For those who have never been lonely, it's hard to imagine what it feels like or what it even looks like. After all, people go to work, spend 8 hours a day with others, they come home to their spouse or their kids, they have planned social activities throughout the week and they spend hours on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter liking photos, commenting on content posted by others, sharing information. How can someone be lonely ? Mindboggling.
Being lonely has nothing to do with the number of people you interact with in any given day. It has nothing to do with how much you laugh in a day or even how much time you spend with others. Being lonely is all about feeling diconnected. Disconnected from others. Disconnected from their reality. Devoid of any depth. It's like seeing the world through a window. You can interact with the people on the other side, they can entertain you, but you can't hold their hand. You can't feel their touch. You can't feel their care. You can't feel their worry. You can't feel their love.
I said in my last post that I have always been one to have many friends - and it's true. But this didn't prevent me from feeling lonely, profoundly so, for a period in my life. Despite having the best loving husband and the most concerned and caring mother, I felt lonely. Just like that. Disconnected.
And there's something I discovered about it. It's a weed. It will keep crawling further and further in your life and will invade your thoughts. You will start believing you are lonely and see all the ways in which you are alone. It will become the lense through which you see the world and it will choke out all the good and healthy roots of your relationships. It is horrible. It eats you alive. It shakes you to your innermost and cultivates feelings of insecurity.
(Actually, I only recently read that it's also a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who believe they are lonely will actually disengage from the social process thus causing or accelerating the alienation from others. Crazy, eh?)
The goal of this post is not to explore the depths of my darker days or the mistakes I did to ruin a few relationships thus exacerbating my feelings of loneliness, but rather to deliver a message of hope. We may struggle with loneliness but there is a way to overcome.
Enter "The list".
No no. Not a blacklist. Not a bucket list. My list.
I have always had a generally positive outlook on life and been a solution-oriented person. And so, after a few months of wallowing in my sorrow (and thanks to the encouragement of those who stuck by me in these times), I decided I had to do something to get my mind off my obsession even if I didn't feel like doing much at the time except to cry.
That's how I started knitting. No joke. One evening, I was alone at home. Brent, my husband, was gone with friends. My mom wasn't home. I was watching TV. I was also going stir crazy and my mind was going a hundred miles an hour in all the wrong directions. Tears were streaming and I couldn't figure out what to do to stop them. I had to do something. I could no longer be left to my thoughts.
I rummaged through the condo in search of a distraction, something I could focus on. That's how I found a pair of needles my late grandmother had given me and a small ball of burgundy yarn. I knew nothing about knitting other than the basic knit stitch but it didn't matter. I was going to figure it out. I pulled out my tablet, found a pattern I couldn't really make out, found a YouTube video and off I went - for hours. It was the ugliest and smallest hat you have ever seen. It didn't matter to me because I realized that I had spent hours focused on something other than myself. (Knitting is now my favorite hobby...but that's a post for another time).
When I saw I was able to do something successfully and to get my mind off my problem for a few hours at a time, it built my confidence to do something more ambitious: conquer loneliness. I didn't have much to go on but I knew that if I kept feeding my monster, I would never snap out of it. I had to find a way of tricking my brain into thinking I wasn't lonely.
How? I needed to remind myself... regularly... very regularly... as soon as my brain thought I was lonely (which was basically 3 302 304 times per day, at the time), that I wasn't alone.
I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I will never forget. I pulled a post-it pad of papers from my desk drawer. The paper was green. I wrote down the names of the people that I thought were my friends. There weren't very many (at least based on my original standards of friendship). I, therefore, exaggerated a bit to add the names of a few acquaintances that I could probably try to call my friend. After all, I wanted to fill my post-it to remind myself that I wasn't alone!
This post-it became my list.
I kept it on the top of my drawer. Every time I felt lonely, I looked at my post-it. It reminded me that there were people in my life who cared (even if I didn't fully believe it). When I got really upset, I would send one of them a text message or an email, just to say hi. All these times, my friends must have thought I was being friendly. But really, I was sending a lifeline for myself.
99% of the time, my friends wrote back. They didn't write novels but it was a sign that they cared just enough to answer my messages. And that's all I needed to get to my next post-it glance.
I felt like the most ridiculous person ever. Childish too. Keeping a list of friends like children do when planning out their 6th birthday party... I never told anyone about this list, except eventually my husband. But it was working. The glances at my post-it became more and more infrequent. I also started reaching out to people that weren't on my list but whom I wished would eventually be. They accepted my invitations for coffee, for a walk, for a lunch. I eventually added them to my list.
Slowly but surely my list of friends was growing and the more I was keeping my loneliness at bay.
Today, I rarely think of myself as being lonely.
Don't get me wrong, I think that it will always be my Achilles heel. I still have pangs of loneliness on occasion but, unlike before, I have the instant reaction to reach out when it happens. I also have the ability to recognize that these moments of loneliness are only temporary and that I am well surrounded and cared for. When all else fails, I go to bed knowing that tomorrow brings a new day and that I have a list of friends waiting.
This coping mechanism was my secret until a friend of mine confided that she felt so very lonely. I could relate entirely. I sucked it up and shared my experience and the solution I found. She seemed so relieved that she wasn't alone. That she wasn't weird. That there was hope. I never asked her later if she had a list but I like to think she does.
I discovered that when I share this story with others, I strike a cord. I got thinking that maybe I was on to something. That the more we talk about it, the more we make the glass between us and the world thinner.