It seems like many of us are feeling lonely. It seems strange to feel so all alone in a world with so many other people around us. But loneliness has nothing to do with how many people live with us or how many people we talk to in a day.
Feelings of loneliness can be caused by the death of someone close to us, a huge life change such as a divorce or an empty nest, moving someplace new and starting over and not knowing anyone, physical isolation such as when you are sick or recovering from injuries, or even from emotional issues such as shame, social phobia, past trauma, trust issues, and low self-esteem. Substance abuse can also cause isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Divorce and a shift in family dynamics such as an empty nest can disrupt a life and cause feelings of depression…even if the change was for the better or looked forward to. Both of my kids moved out within two weeks of each other, and it was a major life change. I grieved for a good six months.
I have likened major life changes and loss like beating a rug and having all of the dust particles fly off into the air. Nothing feels solid or settled and nothing will feel settled for a while to come. We have to settle in to change. Adjust. Shift position. Accept the horrible feeling of panic and anxiety that comes from the unknown until the newness of the change begins to feel routine and safe again.
I ended up focusing my attention on my dog and then my dog had to be put down five months after my kids left home. So, then I got two dogs and I found that, as all pet parents know, you cannot replace a fur child. And a pet can’t stop the feeling of sudden loss when you’ve been a mom since you got the news you were pregnant. Sometimes you just have to feel the pain of loss. So, you cry. And if you are me, you write.
Loss through death rips out a part of you as well. Life gets rewritten. I once lived alone in a small house in the city, next to an abandoned two-family structure that attracted homeless people and people looking to do drug deals. It was a night about a week after my dad had passed and had seen a man take a sudden turn from the sidewalk in front of the house and walk right into the vacant house next door. The lock must have been broken by that point. I remember feeling so alone and vulnerable. I actually never slept in the bedroom in that house because of that feeling. I wanted to be able to get out if I had to.
I did call the police, and they took care of it, escorting the man who insisted he lived there, out of the house. But part of me felt that I no longer had my dad to protect me, and that was the hardest part. My father had been very sick and weak and would not have been able to physically help me had he been alive, but he would have cared and that feeling of protection would have been there, instead of feeling alone.
Being newly separated or divorced or getting transferred to a brand-new city where you don’t know anyone, can lead to feelings of isolation. So can going to college and being away from home for the first time in your life. When you have either been attached to another person or part of a family “pack”, being apart from those people and being in a new situation where you feel majorly aware of being alone, can create upheaval and uncertainty. Perhaps for the first time in a long time, or maybe the first time in your life, you are responsible for things by yourself. You have to make decisions for yourself. With freedom comes responsibility. Not everyone is emotionally ready for that.
When you are alone, without another person to distract from the noise and thoughts within your head, thoughts can run amok. If you are prone to emotional issues, radical change and too much time in your own head can raise unwelcome thoughts. Self-doubt, fear, self-hatred. Not feeling as good as other people. Past emotions begin to come forward again. You know what I’m talking about. Old family patterns. Nobody ever really understood you. You didn’t fit in. Things weren’t fair. You never lived up to expectations. Your trust was broken. Punishment was too harsh. There was alcoholic rage. You felt responsible for other people. There was trauma that you buried that now wants to emerge in the silence around you. We feel shame and are afraid to let anyone come close because we fear that we might disgust them.
But one of the surest ways that I’ve found to feel lonely is to have nobody understand you. To have nobody else “get” you. This happens a lot with trauma and growth, I think. With trauma, you can be forced into silence. When you grow up reacting to other people’s issues, these issues tend to become normal for you. When you grow up and out on your own, you may begin to question things you’ve known, but we all feel comfortable with what we know. So, we begin to sow the seeds of dysfunction with our children and they, too, begin to see it as normal. It’s not that someone may be “bad”, but rather unaware of any other sense of normalcy. And being comfortable and unaware tends to keep things stagnant and without growth.
So, when something happens within us that creates feelings of not being so comfortable…when it’s familiar but you begin to become aware that something isn’t quite right…change and growth may begin as you see other options and thought processes.
Make no mistake about it, gaining a new sense of awareness is scary as hell and brings about a sense of loneliness that can seem to be unbearable.
When we take an emotional step back, we begin to depersonalize other people’s issues. We allow others to fix themselves. And by detaching, it can also be a bit like a daisy discovering that it is supposed to be a daisy and not a dandelion. Discovery can feel lonely, but it can also let in the sun and the growth can actually start to feel good. And all at once, you can take notice that other daisies exist in the sunshine. They were there all along, but you’ve had your head buried under some dandelion’s butt trying to give them all of the sunshine. You get what I’m saying…nothing against dandelions.
Another thing about loneliness…when I first began to “grow”, I felt wrong. I thought that something was horribly wrong with me, and I didn’t know why. I grew up with such a normal life, and I was loved and not deprived…so what the hell was my issue? I had always been told my life was normal and that it was other people who had tough lives, so anything I felt that was odd or different must have meant that I was just defective or ungrateful.
Growth and insight are like the layers of an onion, both of which can bring on tears.
When I began to go outside of my comfort zone, getting an apartment for myself and my kids and becoming independent from both my husband and my parents, I began to develop panic attacks and agoraphobia. I was in a very dark place at that time. What kind of a parent was I? I was supposed to be a grown up and strong for my children. What was wrong with me?
In addition to what was happening inside of me, on the outside, I wasn’t really receiving help or information about what was happening to me. This was before the internet. Also add the stress of a major life change…moving out of my parents’ house into an apartment for the first time without someone there to help me, raising two boys who had babysitters quit after taking care of them for two hours and who were having their own emotional issues and school problems, having a full-time stressful job, having my mom tell me that I should be a better mother, like my friend, Irene, and having a brother recovering from addiction issues and suicide attempts…well, something had to give.
And. the hardest part? Not having emotional support or anyone who understood how I felt. And feeling like a failure. Feeling like I was alone at the bottom of a black hole with no way out. And feeling like it was because I was a “mistake”.
Anyone else ever get to that point? Where the stuff in your head is your worst enemy? That’s loneliness. You feel alone. Nobody should feel that way ever.
I remember I called my doctor asking for help. I was told there was nothing she could do for me. Nothing. I called the suicide hotline. I talked to a wonderful person…actually I cried to that wonderful person, for a half an hour before my son came home from school. And then I got angry. I was a mother, damn it. My kids needed me. I (looked up in the phone book…yes, before internet) and got ahold of a local college who needed volunteers for an anxiety program. I joined the program. They asked me how long I had been depressed. And like many people with depression, I asked…”What do you mean?” What I felt was normal to me. Other people with problems had depression.
But ultimately, it helped. I went to my doctor and said I was told I was depressed, and I needed help. I was asked (not the first time in my life) “What are you, a doctor? You are giving me your diagnosis?”
I got the meds. I don’t judge people who choose to self-medicate with liquor or drugs because I could have very easily turned to something like that in order to cope. And you know what is funny about that onion with its layers? It wasn’t until just recently that I connected the dots between my anxiety and panic at the time (and will always be there on some level) and the memory of when I was a child, and our family would be getting ready to go someplace. We would be getting ready to leave the house to go out socially. My father would be, for lack of a better word, a real asshole the entire time. Anxiety skyrocketed through the roof in my house from the moment we began to prepare to go someplace until we had arrived, and my dad got a drink in his hand.
You don’t realize how much you internalize and normalize patterns in your life with your family growing up. You don’t realize how it lays there, coiled up waiting for the right moment to come out and strike. What brought it out?
Perhaps, it was the message that it was wrong to leave my husband, or that a woman wasn’t strong enough to take care of things on her own. Yup, growth can hurt. It can tear you apart when you have to face the demons inside of yourself. And we have all been there at one point or another. Even in seemingly loving households, we got error messages that have to get sorted out as adults.
Loneliness can tear you apart. And in this world, it is a deadly epidemic. The question is, what can be done about it? What can help? There are no one-size fits all solutions. And it can be so difficult to have to pick yourself back up from the puddle on the floor that you feel you have become, to have the strength to do anything about it. It can be a destructive cycle. What has helped other people break this cycle? Please take a moment to answer this week’s poll about what helped you or what you would try in order to be less lonely.
Thank you and have a great week.