What it’s Like to be Very Lonely

I write a lot of posts about my experiences and adventures and what I’ve learned about my life and myself. I like to keep the tone positive, hopeful. But I also like to be honest. It’s so easy to just give part of your story online, to just show the highlight reel, but I don’t want to do this here. I want to be authentic in my writing and I want to give you the full picture.

That’s part of why I’m sharing this post. I’m not sharing this with you to garner sympathy or attention. I wrote it because writing helps me make sense of difficult things and helps me better understand myself and what I’m going through. I’m sharing it because maybe someone who struggles with the same things will read it and feel just a little less alone as a result. And I’m sharing it because it’s a real part of the full picture; just as real and a part of me as all the sweet, wonderful moments I’ve shared also here.

I recently read this post, written by “The Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin, about loneliness and can’t stop thinking about it because I can relate so deeply.

Rubin writes, “Without thinking it through, I’d assumed that being lonely would make people warmer, more eager for connection, and more accepting of differences in others. If you’re lonely, you’re going to be open to making friends and therefore more easy-going, right? To the contrary! It turns out that being lonely has just the opposite effect.”

I read that and thought, well of course it does.

She also writes, “Loneliness makes us so anxious and worried about rejection that it distorts our thinking and our behavior.”

This is also most certainly true.

Loneliness is no joke, people.

Loneliness is no joke, people. And, for me, it comes as a three-pack special, vacuum-sealed together with depression and anxiety. I can’t tell which one causes the other. I’m not sure if the stress-induced anxiety leads to loneliness, which then leads to depression or if the loneliness comes first, causing the stress-induced anxiety to worsen, which then crashes down into depression. Whatever the order, or the cause, for as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with these three things.

When I was in high school I think we all chalked it up to teenage angst. While I had a few good friends and was part of a loving family, I never really fit in anywhere particularly well and more often than not spent Friday and Saturday nights home alone in my bedroom. That not fitting in bugged me. And, frankly, it hurt. I reacted by crying and spending a lot of time alone in my bedroom.

I would go to bed early and prop a chair up against my bedroom door so no one could come in and check on me, turn on the radio, curl up into a tight ball in my bed and sob. I cried because it all—the depression, the loneliness—hurt so, so much. I felt like I was suspended in this deep, impossibly dark, bottomless pit. I wished I would cease to exist and often went to sleep thinking it would all be for the best if I never woke up.

In my twenties I always blamed my most recent break-up. The depression-loneliness-anxiety actually made sense to me in light of a break-up. It was culturally acceptable to cry in bed and feel a little hopeless after having my heart broken. Plus I did have friends to hang out with on the weekend. Oftentimes instead of crying alone, I cried to them after drinking too much, which, of course, never really made me feel better. It made some friends feel helpless, alienated others and, consequently, made me just feel sadder and more alone.

I’m 32 now but I still have days when I feel like I’m 14 again. I’ve driven to work on recent Monday mornings and sobbed the whole way after realizing I haven’t spoken to another person in 48 hours. I feel that heavy, hopeless weight all the time as I wonder where I belong and what my purpose is in this world. I force myself to go out with friends only to come home a couple hours later feeling lonelier than I did before I left the house. I feel the anxiety from work stress intensely in my chest, always crouching, always ready, waiting to pounce and snatch my breath away. I’ve recently cried on the floor of my office, at the grocery store and during a run. And I still sometimes cry in my bed on Friday nights, tucked into a tight ball, trying to protect myself from the infinite darkness.

As an adult, I’ve tried to shake it off. I pray. I meditate. I exercise. I work hard. I breathe deep and thank God for the trees and the mountains. And then, even despite these things, the darkness, the hopelessness, finds me.

As an adult, I’ve tried to shake it off. I pray. I meditate. I exercise. I work hard. I breathe deep and thank God for the trees and the mountains. And then, even despite these things, the darkness, the hopelessness, finds me.

I’m realizing these demons are part of me. There hasn’t been a recent trigger—no teenage hormones or true love rejections—to account for their presence. They’re no one’s fault. No one brought them to me. I can’t blame them on rejection or put the fault on another person anymore. They are part of me, no less so than the scars and freckles on my arms. And this realization absolutely terrifies me.

It terrifies me because it means there’s no end in sight. There’s no heartbreak to get over, no graduation on the horizon. There’s no guarantee that I’ll ever feel any different, or that I’ll ever be anyone other than this depressed-lonely-anxious person despite my every best effort.

Unless, of course, I recognize that I desperately don’t want to be that person and I work as hard as I possibly can to fight it.

So right now I’m working on making some big and small changes in my life so I can try things out from a different angle, because I’ve accepted that the angle I’m currently taking is clearly not working.

It’s not easy. It’s deeply uncomfortable to step outside of the familiar, even if the familiar is dark and painful. I feel hopeful one day and lonely as hell the next. Sometimes I don’t know how to keep myself above the surface long enough to make new plans and implement change. And I often wonder if any of any of it will make a difference.

I’ve seen enough light in my life, though, to know that it’s worth the work; that it’s worth trying to have more of it.

I’ve seen enough light in my life, though, to know that it’s worth the work; that it’s worth trying to have more of it.

I do believe that sometimes happiness is a choice, a decision to change one’s attitude or perspective. I also believe that sometimes getting to happy is a little more difficult and that, for some of us, all we can do is acknowledge that we want to get there and choose to practice doing so. I also believe this isn’t always something we can do alone. We need to talk, we need to share and we all need to help each other find a little more light from time to time.


6 thoughts on “What it’s Like to be Very Lonely

  1. Tracey…this is all so powerful and tender and beautiful and agonizing. And honest. As smart as you are I suspect already know how much further ahead you are than all the many others who share your unholy triumvirate — loneliness/depression/anxiety — and have no awareness whatsoever. And no ability to write about it in such a deeply introspective manner. I am in awe!

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