It took me a very long time to realize that these two words, alone and lonely, are extremely different.
As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety, both of which are isolating illnesses (that plague upwards of 18% of the US population according to the ADAA), I have spent a lot of time feeling detached from people.
I have felt alone standing in a room full of people. I have orbited groups of my “friends” and had no idea how to start a conversation. I have sat in my room feeling down and sad.
Throughout these times, which spanned the years of my late teens to early twenties, I interchangeably used the words alone and lonely. I decided that for any time I spent by myself, I was lonely and therefore continuing the cycle of depression and isolation.
It wasn’t until just recently, that I realized these two are very different, it is all in the perception of the words.
Let me side track for a second and bring up some buzz words that we hear constantly. Introvert and Extrovert.
At the barest generalizations, we usually associate these two words with either the “Anti Social” or the “Life of the Party” personality types. But this is so limiting, and far from descriptive of the population as a whole. Many of us are a little bit of both.
It was while researching these personality types, and realizing that I didn’t really fit into the bucket of Introvert all of the time or Extrovert all of the time, that I really began to realize a few things.
First, these are just words and descriptors we use to try to understand people.
Second, we do not need to define ourselves in these terms, even if others may see us this way.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the terms really boil down to how we draw energy, from social interaction or from ourself, the rest is all just related to this factor.
When I realized that I draw a lot of energy from being by myself, it became clear to me that I actually enjoy spending time by myself, aka alone. This was a HUGE Ah-Ha moment for me. As soon as I became aware of this, I could see that being alone is not actually a negative thing at all. It is merely a state of being, and in fact, a quite freeing one because I don’t have to be responsible to anyone but myself.
Looking back through this lens, I can see now that I was unhappy because I was lonely. Yes, physically I was also alone, but that was not necessarily the reason for my unhappiness. At the time, I drew energy from social interactions, and because I was alone, I was not getting the nourishment I needed.
The last few months however have been extremely introspective for me. I have been making so many changes in my life, my mindset, my career, my emotions, and in order to do so, I had to spend time with myself. I found out I truly love how much I can get done when I spend time alone.
That oppressive feeling I used to get when I was actually lonely, no longer plagues me. I can spend the time alone and enjoy it. I can also spend time with others and enjoy it.
I had to shift my perspective, as usual, not an easy task, and reframe my loneliness to alone time and really to ME time to recharge my batteries.
How do you draw your energy? Do you need a reframing lesson?
For my friends out there suffering from any type of mental illness, know that you may be feeling lonely and isolated, but you do not have to be. There are so many of us who want to help in any way we can, and help you understand that there is a way through and past mental health issues. The more we talk about it, the more we can end the stigma that keeps us feeling lonely.
All my love.