There is a booked called “The All Better Book” in which elementary school kids are asked to solve the world’s problems. It asked them, “With billions of people in the world, someone should be able to figure out a system where no one is lonely. What do you suggest?”
One 8 year old boy wrote, “Sing a song. Stomp your feet. Read a book.(Sometimes I think no one loves me, so I do one of these.)”
I dont know if loneliness is a mental health issue or not. I tend to believe it is more than that but maybe it is. One person that I knew who completed suicide, in retrospect, was simply overwhelmingly, soul numbingly lonely. She was in a space she thought no one could ever come and she could never leave. She decided to die because she thought in a very real way she already was. I, many years later, still miss her and will forever wish she knew she was wrong. She was not alone.
It is the issue no one really talks about. People talk about depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, rage, addiction and trauma. Sometimes it is startling what people will share. Who says, “Above all else, I am so lonely.”
Many of the people reading this know. Loneliness is like a cancer no one ever talks about. Being alone, even in a crowd (especially in a crowd) defines so much of who they are and how they live. It is the one thing all of us agree not to see.
I am 62 years old. In many ways that matter I have had a successful life. In many important ways I have not. I know, in some way, many many people. I think more people think well of me than poorly. Many people care.
Yet my truth is very, very simple. I am very, very lonely and for the life of me am not really sure why. Some of it is clear. My wife and I have had to separate because social security left us no choice (I described this in “the 3100 post” and wont labor through it here). And the quiet in my house is absolutely the loudest noise in my life.
But I have always been a way shy person. That surprises people when I say it but it is so very true. The only award I won in high school was to be voted “the most bashful person.”
I think so many people back then thought I was just kind of weird. Now days I would have had half a dozen diagnoses. I would have been depressed, had an anxiety disorder, probably more than one phobia, perhaps a little bipolar, and someone may have assumed a little bit of ptsd. I would have been medicated, probably hospitalized a couple of times. But back then no one would have ever thought that anyone would do things the way we do things now. We were mental illness naive.
But more than any of all that I was lonely. I hurt and wanted to stop hurting but had no idea how to reach out to anyone. I knew some people were not lonely and envied them so bad. I was smart, very smart but found no cure for lonely in smart. And lord how I tried.
I had a secret. And it was the closest most secret secret that anyone could have and for probably 20 or 30 years I told absolutely no one. When I met my wife she was the first person I told. When I was 13 years old I was sexually abused by a pediatrician of all people and it went on for over 6 months. It was my overwhelming shame. It stood between me and literally every human being in the world. It set my life on a trajectory, both for the bad and good, that it probably still remains on today. Much of what I wish I wasnt has its roots in those days, but much of what I am most pleased with also was borne then. Many things were about surviving and rising above and triumph. It was probably not until Penn State though that I got to the point where I could speak openly about it.
None of this means I have any more value than anyone else. I dont. I am simply a human being that struggles everyday with being a human being.
Maybe we are all lonely. I dont know. Sometimes I really think so. I think it is okay to wonder. I dont think it is a disease looking for a cure. Nothing like that. It is part of being human in a hard world. Lots of people get hurt and comparing hurts is such a waste of time. It is not what is done to you or what happens that really matters, but what you do with it and what the people who care for you help you do. Someone once told me the purpose of pain was to make it easier for us to care for each other. I dont know. Maybe so. I would like to think there was at least some small purpose.
There is a difference between being lonely and being alone. Never forget that. Sometimes I do, but when I am reminded I feel a lot better. Its okay to talk about it. It really is. I think it thrives best in secrecy and darkness and in talking perhaps is our best hope in finding out there are sunshine days.
And if all else fails “sing a song, stomp your feet, read a book…” Maybe sometimes kids do know best.
Have a great day.