This is the third in the series Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. After you’ve eaten a refreshing snack and calmed your anger, (or decided you’re neither hungry nor angry), ask yourself, “Could I be lonely?”
L=Lonely You don’t have to be alone to be lonely and you’re not lonely just because you are alone. The dictionary definition of lonely uses words like “a depressing feeling” or “unhappy because of lack of friends,” or “destitute of sympathetic companionship.” If you are secure in the love and friendship of others and can check in via email, phone, text, or (best of all) in person for an emotional boost, loneliness may dissipate. But sometimes even though you have friends and family, you still feel lonely. What then?
When you feel lonely, paradoxically the last thing you may feel like doing is reaching out. It’s almost like your brain thinks that you are lonely because a) no one likes you, b) you deserve to be alone, c) there’s no one in the world who understands you. Of course, this is nonsense…and you’d say as much to anyone who wasn’t you. The problem is that instead of getting the “lonely” signal, it’s all the other filters that come up first.
Once you identify loneliness as the issue, go ahead and phone a friend, settle down on Facebook, or get out of the house. But don’t just go where the people are. You can be just as lonely in a crowd of strangers at the mall. Go to where the action is and think about other people. Volunteering to tutor ESL, picking up a hammer at Habitat for Humanity, showing up at the prayer shawl ministry…or join Jazzercise (seriously, it’s crazy fun), a book club, or anything fun.
True story: When I first gathered the opening pages of my novel and headed out to a local writers’ group in Albuquerque, I was shy and terrified…setting myself up for loneliness. n fact, I was so very nervous that instead of heading down the stairs to the basement of the coffeeshop and pulling up a chair, I stayed upstairs and eavesdropped on the entire meeting. That’s right. I was 30 years old and scared that a group of strangers wouldn’t “like” me. When I thought it over, not going back would have “earned” me my loneliness. I really wanted to write and I really wanted to connect with other writers. The group was free, open to everyone, and I had pages to share. I was the only one standing in my way. So I steeled myself and attended the second meeting…and many, many thereafter. I even took some creative writing workshops at UNM. It helped to realize that other writers were just as worried about their own work and wanted critique and support from me as much as I wanted it from them.
Flash forward three years, after our move to Sugar Land. I head out to the local Barnes and Noble to attend the Fort Bend Writers Guild (now the Houston Writers Guild). I’d been in writers workshops and critique groups. I had my very best pages with me. I still spent the entire meeting lurking in the stacks, close enough to hear the group…but without actually attending. AGAIN! True story.
I guess my point is that being lonely is part of being scared to connect and that’s totally human. I give myself one free pass per activity…provided I get my sorry self back there the next week. Thank goodness I did brave the Fort Bend Writers Group and truly attend that second meeting. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have two incredible critique groups, be blessed with such an amazing support system of writer-friends, and have manuscripts I love. Letting loneliness cloud your judgement and color your “truth” will keep you lonely…and you deserve better!
My sister (the one who’s a a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Art Therapist here) recommends the meditations offered by Tara Branch, including one specifically on loneliness called “Emptiness Dancing.” Tara Branch is trained as a clinical psychiatrist, the founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC (IMCW), one of the the creators of the Washington Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the co-founder of the DC-based Meditation Teacher Training Institute. You can find her online guided meditations and more information about her here.
Special thanks to my sister’s dog Madi for illustrating loneliness as only a Vizsla can, even one with the very best in mental health resources at hand. Thanks also to Elfie, the Old English Sheepdog of my friend John, who is “lonely” in this picture because she is being excluded from our critique group. And she has so much to share…