I’m sitting here at six in the evening, the fire sparking in our fireplace, blazing against the dark night outside, my husband studying for his big exam, and me snuggled up with all of our blankets on the couch. It’s weird that tomorrow is July because it feels like it should be the hottest time of the year. But I am very, very cold in Auckland winter. And cold affects me. Dark affects me. And, personally, that makes me not a fan of either.
When it’s dark and cold and damp outside, I find myself feeling quite sad. I do struggle with depression from time to time, but that time to time always seems to find it’s “time” in the winter. And that seasonal deep-rooted sadness often finds a hook in loneliness.
Good thing we’re working on that very subject this week! I am able to try and practice what I write here. I am counting my blessings. My husband lit a fire for me, put the “light box” where it shone into my face, and as I write, he is making me dinner. I hear the dishes scraping and the microwave going. Oh! And he made me an extra-large stovetop espresso this morning. How can I not be thankful? A minute ago, I was thinking, I wish he’d stop studying and sit with me. But now my thoughts are changing as I look at the big picture. He is studying to be a nurse – to provide for us. And I feel now, like I do 99.9% of the time, that I am the luckiest woman on earth.
I am following my list, doing what I enjoy: writing, sitting, drinking tea. I am “imagining peace”. I find it.
A lot of people tell me I’m brave for writing a blog, but it’s one of the best ways I can help myself. Writing helps me, and just the glimmer of a thought that a post might help someone gives me ineffable joy.
One reason I think they tell me I’m brave, though, is because I am talking about loneliness – and not only loneliness in general. I am talking about my own loneliness. There is a “social stigma”, as Ami Rokach puts it, where “social perceptions of lonely people are generally unfavourable” (foreword to Loneliness Updated). It’s true, isn’t it? When someone comes out and says that they are lonely, we don’t know what to do. We freeze, and try to get out of that very uncomfortable situation. But, what we might want to do instead is say, “Do you want to go grab a coffee sometime?” And make a date then and there. Because, continuing on with Rokach, “lonely people often have very negative self-perceptions, believing that the inability to establish social ties is due to personal inadequacies or socially undesirable attitudes.”
Now, we know from the last post that we need to be okay within ourselves. But, it makes it a lot easier when we have the affirmation and encouragement of others. This is not to say that we need to be dependent on others, nor do we want to enable people to be entirely dependent on us. But, people need people. Since the dawn of time, people have needed people. Even animals go in packs, or schools, or prides. It’s essential to our survival.
There’s a huge cycle that occurs, though, when loneliness becomes more than a passing feeling. We feel lonely, we become less able to see ourselves as worth getting to know, we get stuck in this feeling of being low, and there seems like there is no way out. Our loneliness expert, calls it a Catch 22: “Real relief from loneliness requires the cooperation of at least one other person, and yet the more chronic our loneliness becomes, the less equipped we may be to entice such cooperation” (Cacioppo 33).
And, so, the question is: How do we find the “other” person when it’s hard to break this cycle? Here are some ideas I have from my own experience that I sincerely hope will help you as well:
- Make a list of people that care about you. This list will grow because there are more people than you could ever know who care about you.
- Tell someone that you are lonely. It will be someone on your list. I told my husband, but only after a couple weeks. I should have told him sooner. Make sure they know that it’s not their fault. It just happens sometimes. Ask for their support.
- Be the hero. Help someone else who might be lonely… or even someone that doesn’t seem lonely. Be the one to ask someone to go for coffee. Or a Dr. Pepper. Whatever you or they like. Don’t wait for someone to ask you. You’ll only end up frustrated and your loneliness will compound into bitterness. And, to me, that seems more difficult to shoo away.
- Use your positive thoughts. A lot. You can never have too many. In fact, it will be hard to beat the number of negative thoughts you think a day without even being conscious of them. Count your blessings.
- Be proactive. Go out and find people. Go to a group, join a club, find a fitness class or get into a gym. People will probably not walk up to your door and ask to be your friend. But, you can make friends naturally.
- Don’t engage in self-destructive behaviors. I’m not going to say to never eat a gallon of ice cream when you’re sad. I shouldn’t because dairy makes me sick. I had a [soy] Red Velvet Mocha Starbucks Frappuccino the other day, knowing full well that it would make me sick for the next day, and that was wrong. Love yourself by taking care of yourself – and with lonely people, this often means eating well and exercising.
- Let’s try not to be monsters. And sometimes all we can do is try. This loneliness cycle can create in you a frustrated, difficult person. Work on liking yourself (because you do have worth), and this will make it easier. Cacioppo says that loneliness “can trigger hostility, depression, despair, impaired skills in social perception, as well as a sense of diminished personal control” (Cacioppo 34). Don’t blame your loneliness on someone else. It’s no one’s fault. It’s human nature. It’s all of us, remember?
My husband is bringing the dinner down. I start eating the cauliflower when he says, “Let’s pray”. I begin to tell myself I don’t deserve him because earlier I was frustrated that he didn’t come sit with me, and now, here he is. He’s praying for me, feeding me, making me warm, and loving me. And I choose to accept all of it, and let it make me happy. He is not the cure for my loneliness, nor are any my friends. My church is not the cure. My gym is not the cure. But they are all part of the solution. I’m doing what I can do in the lonely times. And there are more and more good days than there were before.
Missed something? We don’t want you to feel left out. 🙂
Check out the rest of the “Loneliness Series”:
1. Loneliness: It’s All of Us
2. Loneliness: The Problem, the Paradoxical Virus, and a Cure
3. Loneliness: Finding the “Inner” Person
4. Loneliness: Finding the “Other” Person
5. Loneliness: Finding Meaning in What you Do
6. Loneliness: For the In-Between
7. Loneliness: Understanding Loneliness in All People
8. Loneliness: Helping Others, Helping Yourself
9. Loneliness: Finding the “Upper” Person
10. Loneliness: Final Thoughts on an Un-Final Topic