It has been studied that loneliness can be as unhealthy as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. It can be attributed to obesity and higher mortality rates, and among prison inmates it has been found that solitary confinement increases mental health symptoms, leading to mental breakdowns and in some cases suicide.
Loneliness is something that we all feel, something we all fear to talk openly about when not alone or truly understand. Some people are lucky to say they aren’t as lonely, whether it’s because they have social supports from friends or family, or maybe just the extra love from a pet or partner.
I have wrote about solitude versus loneliness in my last post, and there is a type of “alone” that can be beautiful, powerful, and healthy. But what about the other “alone”, the isolation of self, the perceived lack of social support (which is the clinical definition of loneliness)?
Tonight, (as of posting this was on December 14th), I spoke with my therapist and I realised I have had this heavy, crushing loneliness for the past three weeks. In speaking about loneliness I realised it was triggered by my writing retreat, somewhere that I felt so connected and open to myself, to my writing, to my art. During this time I had my phone on airplane mode and turned off for an entire 72 hours, three days where I was present and mindful. This was a rewarding experience but it made me aware of how closed off I was, how much my social connectivity was filled with screen time, this black mirror that all at once gives and takes.
In speaking with my therapist, I described my loneliness as this crushing box of screens and information and words being thrown at me. I feel like I am constantly being communicated at but not connected with. How much I deeply crave intimate connections with people in real life, without a screen in between us , a vibrating phone or selfie being taken. I don’t even mean a physical or romantic craving, what I am truly craving this sitting down, having a conversation and listening to someone, with no distractions, with simply two or more souls, conversing, feeling each other’s vibe, listening and giving to another with simple attention.
Why has that become so hard? Why has this become something that I didn’t know I craved until I sat down and looked at it. The funny thing is, I have a big social circle, my phone buzzes with messages all the time… and lately, in the last few weeks, it has been overwhelming for me to even look at my phone, to even think of writing and replying. Sometimes, I look at the notifications and feel despair more than anything. I know, I am loved, I am lucky to have friends and attention, I am lucky to have these attempts at connection – but is it wrong to realise that your soul, your person-hood, that you, crave something real? I feel overwhelmed with LCD screens and artificial lights, I work for nine hours staring at a computer screen, I text all day, I scroll through Instagram, sometimes I go home and watch TV, and I have information and people constantly reaching me but why does it all seem so meaningless?
An interesting aspect of my loneliness is that I am proudly and fiercely independent, which is a positive attribute to have, to rely on oneself and go through life knowing you can get yourself through whatever is thrown at you, it is a strength. And yet, there is something that by being so independent that you in turn feel lonely. How often do people say they admire this about me, or how often they say that I seem too busy to interact with or to be invited along. But independence does not make you immune to feeling alone, to having needs of human connection. It can however, put you on a pedestal where asking for help or connection is hard, where reaching out does not seem like an option.
It is though? It is so powerful to reach out to those who love you in these moments of loneliness, it is brave and requires deep courage because with loneliness comes fear of rejection. It is also telling yourself that there are always people out there who will care for you, whether it seems real or not, or in my case if I can see it through the fog of depression or throes of emotional instability. I do know there is at least someone who cares for me, and I know, even though I may be alone, I will not always be lonely.
Thank you to Katryna, Lisa, and Cait for reading and editing this post!