It's Not Just You: Loneliness During The Holidays
I'm not a nursing home resident. I haven't buried a spouse. I've never been diagnosed with a mental health condition. My qualifications for writing about loneliness come from a place that's appreciably brighter than many of loneliness' heavier haunts.
They come from a childhood shared with an imaginary friend (real ones, too). They come from a folder swollen with divorce paperwork. They come from an introverted nature that, once I've reached my interaction quota for the day, tilts toward solitude.
Mostly, my qualifications arise out of what has replaced loneliness in my life -- a daily hum of contentment and, often, outright giddiness -- and my discovery that low-grade, temporal loneliness may well be a box inside which resides a reliable antidote.
Have we not all been lonely at some point in our lives? Away from home and loved ones during the holidays? Recently broken up romantically and crossing that long, lonesome bridge between "we" and "me"? In nests empty of the children who for so long represented our primary purpose?
Being alone doesn't necessarily mean being lonely, just as being around people doesn't automatically erase loneliness. In fact, loneliness in the company of others is often more acute because our brains can't compute how it can exist there. Worn-out marriages. Friendships where we wait and wait to be asked "And how are you?" and acknowledged as owning a heartbeat. Crowded gatherings where everybody is feeling some "belong" vibe that has apparently skipped us over.
Whatever its genesis, admitting we're lonely can carry a tinge of shame, as if there's something wrong with us, as if the need for meaningful human connection is something we should be able to surmount with the right Saturday night plans or X number of Facebook friends or a hyper-busy schedule. It's important to disclose our loneliness to a professional or someone who knows us at "normal" and heed their assessment. Looking for a quick fix, however, can make things worse. Many an affair, so heady with meant-to-be potency at the time, was borne out of loneliness. So, too, are barstools occupied by lonely hearts. Loneliness boxes us into the mindset that its only remedy exists outside ourselves. But lonely people aren't good judges of character or magnetic social butterflies: Can you say "desperate?"
I've come to believe that, sometimes, we're meant not to dodge our loneliness but to dive into its box and explore its corners. Buddhism teaches "lean into suffering" and the military "head toward the fight." My loneliness only began to lift when I gave up trying to shake it and just accepted that I was at a lonely place in my life, entirely justified by my circumstances. It was a phase, and it would pass, but not without me dealing with inner stuff I would never have been willing to touch, had I not been forced.
Lid off, I folded back layers like tissue paper inside a gift box, revealing self-improvement tasks whose time was insistently now: enlightenment books I needed to read, stories I needed to write, behaviors and perspectives I needed to change. I saw fears that needed conquering and fun that needed having. I saw individuals from whom I needed to distance myself ... ironic, given that populating my life with people seemed the obvious counter to my loneliness. The more deeply I dug, the less lonely and more whole I felt -- like someone who could actually and authentically connect with people rather than just using them to fill her loneliness hole.
Waiting for me at the bottom of the box were an acquaintance who grew into a soul-level friend, as well as a new pal with whom I laugh more loudly than I can remember. I found a community of crazies like me who swim across lakes, plus a circle of colorful others. So full is their presence, so full is my presence, there's no room left in the box for loneliness.
Take A Bath
Do A 20-Minute Workout
Cook Something Special For Dinner
Lie Down For A Quick Nap
Curl Up With A Good Book
Call Someone You Love Just To Say "Hi"
Watch A Funny TV Show Or Video Clip