Loneliness is something which is often (wrongly) associated with the elderly who, due to bereavement, reduced mobility or lack of disposable income, find themselves starved of social interaction. It is also something that isn’t really discussed – people are often a little ashamed to admit that they are lonely and reluctant to reach out to others for fear of being seen as a burden, or from embarrassment.
If you are reading this there is a good chance you know that owing to personal experience, I frequently write about mental illness and, crucially, the importance of discussing those subjects that a notable number in society shy away from. The only way that we can break down longstanding stigma is to have open, honest conversations – when something intangible is given a name, a voice, and takes centre-stage in suitable dialogue, it slowly becomes less frightening and can begin to be dealt with. When able, and when appropriate, I am keen to talk about mental illness with two principal aims: the first, and the most important, is to help others begin to accept that they are not alone – the feelings they are experiencing are being (or have been) felt by countless others (admittedly in varying strengths and frequencies). If I can help normalize and rationalize what can be exceptionally overwhelming and confusing thoughts, if I can help even one person feel a little less scared…
Secondly, when I’m going through a difficult period or struggling to function well, I try really hard to verbalize and organize the thoughts inside my head with the aim of finding some form of clarification and escaping the darkness. It’s important that if I am to come out other side I do that by causing as minimal damage and upset to others as possible.
I’m going through a difficult period at the moment. I know I’m not well … and, yes, I want to openly admit that I feel incredibly alone, isolated – lonely – right now.
I’m a couple of weeks away from turning 26 and this isn’t a recently-emerging feeling (anything but), but the level to which it has revealed itself has overwhelmed me and brought me to a place which I’d hoped I’d never see again. The more I tried to rationalize and explain such feelings of isolation to myself the more I realized that everything I felt like I wasn’t getting from others was caused by me and my life experiences. I’ve written before about my somewhat solitary childhood – growing up I had very few people who I considered friends, at school I was bullied a lot and often ostracised; I soon learnt that I was best off entering a classroom with the assumption that I would be sat alone for the hour to avoid being disappointed or left embarrassed when I was actively excluded by others – always an onlooker, always an outsider. That was always just how it was. I grew to accept it and tried to find ways to mitigate. Increasingly, however, these feelings of inadequacy have been harder to manage.
A trait which is considered one of the most unappealing is jealousy. I have been finding myself more and more jealous (and sometimes even resentful) of some people – people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. My prevailing standpoint, still more often than not, as the onlooker, overwhelms with a debilitating sense of emptiness and longing. I’ve never been on holiday, to a concert, or even for a picnic with friends – I’ve only ever been to the cinema a handful of times in my adult life. There must be a reason for this, yet I cannot even begin to describe the level of devastation that results from this realization. Is it because I still can’t separate myself from my default – the deeply engrained belief that I am not worthy of loving company, or is it that people just don’t enjoy being with me? Maybe it’s a bit of both. Maybe the former is a substantial contributory factor to the latter.
I have been privileged to have met some truly exceptional people in recent years – people who I feel safe with, who I laugh with and who I am always very keen to see more of -and, yes, people who I am letting myself call “friends.” I’m concerned, though. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just rather pathetically clinging on to their coattails by my fingernails frantically hoping to be dragged along and included and live a life which I crave, even for just a little bit. Never having been in a relationship only exacerbates that feeling I have of never being someone’s priority. More and more I have in the back of my mind that thought that people wished my seat were filled by someone else.
I can go days, weeks even, without receiving a text or message online – and I’m sure this is normal for a lot of people – there’s always an imbalance concerning those people are the sender and those who are the recipient and I accept that. That said, having never in my life felt loved or considered myself to be worth anything, I ensure that I tell those who mean the most to me just how much I do at every available opportunity and it would make me so happy if someone would, every now and again, invite me out or ask to meet up. The level of pleading messages (some still lacking a reply) I have sent is bordering on…no, is, embarrassing. This, sadly, only seems to fuel my sense of failure and loneliness. I never had, nor felt I deserved a full, rich social life. Now I want one. Desperately.
Sometimes even just a modicum of interaction assures me that I’m not totally alone. Living some distance away from some truly wonderful people who I miss dearly is difficult, so on a solitary day even just a few lines of conversation can really help. It’s just unfortunate that my conversation repertoire is somewhat lacking – I often repeat myself, asking the same question which irritates those on the receiving end. Such irritation does nothing but push them away further. Again my sense of failure and loneliness is stoked. But, if I don’t love myself how can I ever expect anyone else to or start to imagine that someone will?
What is becoming increasingly clear to me is that my longstanding sense of worthlessness is a powerful force which instinctively situates me outside of the social circle, peering in hungry and desperate for love and affirmation. This sense of worthlessness also damages any friendships I do manage to forge – my constant need for reassurance, my constant need to be told that I’m okay – that I’m welcome – puts a huge strain on the person who has to keep on picking me up. I am absolutely terrified of being forgotten, of being left. I’m already clinging onto those around me for dear life, but this act of clinging surely only makes people want to escape quicker. It’s clear why people leave. It’s clear why I may never feel loved, included, or wanted. I can’t be angry at them, and I won’t be – I will love them, and if that has to be from a distance, well, so be it.