By Charlotte Morgan McGarry
Whenever I am alone in my room at night and feel the familiar, unwelcome chill of loneliness looming, I call on my Rational Mind in attempt to beat it back. “You have so many people in your life!” it says. “Message one of your friends!” But this only makes me feel worse. According to Facebook I have 1,161 friends and yet somehow, I am still alone. I feel like an extra special failure for managing to live in a time of heightened communication, surrounded by wonderful, smart and caring people, and still feel so desperately isolated.
This is because loneliness has nothing to do with your social circumstances – or any kind of physical reality at all, really. Loneliness is nothing more than a self-fueling fear that runs rampant in the murky inner chambers of our minds; the fear that we’re not worthy of connection with other human beings. It’s the fear that says: “Why bother reaching out? No one cares about you, or would take the time to want to.”
On clearer days, when my head is unclouded by these ugly thoughts, I can see this is not the case. So it’s from this perspective I am writing now to remind future me – as well as anyone who’s currently in the throes of their malign mis-counsel – that you are worthy of love and belonging, and you are not alone.
Things that help me:
1. Detach yourself from self-debasing thoughts
Often it’s something small that will trigger the negative self talk. A message that lies ‘Seen’ but unanswered in your best friend’s inbox? She doesn’t care about me. I’m not worth her time. Stop. Step outside of this emotion and gently coax yourself into looking at the situation from a detached perspective. She’s probably sneakily checking her messages during a supervision and can’t reply too easily with her phone under the table. Nothing has changed about you. You’re exactly the same person as you were before these thoughts so rudely intruded. Identify this malicious inner voice trying to rob you of your self-worth, and tell it to shut up.
2. Remind yourself that you are necessary and loved just as you are.
People care about you. They depend on you and love you just as you are: foibles, imperfections and all. I needn’t tell you again that your value is totally discreet from your achievements but if – like many at students at Cambridge – you find it hard to separate the two, go and do something that reminds you how great you are, be it running, writing or painting.
For those moments when you remain unconvinced, here’s a lovely idea from a friend: take an A3 piece of paper and write you name in the middle. Then, using your finest fineliners, map out a huge, interconnected web of all the people in your life who care about you. Let it serve as a visual reminder of just many lives you touch, of how many people would be affected if you weren’t there.
3. Allow yourself to feel the feelings
We cannot selectively numb emotions, and loneliness is just a part of being human. Sorry about that. Let it break over you gently, like a wave. Listen to some sad songs, let yourself cry. If you want to, capture it in writing. Then, when you are feeling happy and connected again, you can look back in peace at the strange, wonderful workings of your mind and the depth and range of emotions it allows you to feel. That you have experienced this is proof that you’re a fully paid-up member of the club that is Humanity – and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
4. Find solace in books, poetry and music
The arts have been capturing the joys and tribulations of the human condition for hundreds of years. It’s comforting to know that whatever heartache and sadness you are feeling is not uniquely your burden; many before you have been there too. So read voraciously, listen fully. Find the artist who offers clarity and light, that makes you jump up and down and say “Yes! Yes! This is IT!”. Store away pieces of their wisdom like nuggets of gold, and bring them out when you need to be reminded that you are not alone.
5. Work on yourself
Enjoy the solitude to focus unashamedly on you. Watch a Ted talk, curate your Tumblr, learn something new. Imagine yourself as a vast, expansive fresco; you now have the time and attention to work earnestly on your masterpiece, adding depth and detail as you go. When the next opportunity for meaningful connection presents itself to you, you’ll be so much richer and fuller for it, ready to throw yourself in wholeheartedly and bring so much more to the relationship.
6. Trust the timing of your life
When you’re feeling lonely, thinking back to times when you felt truly loved can make the present and future seem achingly bleak. I cannot tell you the number of hours I have spent stifled by intense nostalgia for past loves and friendships. But I promise you, that connection can and will come again. Life comes in waves. Perhaps the crest you’re riding now does not take relationships as its driving force, but that’s okay. Ride it out, feel it change you, and trust that wherever you end up is the right starting point to jump on the next one. Take comfort in knowing that the journey you’re on is the right one for you.