Being lonely is not something I am a stranger to. It comes with the territory of a breakup and is often a symptom of depression. But everyone experiences loneliness from time to time and that makes it a universal experience. Being lonely is not necessarily a bad thing, though it almost always feels like it is. Loneliness is an emotion, and emotions eventually pass.
In my personal experience I’ve found there are at least three types of loneliness: “I wish I was with someone,” “I miss this particular person/group of people,” and “I’m so alone.” You can’t necessarily categorize all loneliness so neatly into groups, but each of these types of loneliness feels significantly different.
“I wish I was with someone” is the most general type of loneliness. This is the basic definition, sadness from being alone. You might desire any sort of connection with a person, be it simply a phone call or text message or something in person, like hanging out or cuddling. Loneliness can be both emotional and physical – you can wish you were connected to someone emotionally or physically. All this falls under this category.
“I miss this particular person/group of people” is similar to the above “I wish I was with someone” but it is much more personal. You are lonely because you do not have a particular someone in your life, be it temporarily (like a friend you haven’t seen in a week) or permanently (like an ex-partner). This kind of loneliness hurts a lot – in part because it seems like it can be resolved so easily. You just need to see the person you’re missing. But in reality it’s not that easy. There’s a reason why you haven’t seen that person in the first place. Sometimes missing a person cuts deeply, and it can be hard to recover from this type of loneliness.
“I’m so alone” is the most dangerous type of loneliness because it comes entirely from within. This can mean you are physically isolated from people, unable to see or communicate with them, but more likely you have cut yourself off from people, or are cut off from them, and you suddenly feel overwhelmed by loneliness. This can lead to depressive or self-hatred spirals. “I’m so alone” becomes “Nobody wants to be with me” becomes “Nobody likes me” becomes “Everybody hates me.” You get sucked down into a pit of despair, and that can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions at its most extreme. At the very least you then further isolate yourself from the people who care about you which makes you feel more lonely which continues to spiral on and on.
I’ve felt incredibly lonely these last few years. The easiest to deal with is when I miss my college friends – that’s more a sadness from nostalgia of what we can never have again, and so it’s bittersweet more than sad. It’s harder when I miss my ex – he’s still in my life, but we will never be more than just friends, and that really hurts to think about. But the worst is when I felt alone and isolated.
I felt like nobody understood me and what I was going through – even when I was talking with other people of all ages who also experienced depression. It just made me feel hopeless, like I would never get any better. I didn’t feel a sense of community. I just felt lonely. I also felt like I was pushing all my friends away with my constant sadness and misery – that they all actually hated me. This was “proved” by when they couldn’t hang out with me, or didn’t want to, or they took too long responding to my texts, or they hadn’t talked to me in a while. No matter how much I told myself that people still cared about me, I couldn’t convince my heart to go along with my brain. This hurt so much. I wanted people to come to me and make my loneliness go away, even though I would tell them I was fine when they did come and ask me if I was okay. People aren’t mind readers, but I wanted them to be. I would spend nights sobbing over my presumed friendlessness and nothing could convince me otherwise.
I’m still struggling with the feeling of “people are just pretending to like me,” even though in general I am doing much better. I’m still afraid I am bothering them by talking to them, and that I am pushing them away. I still feel incredibly lonely when they’re doing something without me, and I have no plans. But I’m doing better at not isolating myself completely. I’m doing better at talking myself out of those spirals, and just sitting with the feeling of being lonely until it passes. I can experience the emotion without letting it control me. As the song ‘Stronger’ says, “My loneliness ain’t killing me no more…” And it’s true. I am stronger. I am no less lonely for the most part, but that loneliness is not destroying me from the inside.