What to Do When You’re Lonely

August 26, 2010

I used to do my best not to spend too much time alone.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s healthy to be alone sometimes. It’s good to settle into yourself without the distractions of everyday life. There are so many truths hiding in the absence of noise, whether it be the crackle of the radio, or the constant television, or the marzipan-tried-and-true audiobook on iphone method of distraction.

Intellectually I know that there is value in being alone.

In my heart? In my heart, being alone feels like entering into the abyss. In my heart, being alone is likened to falling into a deep dark hole where your most persistent fear is whether or not you’ll be able to climb out without being buried alive.

When I was a little kid, in the sixth grade, I entered into a period of time where all of my friends abandoned me. In a way that is only possible at that very difficult age, one friend, with whom I had naively shared all of my deepest darkest secrets and dreams and fears, spread a series of lies about me, resulting in my complete and utter abandonment. I was the ultimate social pariah. The world was going on around me, but no one would sit next to me or talk to me, all of my friends turning their backs overnight without a second glance.

And I entered into a deep depression.

I was unable to sleep at night, because I was consumed with anxiety and with the constant prayers that somehow, some way, I would be let back into the popular group I so desperately wanted to hang out with.

This may seem trivial. Mara, you were in the SIXTH grade! Let it go! But this abandonment was the first time my heart was broken. I trusted those girls. I believed that they were really my friends. And yet, overnight, they were taken away. Just because one girl thought that maybe I was getting a little bit too popular, and that maybe I needed to get knocked down a peg or two, that it would serve me right.

For the first time in my life, I spent almost all of my time absolutely alone.

Eventually, I was forgiven for all of the horrible things I had said about everyone, and I was suddenly again invited to all the parties and whispered to during class. But the mark had been made. I had learned that these weren’t true friends. I had learned what it felt like to put all of my eggs in one basket, only to see them spilled and stomped upon before my very eyes.

I learned to be a little tougher. I learned, eventually, to surround myself with better, more trustworthy friends. Finally, I learned how to give my heart to someone who deserved it 100% and who has promised to stand by me through thick or thin.

But sometimes, when I’m in the process of starting something new, such as leaving my home and my adorable girlfriend, and driving two hours away to plant myself in a new town, in a new house, with new friends, and new rules – I start to have a little bit of a flashback feeling.

Yesterday, packed up my little bag and headed out of town, and I was floored with the depth of my fear and sadness. Even as I write this, I’m getting embarrassingly weepy. You know the saying about how wherever things feel the most uncomfortable, that’s where the real work is done – well, I’m working IT today, let me tell you.

And it’s not just fear. It’s deep down to my bones I’m-accustomed-to-having-someone-at-least-sleep-next-to-me-at-night loneliness. It’s not dramatic or loud. It’s like a slow creep into the pit of my stomach where my biggest fears lay strapped down and tucked in.

So what do you do with that? What do you do when you are completely lonely and nervous, and no one can convince you otherwise?

How to cope with loneliness:

  • Do something LOUD. Loneliness thrives in darkness and quiet. Sing your favorite song AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS. Thrash around. Jump in the air. Scream. Laugh. Make noise and get acquainted with your physical space.
  • If you are in a new place, physically, make it your own. Put up some photos. Draw on the walls. Hang up some colorful curtains. Rearrange the furniture. What have you always wanted your bedroom to look like? Start there.
  • Take care of your body’s needs adequately. Go to the grocery store and buy all of your favorite foods, things that are familiar and constant. Cook your favorite meal. Invest the entire afternoon in an elaborate recipe. Make sure that you are eating enough and also that you aren’t stuffing food into the hole where your pain lives – many, many people “forget” to eat when they are stressed out or start haphazardly stuffing food in their mouths because they don’t know what else to to do. Take care of yourself, but don’t supplement the company of others with food. You will be most able to encounter the world with energy and excitement if you are getting adequate nutrition.
  • Get enough sleep. This is the FIRST thing to go for me if I’m feeling lonely/stressed/overwhelmed, but the absolute most important thing to get me back on track. If it’s really becoming an issue, I have no bones about taking something to help me sleep, either holistic or not, because I know that sleep is a necessity for me when in a vulnerable position.
  • Got a security blanket? Pull it up around your neck to where it’s really cozy and warm. A long, long time ago, I started listening to books on tape when I couldn’t sleep or was feeling particularly anxious. Now, the mere moment of a book on tape lulls me into a calmer state of mind. Whatever it is for you, no matter how absurd, utilize it.
  • Go about your day as usual. No one around to talk to? Cross things off your to do list. Go to the grocery store, the post office, or the bank – whatever you need to get done. Smile at strangers. Strike up conversations with the clerks. Laugh. Be generous with your energy and attitude. Likely, it will make you feel better afterwards.

I feel better already… Thanks for listening. xoxox.

How do you cope with loneliness?