Coping with loneliness

by - August 23, 2020

Feeling lonely is hard and isolating. The problem is we don’t talk about loneliness enough and that leads us to feel even more lonely when we experience it. I’m documenting my experience with loneliness in the hope that it’ll help someone and so you know if you feel lonely at the moment, that you’re not the only one. 

I have recently become a lot more aware of what causes me to feel lonely. For me, I have found it is that I have been in a lot of one-sided friendships and trying to give a lot of myself to others without it being reciprocal. This lack of balance leaves me feeling like no one really cares when I am going through a difficult time. Reaching out to people generally on a frequent basis and not getting that back when I am struggling makes me feel lonely. 

I think it is useful to identify and reflect on what makes you feel lonely. Is it that you feel that saying you are fine when asked how you are is easier than answering honestly? That you’re scared to admit you feel lonely? Scared of the reaction another person might have in learning that you’re lonely? You might not necessarily identify the exact reason right away. I certainly did not - it is only recently that I have been able to place my finger on what has led me to feel lonely. 

I typically try and be the person who checks in on everyone (apart from when I am struggling myself in which case I do the opposite). I would say, for the most part, I tend to be pretty good at noticing when someone might not be feeling so great. It means I can sometimes expect others to do the exact same thing for me and when they don't, especially if I am going through a hard time, I feel lonely. But, the problem with that mentality is that it ignores that not everyone works like that. There are people who care that will not necessarily remember to ask how you are or notice if you are not yourself, but will be there to support you if you reach out to them. 

I get how you can feel lonely despite having people around you who care. Loneliness even when surrounded by people exists. It can be hard to cope with because it comes with this added pressure that you shouldn’t feel lonely because you have people around you who care. I understand because I have felt that way too. In my case, I tend to feel like this more when I feel upset or am going through a difficult moment. Difficult moments have a way of making you feel by yourself in your own battles (which you never are). Recently, I have been challenging and changing my mindset so that I remember even when I feel lonely, that there are people who care. That it is a feeling and my reality, not the reality. I figured, however, that I am probably not alone in sometimes struggling with feeling lonely and that this could really help someone, make them feel less lonely and bring some comfort. 

Usually, when I am going through some of my most difficult moments, I tend to isolate myself and not really talk about how I feel unless I am asked. In a world where everyone seems so busy, it does not always feel like people have the time to deal with your problems. However, although it may feel like this sometimes, this is not the case. There will be somebody that will take the time out if you’re willing to share and feeling lonely is not as uncommon as we might think.

I know that my mindset of not always sharing how I feel unless asked is not helpful and honestly I’m still working on making sure I express not feeling OK more often without being prompted. Not talking about how I really feel unless asked means I can feel very lonely when in a hard situation. I don't always want to reach out to someone else because I feel vulnerable, don't want to risk being broken more and instead want a sign that someone is there. Since (as I have mentioned above) I try and be the person that checks on others to make sure they are OK, I expect the same. I have noticed many times before when something is not right with others and been able to offer support - I have realised, however, that is one of my strengths and not necessarily everyone else's. In the words of my friend, "I am very observant" and not everyone is like that. When I feel lonely, people have no idea and have not noticed that something might not be right, and likely would be happy to help if they knew. 

Even just from my experience, even if you are generally very perceptive to how others may feel, it can be hard to always consistently interpret other's feelings accurately. You can never know for sure whether someone is OK unless they honestly tell you. This applies to you too - others may not realise that you don't feel yourself - the only way to guarantee that people know is by reaching out. People not reaching out does not mean that they don't care, the people who care about you most likely just do not know. That is what I remind myself of when I find myself feeling lonely - I am not alone, I am just going through a difficult period and no one can know to support me if I don't let them know I need that support. 

Believe me when I say there is someone that cares about you and how you feel. There is someone willing to listen to your story. If you reach out to others, someone will be there to help you out - it just may not necessarily be the first person you tell. Not everyone is a real friend or someone you can rely on, but there are people that will be there and those are the ones that count - forget the rest. However, not a lot of people are observant so many will not realise you need them unless you say so. If you are like me and tend to realise when people are not themselves, that is a strength that not everyone has - you are no less loved. If you don't say anything, most people will not work out that you are not feeling yourself. Most people are too consumed/ busy with their lives to notice if something is not right. But, you will find that when you begin to open up to those very same people that you thought did not care (which made you feel lonely), they will be there. 

Feeling lonely is different to being alone - you can be alone and content. In fact, moving out taught me a lot about being comfortable and happy being by myself. If you are feeling lonely, chances are you are going through a rough time and it is now more than ever that you need to let others know how you feel. There will always be someone that will be willing to help, whether that be a close friend, family member or counsellor. Don't let your mind tell you that there is no one that cares. 

Useful resources regarding loneliness and mental health:

Related posts: Helping someone struggling with their mental health Toxic things to stop saying to yourself | Why it is OK to spend time by yourself

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