Loneliness is such a heavy and awful word.
A majority of us will never admit to being in that state as we like to believe we are happy and most of us would rather people believe that we lead interesting lives.
We do not want to be pitied, so letting on the idea that our life is remotely mediocre is just preposterous.
Last year, I moved from Lagos to a small town in South East Asia.
The reasons for my move were purely logical. I got a contract job that would pay more and it would be time away from Lagos which is expensive and stressful.
This new town, I reasoned, would offer me space and time to do my work.
Upon arriving, I rented a house and happily went out in search of “my people.”
I went to churches, bars, on dates… I even tried going to the gym. It wasn’t that I didn’t meet people.
I just felt no connection to any of them.
Once social and bubbly, I became glum and mildly paranoid. I knew I needed to connect to people to feel better, but I felt as though I physically could not handle any more empty interactions.
I started having panic attacks, I would wake up in the night and find it hard to go back to sleep.
In the afternoon, loneliness and anxiety came in waves like a fever. I had no idea how to fix it.
Feeling uncertain, I began to research loneliness and came across several alarming recent studies.
Apparently, loneliness is a serious health risk!
Studies have actually shown that without adequate social interaction, we are twice as likely to die prematurely.
Loneliness and social isolation have also been associated with increased blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, depression, low immune function and, as if that isn’t bad enough, decreases in cognitive abilities and Alzheimer’s disease.
Of course, loneliness is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual. It is not necessarily about being alone.
Instead, if you feel alone and isolated, then that is how loneliness plays into your state of mind.
Most of us know what it is like to be lonely in a room full of people, which is the same reason even a celebrity can be deeply lonely.
You could be surrounded by myriad fans, but if there is no one you can rely on, no one who knows you, you will feel isolated.
No doubt, there are a few people so balanced or so constituted that they can thrive in isolation. But for most people, the lack of human interaction can reinforce unhealthy or uncivil thoughts and behaviors.
Lonely people tend to eat worse, get less exercise, not sleep as well, get financially poorer, even become suicidal.
In a society that judges you based on how expansive your social networks appear, loneliness is difficult to fess up to.
It feels shameful.
And more, as a culture we obsess over strategies to lose weight, get better skin, quit smoking e.t.c…but never will a doctor ask you how much meaningful social interaction you are getting.
Even if a doctor did ask, it is not as though there is a prescription for meaningful social interaction or a single common prevention and treatment technique for loneliness.
In the end, loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems.
As nice as it would be to shift the responsibility for loneliness on to a new environment or other people because they don’t “get” me, solving the problem comes down to me.
To each of us.
No man is an island, it’s just that we are all so often cut off from one another.
Reach out, make friends, do more, be more.
Force yourself to be the initiator. You don’t have to throw a gala party. But a few times a week, call or write an old friend, issue a low-risk invite for an outing like a walk or coffee, or socialize online.
Most importantly, be persistent.
You may be rebuffed by some, but others will be delighted you got in touch. If you can make others feel noticed while being less lonely yourself, then it can’t hurt.
Remind the world that you exist and then perhaps when you need it the world will take more care of you.
If all fails, get a pet.
Have you ever battled with loneliness?
What caused it and what did you do to get out of it?