When do you know you are most alone? For me it is when I become conscious of the clock that ticks in the corner of the room. When my home is busy with conversation and activity and laughter I am barely aware of the clock and its steady repeating rhythm, but when I am still and quiet and unoccupied enough to hear the ticking clock, that is when I know I am truly alone. When I'm alone, the ticking clock seems to be all I hear; each second of isolation marked out from the next one, yet each tick-tock of the clock seeming hours apart.
Time slows down when you're lonely. Thoughts get louder, and the negative ones seem to be the only ones I ever notice. You don't tend to get lonely happy people, do you? Lonely is, I guess, just another way of saying sad.
When I'm lonely, I get sad and lonely thoughts which seem to get sadder and sadder the lonelier I get. I think things like: 'I don't like me.' ‘You don't like me.' ‘No one could possibly like me.' ‘Why don't people like me?' ‘What is wrong with me?' 'What have I done wrong to you?' 'I deserve to be alone, because I'm a bad person.' 'If I'm with you I'll infect you with my badness, and you know that, so that must be why you stay away.'
I put on my lonely brain spectacles and everything becomes tinged with blue.
Social media only makes me lonelier still, so I decided to opt out and deactivate all of it. I couldn't stand the loneliness that the smiley-faced comparisons associated with social media and all its airbrushed perfection brought to my heart, so I withdrew, like I always do. I hid, and I'm still hiding.
Trying to be authentic and share yourself with others in this modern world is difficult. Whether your disability is physical, or psychological as mine is, disability brings pain; not only the pain of your symptoms, but the secondary pain of the isolation it can cause. Loneliness can be objective - in other words, we can be alone a lot of the time - or subjective. I fall into that second camp.
This type of loneliness can strike at any moment, regardless of whether or not I am physically with other human beings or not. This is a very private and invisible type of loneliness; one which is not easily cured by simply spending time around others. While loneliness that arises when we are alone feels a lot like sadness, this other type of loneliness can feel a lot like shame.
When I boil loneliness down to its main ingredients, loneliness is jam-packed full of shame - shame at who I am and all my limitations. I am ashamed at how inferior I feel, how different I perceive I am compared to you and how inferior I feel. The things I am unable to do, you seem to do with casual ease. What I find impossible, to you seems like nothing. You just do all of what I want to be able to do, without thinking. I have to think about everything. I have to plan everything. I have to psych myself up for every small thing, just so my life is manageable and doable and liveable.
I can feel as alone in crowds of people as I do walking along a deserted beach.
I feel alone in my family, like I'm the odd one out, because I'm the only one with a mental health condition. I hate feeling less than you are, so I avoid you. I avoid looking into your eyes because it hurts to do so. I am not worthy, I think, so I ignore my usual human instincts for companionship and keep away. I tell myself I am happy alone, but maybe that is just to kid myself that I am. Maybe the truth is I am lonely far more than I like to admit, because admitting it really hurts, and I am so ashamed of my loneliness that I cover it up and pretend I'm not even feeling it.
I avoid writing about loneliness at all costs, because it hurts so much to travel to the place at the very back of my mind where loneliness registers. Loneliness leads to depression, then the cruelty is that depression leads to even greater loneliness. The self-critical thoughts I get when I'm depressed mean I feel unworthy of human company. I deprive and starve myself of social contact and turn people away. These are people who genuinely and sincerely care about me, but the narrator in my head tells a very different story about myself to the one you would tell others about me.
A little bit of loneliness can lead over time, to a whole lot of loneliness. We are so busy trying to shake off the black dog that is attached with its jaw clenched to our ankle, that we end up shaking off the people who are trying to rescue us from it too. These are the people who are desperately trying to prise open the black dog's jaws, trying to get us free again, but we end up distancing ourselves from the people who could, if we let them, be our helpers.
It is so hard when you feel trapped by your illness and symptoms, to get perspective and see things as they really are, rather than what our illness falsely tells us is going on. What I hope for, is a future society where we all feel included, and importantly, a society where we all allow ourselves the gift of believing ourselves worthy of being included.
I wish for a future where my lonely months gradually become weeks, then days, then just simple ticking clock moments. When my loneliness lasts just moments, that is when I will fully appreciate how much I belong. Until then, I will tell people when loneliness strikes, and try not to be so scared of it as a feeling. The more we talk about what scares us and our very human vulnerability, the less powerful the unwelcome intrusion of loneliness will be.