Observations of Loneliness
When people find out that I write weekly on the internet, they inevitably ask where I get my inspiration from. If I’m honest, there’s 22 years’ worth of stories backed up in my mind, but sometimes the words don’t want to come out. This sounds strange for someone who’s literal job is to produce words on paper, but I have to respect that some stories are living entities that don’t want to be born before their time.
At times like this, I like to turn to my friends and ask what struggles they want me to write about. Because I don’t want this page to be about me. I may be drawing from my own experiences as a springboard, but it’s never been about me. At its simplest, I want this to be a place where people who’ve gone through hard things can come and feel understood.
And so, when it came time to find a topic last Wednesday, I asked a friend what she needed to hear.
“Write about loneliness,” she told me.
And I hesitated.
Loneliness is a subject I knew I’d have to open up about, but I didn’t feel like I could unpack such a weighty topic with the finesse or justice it deserved. So I copped out last week and re-posted something else. But since then, a lot of lonely hearts have been reaching out to me and it’s gotten to the point where I can’t delay this post any further. I’m learning that while there are some things that benefit from us sitting and waiting, there are others that we need to have the courage to speak up about- even when the words aren’t pretty.
So for the lonely ones, this post is for you.
I haven’t felt lonely in a long time.
I say that because there was once a time where all I felt was lonely. I was straight up dripping in loneliness. I couldn’t tell you what joy or excitement was, because all I had was years of heaviness and isolation wrapped around my bones. Loneliness would be there to greet me in the morning when I opened my eyes. And it would crawl into my bed every night like an unwanted visitor. I would go about my days with an achy, gaping hole in my heart wishing for something or someone to fill it, and I would despair that my whole life would be tainted with this longing.
Being able to write ‘I haven’t felt lonely in a long time,’ is a hopeful reminder that it passes. For someone who once thought that I would literally bleed out loneliness, this sentence is a reminder that it doesn’t sit on your chest forever. Like the majority of other emotions, it’s transient. Although it may feel like days, months, or god forbid, years, before it finally dissipates- it always does.
If you’re in the depths of a lonely period now, then that sentence likely won’t do anything for you. Loved ones have probably said it to you so many times now that it no longer has any soothing effect. It’s become as tired as a cliché. But the thing with clichés is that people wouldn’t repeat it unless it was true.
At its surface, I find loneliness is triggered when I notice it’s been a while since anybody’s checked in to say ‘hey’ or ‘how are you?’ Or when it feels like everyone in the world is having fun without me. My gut reaction is to wonder what’s wrong with me? What fatal flaw do I have that pushes people away or makes me not worth missing?
Now that I’m on the other side, I know that it’s rarely a ‘me’ thing. 80% of the time, people are likely too caught up in their own lives to think about reaching out. Although I don’t doubt that the intention and love is there, the execution can be lost. As easy as it is to turn inwards and nit-pick at our flaws, the truth is that we’re living in a world with other unique humans. Some people may express their love in different ways while others struggle to be the first to initiate a catch up. A lot of my friends have to recharge on their own before they have the energy to invest in others. People not reaching out probably has nothing to do with you. Often, it’s a prompting to set an example and be the invitation.
Yet I also know that loneliness isn’t just about who’s messaging you every day. You can feel the ache of loneliness when you’re alone and wonder if you’ll meet anyone who fits you. Or you can feel the hollowness when you’re surrounded by people who don’t really know who you are.
When I’m brave enough to sit down with my loneliness and really look it in the eye, I find that it hits when I don’t feel seen and known. When I feel like I’ve been overlooked. Loneliness floods in when I feel misunderstood or like nobody ‘gets me.’ At our core, I think that’s what we’re all craving. We just want a tangible reminder that we’re not forgotten. That we’re seen and known in our entirety and every part of us is loved.
But babe, to be seen and known is to let other people in. There’s a tendency in us to want to come off as Neyo’s Miss Independent. We want the world to know what we’re killing it on our own and we don’t need no man, friend or missus.
But if I were to ask you to be really honest with me- like, gun-to- your-head-tell-me-the-truth-type-of-honest- I bet you’d tell me that you’re keeping people at a distance because you don’t want them knowing about the dark spots in your life. The things that cause you shame. The opinions you don’t want to air. But if loneliness is here to teach you anything, it’s that you need people.
It’s coded into our DNA to love and lean on people. We were made to relate to others and to hear the words ‘me too,’ when we open up about the scary parts of our lives. Don’t brush off your desire for companionship or write it off as weak. Being open about needing people is the most courageous thing you can do. So tell the ones you love about the things that makes your heart ache, the things that keep you up at night or the wounds you’ve kept hidden. There are people who are just dying to understand everything about you, if only you just give them the chance. For so long I’ve thought that a lot of my past was too shameful to let anyone know. But all of us are just looking for someone to connect with. Loneliness dissipates when you begin to let others in to your dark spots.
The danger comes when you rely too much on people. Your loneliness reveals the things you’re relying on to plug up the holes in your life and be your saviour. To be lonely is to feel endless waves of hurt and angst, and it’s tempting to seek solace in someone else’s arms or the Disney movies on Stan. But there comes a point where you have to really ask yourself if you’re just using other people to distract you from the discomfort in your life?
A few years ago, when loneliness was all I felt, I would claw at anything and anyone just to avoid acknowledging the gaping hole in my heart. I would message people I had no business messaging and start conversations so I would feel a little less lonely. There was once someone I clung onto so hard because I didn’t want to have to sit with my own thoughts. Even though I knew I had to let him go, I would always reach back out again when it got too hard. In the game of push and pull, I would always be the winner.
I think we’ve all been guilty of clinging onto people who have long outgrown their storyline in our lives because we don’t want to deal with the aftermath of loneliness when they leave. But we run the risk of turning people into collateral damage when we do so. More often than not, those relationships end up disintegrating and two hearts inadvertently get hurt. This idea of collateral damage is a whole other post for a whole other Wednesday. But for now, I try my hardest to check myself and make sure I don’t play with people’s emotions as a distraction.
You can ask people to sit in the mess with you for a while. You can try your best to describe what it feels like to hurt on the inside, all whole knowing that your words will barely scratch the surface of what it feels like to ache with loneliness. But you can’t place people on a pedestal and ask them to rescue you.
Loved ones would tell me that I had to really be comfortable with who I was alone before I could ever invite someone else to be a part of my life. And I would hate that. Like really hate that. I’d have to resist the urge to throw something at the person who said that to me. Because I wasn’t a stranger to being alone. I’m the self-proclaimed Queen of losing people and having to pick up the pieces by myself.
But it’s one thing to squirm through the whole lonely period while clawing at others to distract you. It’s another thing entirely to be able to sit with the discomfort and find its purpose.
When I sit down with others and tell them about the dark period in my life, they inevitably say that they would never have imagined I was lonely because I was always surrounded by friends. All to say, that no one is immune from loneliness. There’s no vaccination you can take. It’s as inevitable as the sun rising and setting. It comes and it goes.
Loneliness will strike me again at any time. It may come as soon as I stop writing this and watch other people have fun without me on social media. Or it may lay dormant for a while only to come raging back in full force on Feb 14th. Loneliness can feel like a pit in our stomach even when we’re with lots of people. Or it may feel cold and hollow when you sit across from someone and feel like they don’t really know who you are.
Something beautiful happens in your loneliness though. It’s something you’ll only be able to see once you’re past all the heaviness and angst, but rest assured it’s there. Loneliness is what it means to be human. It’s up there along with love and joy. As much as you’ve always wanted to fast forward through the achy breaky parts in your life, loneliness is there to widen your capacity for love. It breeds in you a deep compassion, astounding empathy for the hurting ones and an appreciation for who you are when you’re on your own.
Gems written just for you: