In the midst of a loneliness epidemic, I joined the 52% of Americans who reported feeling isolated. The depth of pure emotion that follows the feeling of loneliness is hard to describe in words, but it’s as if someone dropped you into a never-ending pool with a cinderblock tied to your foot.
During the second lockdown back in 2021, as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spread throughout the country, I began to experience the effects of loneliness. Going back to university for the first time in two years, not only was I older than all of my peers, but I felt the immense distance between us. I was a social butterfly throughout high school and my brief stint in college, but attempting to forge new friendships felt like an impossible task.
The ultimate blow to my confidence in my social skills was necessary but painful. I hadn’t seen my high school friends for a few years due to my neglect in our relationships and my inability to be a good friend. At this point, I had tried to rekindle our relationship by stating my regrets and apologizing for my actions, but little came of this.
The last time I saw any of them was at a funeral.
Mourning a person I had previously been close with had been hard, but I was most fearful of having to face my old friends — seeing them in person made the guilt I had palpable. Greeting them at the funeral parlor was symbolic of the definitive ending to our relationship. We hugged briefly, and I stated how I had missed them. The long pause before stating they had missed me too made it clear to me that there was no salvaging what had once been there.
To this day, if I think about them for more than a second, the depth of pain that follows reminds me of what was lost.
Relationships are vital to human development and for our mental health. While some may be able to survive isolation or perhaps prefer it, it’s been bred into us for our survival.
In fact, social interaction is so important that according to one study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the risk of death among individuals with little to no social ties was twice as high as those with the most social ties. Having community or social ties provides a level of protection against a wide variety of diseases because positive social ties influence positive health behaviors and a lack of relationships may cause an individual to participate in risky behaviors that could lead to accidental death or suicide.
Isolation is a slow death. As I mourned the loss of my friends, I lost the ability to put myself out there. I dwelled on my previous negative decisions and began to believe that I would continue to hurt those around me. The other friends I had lost along the way were a byproduct of growing up and apart.
Now I was starting back at square one and suddenly at a loss for what it meant to be me.
Looking around the university classroom at my younger peers, I found myself mute. How does a person start a conversation? How do I make myself interesting? It was a heavy transaction: a line of dialogue for a connecting thread.
However, isolation may not simply be the absence of all relationships. Sometimes, having people around you doesn’t release you from the shackles of loneliness. Being unable to comprehend what it means to be a good friend or a good person can leave a person feeling isolated from themselves. As if the curtain was pulled down, I came to a point where I’d rather mindlessly scroll through my social media apps than establish a connection between me and my conscious self.
The work I later put into myself allowed me to become confident in my ability to socialize. Once I took a serious look at my faults and decided that I wanted to become the best version of myself, my ability to establish connections became easier.
I had to forgive myself to love myself. With that, the loneliness and guilt became easier to handle.
Relationships define us. Whether it’s the people around us that give us the pieces to craft our personalities, the groups we can express ourselves in, the self-love we give ourselves or the people who love the parts of us we deem undesirable. Without these connections, we are nothing more than husks of ourselves.
Putting ourselves out there is incredibly important in this age of screens and images. I had to fight my fears to get out of my comfort zone. No matter what environment I put myself in, I did my best to get to know people and encourage a meaningful connection. The fear held me back, but the desire to feel alive pushed me to try to make new friends.
The implications of loneliness are profound. My own experience proved to me that while an individual is capable of pulling themselves out of a rut, it’s a euphoric feeling to have your own community that can help put the pieces back together.
For the sake of our happiness, our connections with others and ourselves are vital.
I LOVED reading this! Definitely felt very relatable!
Amazing story and so real well done