How does loneliness feel?
Scary. Hopeless. Isolated. Sad. Rejected.
For quite a long time, I thought it was OK to be lonely. I didn’t need anyone. I could live life all by myself just fine. It took a near suicide attempt to wake me up from my delusion. Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since that terrible day.
My kids and I have recently read Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a wonderful book about an elementary school girl who has dyslexia. At one point in the story the teacher asks the class to define “alone” vs. “lonely.” Have you ever thought about the difference before?
Alone is physically being by yourself. It’s possible to still feel joy and happiness while being alone. Loneliness, on the other hand, is being in a room full of others and feeling all by yourself.
That section of the book is my favorite. It created an opportunity for healthy conversation between my children about their own feelings of loneliness versus being alone.
Looking back to my childhood and young adult life, I thought I was just alone. But once I realized that I lacked a sense of belonging, I became painfully aware of my loneliness. And that led me down a destructive path trying to free myself of that empty feeling.
Escaping Loneliness: Destructive Paths
When I was 13, I lived in a trailer park and found friends with a gang of high schoolers that lived nearby. I had moved so many times before, I desperately wanted to fit in. So when they gave me the smallest hint of attention, I was elated. One afternoon when we were all hanging out, I was offered pot. I didn’t think twice about taking a hit. These older, “cooler” kids were letting me hang out with them, and I would do (and did) everything they did to fit in. I listened to punk rock because they did. I smoked pot with them. Eventually, I was dropping acid with them. And because drugs induce an amazing, otherworldly feeling, I dove deep into the world of drugs.
A life of drugs is just one example of how people try to escape loneliness. Some less extreme examples are Netflix binging, video games for hours, overindulgence in food, shopping beyond your budget. Which one have you (or are you) using to mask your loneliness? Maybe just one. Maybe more than one.
Queen’s University found that 27% of people recognized they were suffering from loneliness during the pandemic. How many more may not be willing to admit it?
We might put on artificial veneers and turn to toxic bad habits trying to cure loneliness. “Just once” turns into a bad habit. And bad habits can turn into addiction quicker than you may think. A lot of times, we may not even realize that loneliness is why we lean into addiction. As a 13 year old, I had no idea that smoking pot was a way I was trying to take away my loneliness. To state the obvious: escaping loneliness with drugs didn’t work.
And so the question is: how do we identify loneliness in our lives and choose to remedy the issue in healthy ways?
Creating Belonging: Finding The Path To Enduring Success
The steady cadence of “place” and belonging throughout my life has always been my sister. I rejected her offerings of help over and over again, but she was always there for me. In my darkest hour, she was the one place where I felt I belonged, and she saved my life.
As I began to crawl out of the pit of despair, I started asking myself fundamental questions:
- Who am I?
- Who do I want to be?
- Who do I aspire to be? How can I be my best self?
- Who are those people that will support me to be that person?
- Where are those people hanging out?
For me, I found a running group to find belonging. I hadn’t run a step in my life, but I chose to create belonging in this atmosphere instead of at a bar after work. I could have. But staying sober was something I needed to do to stay on my path to enduring success. I chose to find belonging in something better for me.
I encourage you to ask the same questions that I asked myself and truly ruminate on the answers. Seek out those people, groups, places, and organizations that have like minded values and philosophies. Loneliness starts to go away when you find your people! Professional affinity groups, employee resource groups, community centers, church, running groups, hobby groups, parent groups…the list is endless. Find the best place to create your belonging. Then actively pursue it.
Overcoming Loneliness – Experience JOMO!
Today, I never feel lonely. As a working mother of two who travels frequently, I actually embrace being alone… and like my dear friend Jessie says. I have JOMO (joy of missing out)!
According to the Campaign To End Loneliness, loneliness:
- Increases risk of death by 26%
- Is just as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Puts individuals at greater risk for cognitive decline and dementia
I motivate and inspire teams to identify and take action against the obstacles in their way to achieving enduring success. Loneliness may not only be affecting your team’s personal life, but their work performance and efficiency as well. Contact me today to book me as your next keynote speaker or to lead an inspiring and actionable workshop!
“Trish. Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. So transparent and so raw. It opened up so many emotions for me and could not stop the tears from coming. Your story, your values and journey to success are so universal. I took so much away and can’t wait to share my notes with my family.”
About Trish Kendall
Trish Kendall, an expert in creating enduring success, is proof that anyone can transform their life and become the most successful person they know!
Inspiring people around the world, and providing a pathway to enduring success, Trish brings candid stories, humor in the face of true hardship, simple lessons, compassion and love to all her speaking engagements. Follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook and sign up for her newsletter for regular inspiration and wisdom.