Are You Lonely?

loneliinessAs an introvert* I seek out solitude and rarely spend time with people beyond my family. My brain only has so much bandwidth and I am generally busy filling it to the brim, drippy, with other people’s words from podcasts and books. I find myself laughing along with the banter, happily immersed in the dialogue, nodding my head in agreement, pausing now and again to consider. Until it’s over and then I find myself alone. And sometimes, most often during the wistful transition of spring or fall, keenly aware of a tender loneliness resting heavy in my gut.

A familiar melancholy that I have tangled with throughout my life.

In junior high I envied tight knit groups of girls while I was always pretty sure that my friends could ditch me in a heart beat. Today I see FB pictures of women I know celebrating, laughing, with their women’s groups and book clubs. Or my little sister, so social, with her sorority or new nursing friends. It seems so easy for others. I know women who regularly troupe off together on girl’s trips or to crafting parties. None of these activities call to me though I genuinely love that these women are connected and supporting each other.

When I have revealed this truth to others in the past, admitted to this occasional but profound loneliness, the typical response has been to urge me to make a greater effort, sign up, join in. But they haven’t figured out that being busy or sitting in a crowd is not the antidote to lonely although it might offer a temporary distraction. Alone in my kitchen or side-stepping hundreds of strangers in a farmer’s market, I can feel alone. In fact, I tend to feel lonelier in a crowd of thousands than sitting by myself in my living room. Perhaps some of you can relate.

And at times such as this, no matter how many years I have lived, there remains this seed of doubt in me. That everyone else has figured out this thing called life. The secret sauce of adulthood. How to be a mature, consistently disciplined, fully contented grown up. Perpetually self-assured. And I wonder if I’m a fraud. A ‘sort of adult’ who has bumbled my way this far but I’m not quite sure how and like maybe it will all collapse around me and the whole world will see the truth. That some days I feel broken and insecure. Lonely.

I wonder how many of the people I watch going about their ordinary lives also feel this way. At least some of the time.

I remind myself to reach out and initiate meaningful one-on-one connection. To request a coffee date. To get in the car with my basket of snacks and drive to see my sisters who know and accept me. I actually thoroughly enjoy teaching classes or leading workshops and connecting with the women who join me there, learning bits of their stories. Encouraging them. I chat with strangers on the bus in a foreign country, eager to connect, to bridge the gap. But then I get off the bus and I am alone once again. You know how it feels when you are totally immersed in an amazing novel, in love with the characters and their stories, and then it ends? It wasn’t your story after all. You were simply an observer.

But I don’t just want to digest other people’s stories anymore. I want to simmer and serve up my own. I want to speak and teach and build community in my own way – big or small. Small is just fine. And I want to invite you to do the same. The only thing is, I don’t know how to be who I am not and some days wonder if there truly is a place for me here in this big wide world of experts and specialists and perfectly poised coaches. I reveal too much and bare my heart too easily, leaving myself vulnerable.

I do not claim to be an expert, only a fellow sojourner, teaching that which I have walked through myself.

And when the loneliness comes I sit here with it, muddy, in the thick and murky melancholy and I (mostly) do not numb or distract it away. Remembering that struggling against it fitfully sucks me down deep, like quicksand; and I almost drowned that way in the past. But not today. And I remember that it is part of my real story but it isn’t the fullness of who I am and it will pass. It is temporary. But perhaps this part of my story, the real, unvarnished, jagged bits are those that help carve out my space in the world after all. They are my gift. My offering. The song of hope and redemption I offer to those of you who know precisely what I am talking about and need to be reminded that you will be ok.

That joy comes in the morning.

And perhaps you wonder how it is that I advocate joyful living but admit this truth about myself. And if you asked I would remind you that just like courage is not the absence of fear, Joyful living is not the absence of pain or struggle. It is a choice. A decision to step out despite the struggle. A willingness to stop running and sit quietly in the midst of it and breathe and feel the discomfort but also notice the good. A belief that there is One who loves me completely, just as I am. As you are. But also to remember it is because of the struggle, perhaps, that I can know joy so intimately. For I have tasted despair. I have hungered for peace and acceptance. And I have quietly shed tears of joy in the midst of it all.

If you can relate, you may be lonely, but you are not alone.

Krista xo

*Have you read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking? (amazon.ca affiliate link) I listened to it on audio a few years back and it was life-giving:)

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15 comments on “Are You Lonely?

  1. I have had my times of loneliness too. Mostly when I have isolated myself, struggling with something. After our son was diagnosed with autism at age 12, 7 years ago, I went into a period of grieving that lasted until, well, maybe two years ago when I started to really come out of it. That grieving led me to isolate myself and stick close to my nuclear family–not 100% a bad thing to do, but not the best. I stopped talking to neighbors as much, stopped bringing my kids places because sometimes my son’s behavior embarrassed me (he would get very frustrated sometimes and melt down). It was fear and grief that kept me alone and lonely. I am a massive introvert too, so my social needs are pretty low, but that hiding myself away was what really led to the discontent. It was the start of too much Facebook time for me, which is pretty much an addiction (or was, much less so now). I feel like I was “fed” by Facebook and blogging, but it wasn’t as satisfying as real-life relationships, for sure.

    Now I feel very little loneliness, even though I still spend inordinate amounts of time alone. I’ve reconnected with my dearest “real life” friends. We went to Florida together for a week in January, and that was such a huge blessing. Now we’re back to getting together once a month, which had long been our pattern but which we all dropped as we moved to different places in the state. We’re making it work, even though we have to drive 1-2 hours sometimes to see each other. George and I have also done major amounts of healing work together, which benefits our marriage and our kids, and we feel more connected now–as a couple and family, even as our kids “fly the coop” and we envision becoming empty nesters soon.

    I do believe both that there are cures for loneliness, and that it’s something internal that humanity has probably struggled with forever. I think our modern world, which is so disconnected, can really cause us to be lonely though too.

    • Hey Lisa, thank you for sharing some of your story! It is a multi-faceted issue for sure. The online world, while very helpful in many respects (and I met one of my best friends via her blog!) isn’t a substitute for flesh and blood, face-to-face friends. Loneliness can definitely come up with messages for us and I do think we should be willing to sit with it and listen before rushing to get rid of the uncomfortable feelings. I have needed to learn that I am enough. That relationships are beautiful and yet alone, I am also enough. And I agree that making the effort to forge those deep connections is worth it, too. Like meeting up with a girlfriend in Montréal or driving to visit sisters, getaways with our partners (even if it means just driving to Costco in the nearest city, a four hour round trip where we have each other to ourselves). But again, sometimes these visits cannot ease the inner loneliness. It stems from another place. A longing for a different world; one without such pain and sorrow. Grief over separation from loved ones. I appreciate your thoughts:)

  2. Thank you for this post, Krista. This is something I have been struggling with and have wondered “why, what is going on”? It is nice to know I am not the only one who feels this way.

  3. We moved to South Carolina from Maryland last year. The first few months were a whirlwind of settleing in and making our unfinished attic into a dream bedroom/bathroom. I am not employed, I consider myself retired after homeschooling my children thru high school. My daughter decided she didnt want to go to the local college and chose to go to the one her sister was at, in Virginia. My husband went on a 6 month work related trip to a distant land. Our dog died. My Mom died. I was alone in a new place. Thankfully I had my dear cat to keep me company. A sister visited. My nieghbor took me to her beach house for a weekend. I met my contractor at the local pub to watch the Super Bowl. I put our new space on AirbNb and had several rentals that kept me busy. I met my siblings in Illinois for 5 days to see how our father was doing. But I certainly had times of extreme loneliness these past few months. Friday I head to my daughters graduation from college, she wont be here this summer as she accepted a camp counseling job in Maryland. My other daughter will be here for the summer and my husband comes home in July. I am trying to make good use of this time, doing a juice cleanse, reading, working thru “The life changing magic of tidying up”. But I have fallen into some bad habits too…drinking too much wine, staying up till 3 or 4 am bingewatching Parks and Rec and other shows, sleeping until noon or 1 or occasionally 5pm! I am so looking forward to having my family back! But it has been nice in some ways too. I find when my daughters are not here I tend to worry a lot less about them for some reason. I am one of those introverts that seems to others to be an extrovert. But I love my alone time….just not 5months worth!

    • You had a ton going on there for a time (sorry about the loss of your mom and dog!). I totally love my time alone, too…. and then know when I am lacking in connection. And as I mentioned above, sometimes for me the loneliness isn’t even just about people – but about sadness or longing. I appreciate you commenting;)

    • Thank you for saying you are retired after homeschooling (and raising) your kids through high school. My kids are 19 and 17, and I’ve homeschooled them most of the time (with some help from the local schools), and I absolutely think I should be able to retire after all this. I am working from home part-time, but I would like to not even have to do that (or at least do it absolutely by my own choice and not someone else’s). I would REALLY like to not feel pressured by everyone in the world to work “now that the kids are grown up.” Goodness, I’m tired and could at least use some time off! My husband understands my desires, but there’s still so much outside pressure. So many friends are now ready for a “career,” and I’m just not interested. I want to have fun! And still be free to set my own schedule and pace of life. I want to relax. I hope I don’t sound too whiny. 🙂

      • Homeschooling is a big, full-time job with little pay – few coffee breaks and professional development days:) Just take your break, Lisa, regardless of what others think or choose for themselves. As I wrote a while back, after my last heads to school (so I will have homeschooled 15 years) I taking a gap year to rest and read and reflect. I will do PT work but only when and if I want to.

  4. I could’ve written these exact words, seriously. You touched on exactly how I feel so often. I am surrounded by a loving family (my husband and kids), and I love my life — but I feel so similar in the “grown up” department when I see all these women get together for their parties and outings and vacations. I have no desire to do it, but at the same time I feel like I’m missing something? I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but you articulated it so well. Thanks so much for posting this. So good to know we are not alone (but what to do about it…maybe that can be your next post!)

  5. You are welcome, Jen. I will most likely explore the topic again (including, perhaps, what to do about the loneliness) but the challenge is that there can be so many different root causes. Like some people really need help to overcome social anxiety and get out there more, some need to forgive and be willing to risk again, for some the loneliness is about underlying depression, for others about grief over the loss of loved ones. Maybe a whole messy mixture of factors. But absolutely, good to explore further. And thank you for reaching out:)

  6. I identify with this post on many levels. I constantly struggle to find the right “balance” of connection and solitude/down time. I find that I need a lot of the latter because my work brings me in contact with a lot of people and that can leave me depleted. I have never been a “social butterfly” at all…which was (and is) hard growing up as the eighth child in a big family where I was caught between generations. Funny how some of the most painful ways I feel this push-pull is with those I grew up with…

    Krista, I just wanted to say that I discovered your blog a little while back and really love it. Your depth and honesty and insight are just what I need as I ponder many things about my life at middle age. Thank you.

  7. Thank you, Erin, for reading and telling me that my words matter:) I am second born in a family of 12 – also feels like two generations raised under one roof so I think I can relate to your experience somewhat (though being one of the first vs one of the last or middle child do bring some unique experiences).

  8. I understand very much this melancholy, this loneliness. Thank you for writing this! I read every word and thought – oh my goodness…that’s me, too! It’s hard to express this ever present feeling. I don’t think there was a time when it wasn’t ‘there’. It was there with me as a child. It’s a part of who I am. I can’t imagine it not being with me. There are times when I look around and wonder why I was ‘designed’ this way because everyone around me seems like they’re having more fun, or that they’ve got it all together, or that they’re easily amused (and for the life of me, I don’t understand why I can’t have some of that lol). I’ve often wondered whether I’m ‘flawed’, or why I ‘see’ life in this way and others don’t. So I’ve realized that perhaps this melancholy is a kind of ‘sweet’ spiritual longing of sorts. It’s actually what connects me to something deeper within myself and to something deeper outside of myself. I understand that feeling about being in a crowd. While it seems as though I ‘envy’ others’ ‘togetherness’ or sense of celebration, I actually don’t want THAT, either. The melancholy or loneliness is amplified even more. It’s as if I can feel the presence of a moment so deeply in a crowd and I wonder whether others feel it too but for some reason, I don’t think that they do – like being awake in a dream. It’s interesting…it’s not that I’m ‘unhappy’ either or that I choose to isolate myself. That’s not it all. Because I don’t isolate myself. It’s that this concept of ‘happiness’ is quite illusory. I’m told that I can have that if I want it. But what does it mean to be ‘happy’? Does it mean acquiring things? Does it mean that once I achieve x, y, or z, I’ll finally have the life I’ve always wanted? No. The ’emptiness’ is still there and I’ve learned to accept that I don’t need to fill this emptiness!! 🙂 It’s okay for it to be there. I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re okay! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. All the best to you.

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