After reading this week’s article in the Globe and Mail, “Life of solitude: A loneliness crisis is looming” It brought up a lot of feelings around my own loneliness.
I wrote this post originally on May 7, 2011.
While the details are different, the overall idea remains the same.
I’ve started to write many posts about being lonely and loneliness; I’ve even written here that I am lonely. People naturally assume when I say this it’s about missing a man in my life. Sure a nice, stable, secure, fulfilling relationship would probably go a long way to alleviate this feeling but it’s not everything I’m referring to. The truth is, as articulate as I can be, I somehow never really seem to be able to explain what my loneliness was or how it’s started to overwhelm me to a point where I barely felt like I was visible.
I realize now that loneliness is something that has always been a part of me. Or at least for so long it feels like always, kind of like my depression. I wouldn’t know how I would define myself without either of those elements at this point. I don’t suffer from depression, I am a depressive. Loneliness, like depression, has marked me and it is part of me in a way I may never escape, try as I might. What’s odd, is that until I stumbled across Emily White’s new book, Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude, it’s like it never occurred to me that this chronic problem was impacting me in such an adverse way or that it was something anyone else went through. Silly, I know but sometimes we can’t see past ourselves – this is one of my blind spots.
From the preamble to the epilogue, I saw myself over and over in this book. I can only name two other books that have explained me to myself like this before: Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron and Black Berry Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada by Lawrence Hill. So reading this book was at once both gut-wrenching and freeing. Somehow, I’ve been given a little more insight into me; into who I am; what I need; what is lacking; why I can’t seem to find it; why I fear I may never; and why, against good advice, I don’t just, “put myself out there”.
These last four months have been some very dark times. Yes, I know commuting to and from work for five hours a day will suck the life out of even the most social, well-rounded, happy soul but when you don’t start at that place and things stress and strain you beyond what you imagine is possible, it only gets darker.
For as long as I can remember, I have always found maintaining relationships (of all kinds) with others to be beyond difficult for me. I am needy and emotional and easily hurt and even the slightest change in plans can send me into a tailspin. You don’t need psych 101 to know that much of this stems from my relationships with my parents – abandonment from my mother, emotional distance from my father – but still I always felt like it was just something wrong with me. I want too much. I expect too much. I need too much from the people around me and the expectations are so high that people can’t help but fall short constantly, which in turn leaves me feeling abandoned and alone. The more abandoned and alone I feel the more I withdraw; the more I push people away.
As I’ve gotten older my social world has begun to shrink drastically. And the sad, honest truth is, there is one person in this world I can depend on. Even when we fight, even when I am a heinous bitch, I know he is the one person in my life who won’t leave. Believe me, I’ve tried to push him out and somehow, for some reason he’s still here: supporting me, helping me, just sitting in silence while I stew about whatever the issue of the day is. Beyond him – I’m not close with anyone. I have a dozens of acquaintances but no one comes close to actually knowing who I really am and embracing her. My other “best friend” A, we have been growing apart for a while now and these past few months seem to have solidified this as well as an almost complete rupture with our circle of friends. The truth is, I’m not even sure any of them have noticed I’ve withdrawn from the group. In four months I’ve seen them twice – once for my birthday dinner and once at our recent potluck. Beyond that, we’ve not spoken on the phone, barely emailed…I’ve been virtually non-existent in their world and no one seems to actually care.
There have been days this past winter where the only human interaction I had was saying hello to my bus drivers and the odd email from my co-worker about projects I was working on. I ate lunch alone, got back on the bus, went home, got ready for work the next day and got into bed to repeat the process. Many weekends, I never even left my apartment until it was time to go grocery shopping and then I would once again return to my empty apartment.
It’s easy to say, get out there, socialize, call your friends, volunteer, meet new people…but the truth is, I feel like these things compound my feelings of loneliness. I went to a munch recently, G and I had a bit of an issue, but beyond that, being in a room of happy, chatty, people who were all excited to be there and meet each other made me feel like I was outside of whatever this experience they were having was. I was there but apart from everyone. I couldn’t connect and in no time I was overwhelmed and I left in a huff, leaving G on his own. This doesn’t mean I didn’t meet people, I did. I’ve even started chatting with a few of them but even that interaction is already starting to wear me down. So yes, socializing seems like the logical thing to alleviate my loneliness and yet, it seems to push me further in the opposite direction.
White uses the expression, “emotional anorexia” to describe her loneliness:
The idea of someone slowly starving herself seemed to make metaphoric sense. Just as an anorexic turns down food, I was turning down social interactions; at the same time, I was beginning to obsess and dream and fantasize about those very interactions. My relationship with sociability was becoming clouded and symbolic as an anorexic’s relationship with meals.
[…] one thing many researchers agree upon is that anorexia is a form of communication. The anorexic is someone using her body as a way of getting a message across, both to herself and to others. And I think that loneliness, in a way, operates in a similar fashion. Loneliness says something. In fact, it announces what the lonely person herself might not be able to say. I’m quite certain Cacioppo is right when he states that loneliness cues cognitive shifts that make togetherness seem threatening. It was partly for this reason that I found myself becoming so withdrawn […] I think I subconsciously wanted my social life to become stripped and bare, and I wanted this to happen so that others would see what I was missing. As I let my social circle shrink more and more, and as I let in less and less emotional nourishment, I was hoping that others would notice something going awry. I needed my loneliness as a signal – as a way of communicating to myself, and to others, that my needs were not being met. (295-6)
While my recent situation was mostly out of my control, I allowed things to become stripped and bare. I allowed myself almost no opportunity for connection with others and certainly no intimacy. The truth is, I don’t think anyone around me noticed my needs weren’t aren’t being met.
I don’t think you can heal or overcome loneliness on your own. It’s not that I am too weak or unable but what I need to heal me, to help me, to bring me back to life, is something I don’t have. I am already in my head 24 hours a day, there’s nothing more I can give to myself to make me feel less lonely. This leaves me in a precarious situation because it feels as though I am waiting for someone to save me, not really a position I am comfortable with. But logically, how does anyone not feel alone – through the companionship, the connection and the care of another. And until then, I’m trying to work on pushing myself to participate in the world a little more. It’s a struggle everyday and I still turn down or back out of getting together with people all the time. Counterproductive I know.
So I will continue to struggle in the hopes that one day, I won’t feel so lonely. That I won’t feel like I am always outside of the social circle.