Thursday, February 21, 2013

Loneliness Lessons

One topic that I've surprisingly managed to not speak much about, until now, is loneliness. This is most likely because I've intentionally avoided writing much about my romantic/dating/love life, which is often where loneliness tends to come into play for people. That being said, I'm still not particularly speaking about that area of my life - I want to be clear on that. If you really want to know about that sector of my life, feel free to ask me privately, but it's not something I discuss much here. Quite simply, I'm fine airing my own dirty laundry but don't feel it fair for me to air anyone else's for the general public to see.

So back to loneliness. To me, it's one of the worst feelings in the world (perhaps second only to hopelessness).  The reason being this: if you're sick, hurt, frustrated, sad, angry, depressed, anxious, out of money/a home/car/job but you aren't lonely, it means you still have people there to support you and help you out, which can make a world of difference in these times. Similarly, if you're happy/excited/any other positive feeling but have nobody to share this with, it doesn't feel nearly as good - at least to the majority of people. Now I realize, the whole "nobody can make you happy but yourself" thing, and I believe that to an extent. But let's face it - the way people treat us influence how 99 percent of us feel, whether we want to admit it or not.

Loneliness doesn't always equate to alone-ness. There are times when I choose to be alone - I want to relax, read, meditate, just get away from the world for awhile and let my brain relax.  I've also had some of my best travel experiences going solo (though I'll admit I wouldn't necessarily want to do it all the time). Similarly, I've been in situations where I felt terribly lonely when person I loved was sitting in the same room with me. Loneliness is an emotional location, not a physical one. I've dealt with a lot of loneliness of all sorts over the years, and I've learned some coping skills - though by no means does it mean that I never feel lonely. I thought I'd share a few things I've learned, in hopes that they can help others who battle loneliness as well.

  • Reach out. As tempting as it is to say "nobody gives a flying $&%", blocking people out certainly won't result in less loneliness - how could it?
  • Be open minded - you never know whose going through something similar. I've at times felt like those people who "should" be there for me aren't, but then someone I haven't talked to in years reached out (thank you, Facebook) and completely understands what I'm going through. 
  • Evaluate. Loneliness can teach you a lot, as much as we hate to admit it. If you're lonely with your significant other/best friend/family member sitting in the same room, clearly, something is not right. It's time to look at the situation and decide what that is, and how to address it. 
  • It might be everyone else, but it might not. I'm certainly not blaming you, or me, for being lonely.  But as I mentioned in the first point, I have noticed when I feel lonely, I tend to start with the all or nothing thinking. If I reach out to a couple of people and they don't react as I'd like, or if I haven't heard from people I "should", I get those poisonous "nobody cares! I'm all alone!" thoughts in my head and I start looking at every little thing as a sign that I'm right, even when it very well might not be. 
  • Resist the "yeah, but". You know what I mean. It's the "That person did reach out. Yeah, but they live so far away. It's not like we can hang out." Or "Well this person mentioned going for coffee. Yeah, but they're not one of my best friends. My best friends should be reaching out." Because when you 'yeah but', what that's implying is that these people reached out, but they're not enough. Not only is that completely unfair to those people who are making the effort, but you could be shutting out people who could really be supportive - and who you might be able to support in return. 
I've actually learned, at least at times, to use the loneliness as a lesson, and an experiment of sorts. I KNOW there are others out there who feel the same way, if I let myself think with any reason. I know there are people who can relate, and who I might really enjoy talking to and getting to know - and hopefully vice versa - if I only opened my mind a bit. So now when I feel lonely, I try to consciously pay attention to those people who reach out that maybe I didn't expect (in addition of course to those who I did expect). I've heard from people completely out of the blue who now have become friends that I regularly contact. It doesn't mean you're not lonely, that you don't wish this person or that person cared more, that you aren't hoping to meet that special man/woman if you're feeling alone relationship-wise. But it helps me not ignore those people who are right in front of my face if I'd only look for them. And I find I don't have to be nearly as lonely as I thought.  

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