Why am I lonely?
. I’m no stranger to this feeling, having experienced it for a number of years and still do as I approach my mid-twenties. It’s incredibly human, but unfortunately it’s seen as something to be avoided rather than embraced.
As a child I was pretty comfortable with being by myself. While other kids played tag or wall-ball on the playground, I preferred to simply watch and observe. I wasn’t purposefully trying to be anti-social, but not everyone saw it that way. By the time I hit puberty, solitude no longer felt like a safe haven, but a depressing black hole where that was tough to get out of. I had it in my head that if my social calendar wasn’t booked on the weekends or during the summer, there had to be something wrong with me. Being alone made me question if I was lovable, or if anyone cared if I was around. I had no idea that I just might be an introvert, or that it was possible for my personality to evolve.
Unfortunately, living in a dorm and then an apartment didn’t make it go away, despite being surrounded by my peers and the ability to be physically independent. There was a lot of self-imposed pressure in terms of what I “should have” been doing, and I would get frustrated when it seemed like I was the only one not having the typical college experience. I was tired of watching rather than living, which is why I went out nearly every weekend once I was legally able to. Not only was I making up for lost time, but excessive drinking and dancing was an easy way to connect with people, even if they were strangers. It was a typical phase, so I won’t say that I regret it, but I wish I’d had a better understanding of what I really needed back then.
I’ve been out of that bubble for nearly three years, and the differences in lifestyle and culture have forced me to face several fears and discomforts. I realized that it’s perfectly all right to stay in with a bottle of wine and watch Netflix. Its fine to get sick of being in a crowded bar after an hour or two, or to go home before midnight. And it’s definitely possible to feel alone in groups and in specific relationships, especially if one feels misunderstood. But it’s not just about acknowledging reality, but also realizing that many others (more than we probably know) share in that reality too.
We’re lonely, because the world is lonely.
Communities, countries, and beyond are starving for some real, genuine, and heaven forbid, human connection and interaction.
We’re lonely because we don’t know how to be human anymore.
It’s true that social media is part of that, and that is plays a huge role in mental health. But it goes a lot deeper than just internet fasting or taking breaks or doing our damndest to avoid checking our phones every five minutes. We’re still glorifying busyness and productivity and acting as though anyone who isn’t like us is out to hurt us. We’re plastering smiles on our faces while shielding our tears. And we’re supposedly doing it all without any help.
It makes me sad, and I’m done with that kind of living. I’ve been done for a while
Life becomes an unrecognizable mess when we constantly keep ourselves bottled up, and I’ve experienced this on both sides of the fence. I know of the pain seeing someone hiding in plain sight, desperately wishing that they would quit avoid tough questions and be willing to do the hard things. I also know the pain of hiding, the fears of being found out, and the desperation that manifests itself in physical symptoms like chest tightness and an overactive gag reflex. And part of that relates to wanting to tell the fucking truth. It doesn’t have to be a no-holds barred confessional; start with acknowledging the truth to yourself, using statements like I am…I feel…I struggle…I want…I need. It’s a form of self-care, and one that keeps resentment from building up in the long run.
When I feel confident enough in the truths I’ve realized about myself (and my life), I then discuss them what are often referred to as Safe People. These are the ones who completely accept my past and present, and walk alongside me so that I can create a bright future. They know when to give me advice and when to just listen. Their focus is being present, and opposed to fixing and rectifying.
What I am now just gathering the courage to do is learning how to interact with those who might not be the safest emotionally; they might not realize it, but they have a tendency to invalidate my feelings and experiences, invoking shame instead of empathy. I don’t engage for the sake of understanding or support, but because it teaches me how to be myself, regardless of the situation. It helps me not to depend on a reaction, because realistically I have nothing to lose. The boundaries are still there, but I’m cowering or hiding anymore.
I accept being a work in progress, that I’ll never quite get “there” and know everything. I’ve gotten to the point where I stifle every time someone mentions that I should “work” on myself, because I imagine retreating into a shell again and doing so out of fear rather than the desire to rest. I understand taking a step back and resting every so often, but does that have to include disengaging with the world around me? Whenever I took that route, it had less to do with being healthy and more so with trying to be perfect.
Real healing comes from help, and help comes from wanting to heal. When I was in college, I wouldn’t have started the journey without the encouragement and support and my best friends. I wouldn’t have been willing to face some hard truths (and grown from them) had I not been called out by those that knew me best. I would not have the motivation to become a better person without positive and real examples to look up to, and for opportunities to learn from others and learn with them. Three years later, I can still recall when a beautiful soul looked me in the face and said, “Let yourself be loved, right where you’re at, and exactly as you are.”
It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. Post-grad communities can be murky and confusing because no one is in the exact same place or season anymore, and none of them will be like the ones you had in college, high school, or even childhood. You might have to take the lead for a little while in terms of making plans and actually making an effort and that gets a little frustrating. In those moments, remember that many are living under the assumption that this is the way the world is and that there’s little anyone can do about it. If you have the courage to get up and get out there, you’re already doing a lot better than you think you are.
Somewhere, there is at least one person who wants the same things that you do.