Lesson #19: I'm lonely.
It took many years to utter the words “I feel lonely.” So much of therps is about correctly identifying a feeling. It’s sort of like pin the tail on the donkey, and your therps lets you peek through the blindfold sometimes but mostly you’re just stabbing in the dark - IS IT SAD? IS IT MAD? IS IT FEAR?
Nope, it’s lonely. Quiet little lonely. Sulking around, trying to get noticed. Me, trying to ignore it.
I feel lonely. There’s a lot I enjoy about my life - I have a lot of privileges and freedoms to cultivate the life that I desire. But I’m often lonely. I grew up in the era of the TV show Friends - assuming that once I’d hit my 20s, I’d suddenly have a group of local friends a mere stone’s throw away from wherever I lived, and we’d all be friends with each other. Television really punches you in the gut with that narrative. How I Met Your Mother was like that too and they upgraded - They actually hung out at a BAR (side note: Both shows managed to never see people of color in New York City which is another bit of writing for another day.)
I also thought I’d have a partner. I’ve lived with a partner before, someone I believed I loved with my whole heart, despite how strained and incompatible we were. Yet I was so lonely so much of the time. I felt so alone in my own feelings. I felt alone in my experience. I felt isolated.
At the same time, I relish being alone. As an introvert, I love that quiet time to myself in my house, just the cat nestled up somewhere and me. I crave it when I don’t have that time regularly.
I’m acutely aware of the difference between being alone and being lonely. I write that and yet I sabotage being alone in order to avoid being lonely. Loneliness is one of those feelings I push away as much as possible when I’m alone. I leave the TV on in the background when I'm at home. I get lost browsing social media, watching other people’s lives appear less lonely than my own.
But when I exist, quietly, in my home. After a long day. No distractions. That’s when I feel it. It’s like this weighted blanket. It’s sort of comforting because it’s so familiar. And it’s also...heavy and a bit sad. Because the fantasy of being less lonely is so aggressively pushed onto our lives. Social media. Television shows. The constant messaging of always being with friends and finding a romantic partner that you live happily ever after with. Meanwhile there are people who are living alone - or with other people - and secretly being miserable.
I don’t consider myself to be secretly miserable. I did at one point. It turned out I was secretly suffering from depression.
Depression treated, the loneliness remains palpable. Sometimes it feels like some pieces are missing.
When I finally do confront the loneliness, it’s actually ok. The world doesn’t fall apart. I don’t sink into a deep depression, from which I’ll never return. I just feel a bit heavy, a bit “ok, this sucks.” Sometimes a bit of dread wrapped in questions - what if I always feel this way, what if I never meet someone to build a life with?
And then the reminder comes from inside me: loneliness exists regardless of that external life you’re thinking about from television. Being around people can't prevent loneliness. Being in a relationship doesn't guarantee you won't feel lonely ever again. The loneliness only alleviates itself when you let the feeling of connectedness in. Connection to the universe, to community, to family and friends. You feel that warmth come in and you feel a bit less weighted by lonely, even if you are still alone.
The cure for aloneness is company. The cure for loneliness is connectedness.
When I was in college, a guest lecturer asked us to complete a short writing exercise.
Who do you love? Who loves you?
I think about this prompt often, years later. I feel less alone when I think of the people I love. I feel less lonely when I think of the people who love me. That’s the connection - the threads getting woven together, over distances and over timezones. It knits us into a cozy little blanket.
Having a cat doesn’t hurt either :)