Loneliness is Tough.
Feeling lonely isn’t being alone and it isn’t something you want to broadcast. But About 8 years ago I had an epiphany. It’s taken me that long – and this blog – to get it from my head onto paper and just in case someone else can relate – here ‘goes.
“It was not often that she was alone like this and she did not like it. When she was alone she had to think and, these days, thoughts were not so pleasant.”― Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
It’s not hard to understand why women over 60 would feel lonely.
- Our children’s families are growing and our role in their lives is shrinking.
- Your status officially changes and we drop the “pre” from pre-menopausal.
- Our first career winds down and we consider what we want to do next.
- You wonder, “Who am I without my career?”
- We worry if we saved enough to actually LIVE.
- Our parents have aged need more than a phone call every day and a visit once a week from you.
- Your friends are aging, retiring, and moving away, or worse…
- Our partner is aging, retiring, moving away, or worse…
- WE are aging, retiring, moving away – or worse.
Sheesh. The stress alone, much less the actual events, is hard enough. No wonder we feel isolated and lonely sometimes. But sometimes there isn’t any big event or life challenge happening. Still, you can feel totally isolated and alone. It used to happen to me All. The. Time.
There are as many reasons why people feel isolated as there are people. And there are different kinds of loneliness, too. You can feel lonely sitting in your living room with your kids on the first Christmas without your partner. You can feel lonely when you’re traveling alone and are eating dinner in a restaurant by yourself. Or, you can feel lonely and alone when you’re in the midst of a packed nightclub with people you know all around you.
“The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.”― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
What does “lonely” feel like to you? For me, it’s feeling out-of-place, like I don’t belong. It feels how you imagine you’d feel if you donated your best creation, something you poured your heart into, to a charity auction – and no one placed a bid. Or, God forbid, the most hilarious (beautiful, meaningful, heart-wrenching) story/picture you posted on Facebook gets… crickets. No one “Likes” it.
For me, loneliness feels like I don’t fit in my own life. And it’s not triggered by anything that happens “to me”; it’s usually when I’ve sabotaged myself – whether in reality or in my own mind. This Bon Appétit interview with Samin Nosrat hit home for me. The catalysts differ but the anxiety she describes in the first two paragraphs is eerily relatable.
And when I get into that place, I do one of two things.
You know what I mean, don’t you?
NOTHING. By nothing, I mean escape. Netflix, Facebook, Online shopping, Kindle (or books IRL), or my favorite — studying and strategizing about big projects I want to do. I love planning. Planning makes me feel like I’m actually doing something – but it’s just air.
EVERYTHING. In my case, everything usually means doing anything other than what I’ve been strategizing and planning.
From experience, I can tell you that either course of action will help – temporarily. But if you’re like me, and it’s a loneliness of your own making, it’ll be back in full force unless you change what you’re doing that got you into that dark place.
By Yourself; With Yourself
I’ve kept a journal, on and off, for almost 40 years and, about 8 years ago, I read through them. All. Of. Them. I had just moved back to Texas from Maine and was starting over. Again. I was unpacking my life – for the umpteenth time – when I came across all those journals. I started to read through stories my 20-something wrote – how she felt, what she dreamed about, who she loved, what she feared. I had taken time off work and over the next couple of days I kept reading as she passed through her 30’s and then 40’s and then… it was like someone threw a bucket of ice water in my face. I gasped. Out loud. Sitting alone in my new apartment. OMG. I’ve been writing the same fucking stories for over 30 years.
“It would be too easy to say that I feel invisible. Instead, I feel painfully visible, and entirely ignored.”― David Levithan, Every Day
It seemed like an eternity. I sat there in a daze and am not sure how long it was until I was able to breathe again. People, places, relationships, events spanning almost 4 decades were swirling around in my brain like the tornado outside Dorothy’s window and I eventually started to see (or, acknowledge) patterns. Year to year, I was ASTOUNDED at the similarities in themes and my actions. Disappointments, successes, relationships, fears – the stories were frighteningly similar. And it wasn’t until I was 54 that I recognized it.
“No matter where you go, there you are.”
Have you ever heard the saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.”? I heard it a long time ago but never gave it much thought until that night. I’d spent those few days alone, not only by myself but with myself, too. Not alone with Netflix, or Facebook, or a Grisham novel – but with MYSELF. And I (finally) learned some (important) things about myself. As I write this, I’m not comfortable going much further about the “things” I learned. It must seem funny to you that someone who would write openly about her boob job would be uncomfortable about sharing anything. I agree. But, it’s really not important to share what I learned. Learning was the first step. Taking action to change the story is the important thing, which I did. And am still doing.
What I will share is that the experience changed my life. By recognizing (acknowledging) the pattern I was able to make conscious decisions to behave differently when I saw the pattern begin to emerge again.
This may sound weird. It felt weird going through it. It’s hard for most of us to see our life objectively. I know it was for me. Since my mid-20’s I’ve been reading and exploring different forms of spirituality and self-improvement, as evidenced by my many, many journals referenced earlier. I still have the first of “those” books I ever bought – and still one of the best – The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, MD.
Writing for your life
Aging is an odd experience in so many ways. The person in your head doesn’t really change that much year after decade. I’d encourage you to spend time alone with that person regularly. Not walking or driving or with the TV on in the background or your phone in your hand. Journaling is good for this but you can’t let yourself end up writing a to-do list or an action plan for something. Use the writing as a way to visit with yourself, to check-in. Ask yourself questions like you would a friend. The act of writing alone is good and reading back through old writings can be extraordinarily enlightening, even if you don’t have 30 some-odd years of journals to read through. You just have to get started. And do it.
“When a woman becomes her own best friend life is easier.”― Diane Von Furstenberg
Feeling lonely comes and goes. It’s taken 6 decades, but the older Me is finally able to recognize situations and beginning patterns that could take me off track. So far I’ve been mature enough to change course (for the most part) and be more kind to myself than the younger Me.
Do you want some company to help you commit to journaling? Sometimes it’s helpful to have a friend or two to tackle changes together. When I had my consulting business in Maine I ran peer groups for business owners that proved very helpful for the members. I think the same support can be equally as beneficial for those of us wanting to better ourselves as it was for business owners. The group will be small, five members or fewer. If you’re interested send me an email at heelsandtevas at g mail dot com, or send a note through the Contact Us page.
It took me a while to start back journalling again and I still write somewhat regularly. Those old journals? They served their purpose. With gratitude, I tossed them into the dumpster.