Being lonely isn’t something that is talked about or admitted in social circles. It feels shameful, embarrassing and like a personal failure. But it’s something I’ve struggled with off and on for the past couple years.
It can be incredibly difficult at times, but I think in some ways being lonely has made me a better person. As with any struggle in life, there were good days and there were bad days. But I knew I had to do something.
What Is Loneliness?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the loneliness epidemic? There is a surprising amount of researching being done on the topic of loneliness, and research finds that it doesn’t discriminate on age. Loneliness affects both young and old. According to Elizabeth Bernstein’s Wall Street Journal piece, Alone or Lonely, the rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled over the past thirty years. In the 1980’s only 20% of Americans reported being lonely, but today that number is up to 40%. This new research is especially pertinent in our modern society where social connection is supposedly easier than ever before thanks to the internet and social media. So why now are we facing a “loneliness epidemic”?
There are various theories of why people feel lonely. Being lonely doesn’t necessary mean you are actually physically alone. There are many ways to be lonely – in a crowded room, in a relationship. But loneliness is more of a state of mind where one feels empty, on their own, or isolated.
One thing I’ve found really important to combatting my own loneliness is examining the quality of personal bonds I share with others. Not the quantity, but the quality. This wasn’t an overnight process. There isn’t a magic ticket out of loneliness and I know that there are seasons of life that come and go. In fact, it took me about a year to finally face up to doing something about this part of my life. I have close friendships and a loving family, so why was I feeling lonely? I recently read All At Sea by Decca Aitkenhead and this quote really helped me find clarity on one of the reasons why I was feeling lonely:
Only now do I understand that loneliness is not an absence of company, but of meaning.
That really resonated with me. My family moved across the country to Colorado last year and the past 12 months have brought a lot of change in my life. I bought a house, left my job and started a new one, got a second dog and faced tough relationship troubles. I started working from home and while it’s amazing and I love it, it was a struggle to adjust to for the first couple months. I was used to being in an office surrounded by people, and all of the sudden I could go days without seeing anyone else but my barista or the mailman, and sometimes not even them. In fact, loneliness in freelancers is often higher than in traditional workplaces.
What Helped Me
I’ve always been the kind of person to face obstacles in life with persistence. If I’m unhappy in a job, I tirelessly search until I find a better opportunity. If I feel overwhelmed with managing aspects of my life (things like my mortgage and savings account) I figure out a way to figure it out. If I’m feeling depressed or anxious and feel unequipped to handle those emotions on my own, I go to my therapist.
Being lonely pushed me to do things I wouldn’t normally do. I started fostering senior dogs through a local rescue which introduced me to a community of people who care about things I do, I co-started a book club with my friend Hannah, I tested new recipes, read more and went to more events than I normally do. I tried to do things that were slightly outside of my comfort zone, but not too scary that I wouldn’t ever want to do them again. Going to local events was actually a big one for me. A few years ago I was a lot more active in the arts community here in Philly and I got burnt out from constantly saying yes to everything. That led to a year or two of not really pursuing a social life outside of work any my circle of friends. So I decided I’d start going to more things around the city, but only things that really sounded interesting and that I knew I would enjoy even if I felt socially awkward. Things like sour beer tasting, a new brewery opening up, a local tea tasting. I guess most of my interests revolve mainly around food 😛 Either way, slowly but surely I started to feel more connected with my community again.
Another tactic I used was scheduling. By scheduling out my day I started to regain the structure of a traditional workplace and it offered me a feeling of accomplishment as I moved through assigned tasks. It provided a structure to my day which helped me feel purposeful. In addition to scheduling out my work day, I started scheduling other aspects of my life.
Schedule Time For Solitude
Another strategy that helped me combat loneliness was scheduling time for solitude. Now I know that sounds like the exact opposite of what I was aiming for but for me, solitude is a time to reconnect with myself and to do things that I want to do simply for the pleasure of doing them. Things like reading, taking online classes, listening to podcasts, and watching informative documentaries. I love to learn and each of these activities distracted my mind and added purpose to my down time. I started to look forward to this hour or two of my day when I was intentionally scheduling a solo activity that was just for me. Solitude finally felt like a treat. I love how Lorie Helgoe put it when she wrote, “Solitude is not lack“.
The past few months I’ve been feeling more like myself. I’m happier, engaged in more activities that I find meaningful, and balancing my life between social time and solitude. Experiencing loneliness was my opportunity to examine why I was feeling this way, and a chance to expand myself. Loneliness isn’t fun, but it pushed me to acknowledge and address my needs and ultimately better myself for my own happiness.
I’d Love To Know…
Thanks for letting me share this piece of my life with you. This has been sitting as a draft for months and working up the courage to hit publish may have involved some red wine, but here we are. But I’d love to know…do you struggle with loneliness? How does it manifest if your life? How do you help yourself?