Zenobia, owner of Community 5050, who introduced me to an Executive Director at a mental health program. He guided me towards getting my QMHP trainee and soon I changed careers into mental health. I then followed the same Executive Director to my current job as a social worker at Home Again. I love my job and it doesn't feel like i work anymore.

It happened because I left an unhealthy marriage, quit an addiction, and then followed my passion. I rolled a bowling bowl down the lane and knocked down all the pins. I found community.

My entire life changed, including my mental health.

I challenge you to do the same. If you do, you might find like-minded people. It may not be poetry for you but there is something that makes your heart tick.

Anyone that has seen a psychiatrist or a therapist has been encouraged to not isolate. They are correct that it is detrimental to mental health.  But how many have been guided towards finding their people? It takes the right people to make someone keep going and I believe that happens by following your passions.

Once you jump into what you love, you likely will connect with people that make you feel good.  You will make positive connections and no longer be isolated.  It may take time but be patient, stay in the moment and enjoy the process.  Once you take the steps, you never know what will happen. 

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Paula G. Akinwole
Paula G. Akinwole
Mar 14
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Every time I hear bits of your story... I'm moved by it. Thank you for always sharing. I'm grateful to have you as a friend! Great read!

Eric Dugan
Eric Dugan
Mar 15
Replying to

Thank you, I am grateful that you are my friend as well. If you didn't notice, your mentioned in the story as one of the two close friends that checked where I was when I didn't show up to Verses. The other one being Nickey.

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