It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and that familiar cloud has settled over me, as it does most weeks. Hello, loneliness.
Sometimes I reach out immediately, texting my entire list of contacts to try and arrange some sort of social contact; the outcome is inconsistent. Occasionally a friend might be at a loose end too, but often friends and family are otherwise engaged with living their lives. Unfortunately, when the latter happens my pessimistic, ruminating mind tends to jump straight down a rabbit hole of despair and make a whole host of assumptions. “Nobody cares about me...I’m unlovable...I’ll always be alone” - just a few quotes from my internal monologue.
As a single twenty-something living in a culture that glorifies popularity status, admitting that I regularly struggle with loneliness doesn’t come easily. But as time goes on, I’m increasingly convinced that keeping it quiet is a major part of the problem. And I’m not just talking about myself; there’s a stigma surrounding loneliness that nobody really wants to think or talk about. The irony is that loneliness is something everyone experiences to some degree. For some it happens daily, whilst for others it might only crop up at particular points in life; either way, it’s an unavoidable reality of being human. There is no way to prevent it entirely, even if we spend our whole lives in company - call it a cliché, but I think most people will know what I mean when I talk about feeling completely alone in a crowded room.
Planning ahead and making plans to see friends is something I make an effort to do, and would definitely advocate for anyone who struggles with loneliness fairly often. And yet, the ‘desperate texting’ scenario described above still seems to be a fairly regular predicament for me. Try as you might, the fact is no amount of planning can guarantee a life completely free from loneliness. Time and experience have taught me that rather than fighting it, I’m better off building my own little bank of skills for living in the loneliness. The following are a just a few examples:
Why waste energy fighting the reality of how you’re feeling? It is what it is. Ironically, when you can accept your emotions they lose their power over you - it’s such a relief.
I’m quick to assume that everyone else’s life is far better than mine. The fact is everyone has their own burdens, and I don’t have a clue what’s going on in the lives of other people.
Do something. Anything. I sometimes go and sit in a busy cafe, just to soak up the bustling atmosphere. I often find that once I’ve finished, the worst of the storm has passed or my emotions are at least a lot more manageable.
These aren’t hard and fast rules - but I’ve found them helpful at times, and perhaps you might too. It’s a case of trial and error, to build your own personal ‘bank’ of coping skills. But one thing I urge you to do is talk. When you open up to someone, you’ll be surprised by who responds with “me too”. Not only will it ease your pain in that moment - it will also chip away at that stigma surrounding loneliness that stops many people from talking about it. Uttering the words “I’m lonely” isn’t cause for shame or embarrassment. Ask yourself - have I ever thought less of somebody for expressing feelings of loneliness? I’m willing to bet the answer is no. I admit, knowing this doesn’t necessarily reduce the fear of opening up; sharing our vulnerabilities is scary. But if you can make it to that point of feeling the fear and doing it anyway, you’ve done the hardest part - and the relief that follows is more than worth it.