Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Loneliness: Conclusion

To read the rest of this series, please click on the loneliness tag at the bottom of the post.

I originally intended to finish this series in January, but I’ve had the hardest time writing the final chapter. Until recently, I wasn’t sure why. I’ve ruminated on a lot of different topics within this series, from my upbringing to American society to social media. Some of them have been very personal. It hasn’t always been easy for me to open up about myself, to admit how I feel. However, I think it’s been worth it. I think it’s helped me. Sometimes I need to see things in print for them to actually sink in.

The reason I’ve had such a difficult time writing this last piece is that I don’t particularly like the conclusion I’ve come to: when it comes to loneliness, the problem is me.

What I’m saying is, my loneliness seems to stem from my own insecurities and self-doubt, not from any outside source. Like most people, I want to be liked. Unlike most people (maybe), I have a hard time putting myself out there. I don’t like opening up to people, letting them see what’s actually going on inside my head. I fear rejection. Even worse, I have this secret fear that no one actually likes me. Believe me, I understand how crazy that is. It makes no logical sense. But it’s there, in the back of my mind, always ready to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times.

It seems like a pretty safe bet to pinpoint my childhood as the starting point for this particular issue. I was a really lonely kid. I was also really shy. I don’t think I could even order food in a restaurant for myself until I was in college, when I was forced to. If I couldn’t talk to a stranger to order a meal, you can probably imagine how difficult it was for me to try to make friends. I was teased a lot when I was younger. Other kids didn’t like me. Now I can see that they didn’t actually know me. Because I couldn’t open up to them, they saw only the surface: reserved, bookish, tomboyish, nerdy, serious.

As an adult, I understand why kids didn’t like me. I didn’t get it when I was younger. It was hurtful. I felt weird, different. It always seemed like things came way easier for other people than they did for me. I was well into adulthood before I recognized that most of us struggle, that most of us stumble through life just trying to do the best that we can. Fortunately, I learned to accept myself long before that. My high school BFF, Julie, helped a lot with that. I still have so much admiration for her. She really let her freak flag fly and didn’t care what other people thought of her. She was happy. She inspired me to accept myself, but also to see that I was more than what you could see on the surface, that I’m funny, witty, kind, smart, and compassionate.

The problem is that those childhood insecurities never really go away, not unless you work at it. I thought I’d beaten this particular one. Now I can see that I was wrong. I didn’t so much beat it as attempt to drown out that voice. I filled my life with people and activities. In fact, there was a time when I was so busy that I had to schedule alone time. Rarely did a day pass when I didn’t have something social to do. It was fun as all get out, one of the happiest times of my life. But it wasn’t a solution. As soon as I moved away from Portland, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Suddenly, I was that insecure kid again.

All the moving around certainly hasn’t helped. As soon as I start to feel settled, it seems, we’re packing up and moving off to somewhere new, where I have to start building a life all over again. It’s difficult to nurture meaningful relationships when you never live anywhere longer than a couple of years. And I recently realized that I’ve been so busy with all these fresh starts that I haven’t had any time to work on myself. The last time I did was when we lived on Maui. That’s when, suffering from severe depression, I finally read Feeling Good all the way through, which I know I’ve mentioned before. That book was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I did that work six years ago! 

It’s probably well past time for a mental health refresher. As I recently told a friend, no one ever works out for six months and then expects that to fix their physical health for the rest of their life. It seems silly now to think that one book had fixed all of my insecurities for good.

So there it is, the end of the journey, this conclusion that has been so difficult for me to write down: my loneliness is my own fault. If I don’t want to be lonely anymore, I have work to do. I need to: 1. Fix my insecurities, 2. Change how I interact with people, i.e. try to be less reserved, and 3. Accept that not everyone will want to be my BFF and that’s okay because it’s not a reflection on my worth as a person. A tall order, perhaps, but doable. Not that I expect my loneliness to be cured completely, just like I don’t expect my depression to ever go away completely. Occasionally having bad feelings is all right. It’s part of life. I just don’t want to feel this way all the time. 

This is my final post about loneliness, and I hope that the series has been helpful to those of you who’ve been along for the ride. Maybe you can relate, and it’s helped you to think about the root of your own loneliness. Maybe you can’t relate, but it’s helped you to understand what it’s like for other people. At any rate, I thank you for reading. I plan to continue writing essays, and I hope that you continue to read them. If you have any topic recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments.


Cindy M. said...

You are one of my favorite people.

balyien said...

Thanks, lady! You, too.

Patricia said...

You moved to Hawaii six years ago? Geez. Have we now been friends apart longer than we've been friends in the same town?

So when I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books, I stumbled upon something interesting. Several times in the books, one character makes an observation to another character. It always went something like this. "Well, you know she takes after the [insert family name here] side of her family and you know how they all tend toward [sickliness/gossip/frivolity/frugality/verbosity/etc.] And it struck me that rather then being close-minded and confining, knowing that people in your family tend toward whatever can be kind of freeing.

I don't know a super long history of my family, but I'm guessing that both sides tend toward melancholy. I know both my parents do, as well as at least one of my grandparents. And so it makes sense that I do too. And sure, some days I would like to be a person who automatically looks on the sunny side. But I'm not. And at times, my Debbie downer self comes in handy.

So what I'm saying, in a very long-winded manner, is that I don't think you need to be fixed. So you tend toward loneliness, that's can be troubling, but as long as you can keep it in check, which it sounds like you mostly do, it's okay to pass through lonely periods.

I completely support you in whatever work you want to do in this area, however. And I also thank you for writing a very honest and open essay series. I'm contemplating tackling one about my relationship with food/weight but I'm not quite brave enough to write it.

Lauren said...

I've really enjoyed reading this series, as I can relate all too well. one of the freeing realizations I've had is that all the people trying to force me out of my shell were well-meaning but that's never going to be me. Being in one place helps a lot too. I hate living in the Midwest but I like the people and I've been here long enough to (mostly) feel like I'm not an outsider anymore. I want to move, but I don't want to lose that. I've probably recommended this before, but this book really helped me. http://www.amazon.com/The-Happiness-Hypothesis-Finding-Ancient/dp/0465028020

I'll have to look up the one you read!

balyien said...

I do recognize that I don't *need* to change. Obviously, I've done pretty well for myself despite the loneliness and depression issues. And, as I said, I'm aware that this is something that can't be fixed to the point where it will go away entirely. It's part of who I am.

What I'm more concerned about is this whole "no one likes me" idea. I don't think it's healthy. It leads to a lot of disordered thinking. And I do think that can be fixed. So that's what I'm more focused on now. And making sure that I remember it's more important for me to like myself than for anyone else to.

Thanks for reading, and for your comments! I totally support you writing an essay about weight/food. I know that it would be great. But I also understand how difficult is to put yourself out there like that. I'll look forward to reading it when/if you ever write it. :)