Loneliness is perhaps the strongest, harshest non-physical pain humans can endure. Nostalgia is strong but some people look warmly upon it. Grief, especially over the death of a loved one or a recent tragedy, can be piercing. But loneliness is particularly strong, and for some, isn't caused by anything...it simply exists.
Loneliness is something I experience often. As I've wrestled with this complex emotion and as I've looked for "cures," help and relief, I've learned a few things. I hope that some of the things I've learned throughout my journey can help someone somewhere.
- There's nothing wrong with you. This is super important to remember when wrestling with loneliness. This is an emotion felt by every human at some point in their lives. Even when there is no "obvious reason" for the upset, loneliness can present itself without warning. And that's okay. You're okay.
- There is no cure. Humans love to look for practical, step-by-step cures for every problem in our lives. Losing weight, reducing stress, time-management, improving communication...it goes on and on. While some of life's challenges can be answered with a neat little list of to-do's, the complexity of the human mind can rarely (if ever) be reduced to this convenience. I personally can experience loneliness when I'm surrounded by people. Airports continue to be one of my favorite, yet conflicting places to be. International airports bring so many diverse people into a very small area and this can create an amazing, unique dynamic (if we let it). But between the anger caused by the delays, the stress of meeting boarding times, increased screen-time and the overall anxiety many travelers experience, we rarely allow ourselves to interact with other people. Despite the crowds, it can feel very lonely. I've grown used to traveling by myself, but this sort of isolation can hurt a bit. The point is, there is no cure in crowds, a boyfriend/girlfriend or even in a religious surrounding. Loneliness can just be there sometimes, despite all the people and prayers we use trying to suppress it.
- Seek contentment. It's okay to not feel okay. It's okay to lose your cool. It's okay to externalize your emotions. Never apologize for expressing yourself, even if that means crying in public. DO NOT numb yourself to your emotions via alcohol, television or any other unintentional numbing device. Rather, be intentional with the time on your hands. If you're at work, remind yourself that you work for a higher purpose (ideally, for the better of your coworkers, customers, clients or so on). If you're traveling, make it a point to meet a new person (and be okay if you never see that person again, that momentary connection is enough reason). If you're alone, allow your mind to wander (as Louis C. K. argues, you have an infinite universe in your head). You may not emotionally feel better as a result of any of this, but that doesn't mean you should not do any of these things. It is important to maintain a rational understanding that this feeling will pass.
- Find value. As cliché as it may be, we couldn't appreciate the precious nature of community without the contrast of loneliness. I still can't comprehend just how precious human connection is. A smile goes way beyond the physical movement of muscles in the face; there is a spiritual, emotional connection created between two humans with something as simple as a smile (or you can go here for a more scientific take on smiling). Take the time to acknowledge your loneliness but do not linger on it. It will pass, as every thing eventually will. Be rational and remind yourself of the importance of community. Allow loneliness to motivate your search for community but don't allow such community to numb you emotionally.
- You are enough. This is perhaps the most important thing in this blog post. If you forget everything else, just remember this. It's okay to be lonely. Don't ever allow loneliness to affect your self-worth or self-esteem. You are a beautiful person. You are worth dying for. Never forget this.
Humans have the capacity for greatness. We are undeniably capable of saving and preserving life and community. At the end of the day, we're all human beings; we are souls with bodies (as C. S. Lewis would argue). Be compassionate. You can save a life, even if that life is your own.
*Header photo courtesy of Qeepr Blog.