A Story About Loneliness

A Story About Loneliness

I’m in my element when being a social butterfly.

Thinking back to the times that have been the most special, the most exhilarating and the most damn fun, they’re the times when I’ve been bouncing around a room full of good people, just doing what I do best.

Laughter matters to me.  Being silly matters to me.  Being with good people matters to me.

So how did it happen that I’m at a place in life where I spent Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, my Birthday (and a lot of other days to boot) alone for the last few years?

How did I get to a place where I can go days where the only conversation is between me and my barista?

How did I get to be more alone than ever?

It happened because unwanted change happens incrementally.

The true cost of my decisions has crept up on me over the last 5 years, and I’m not liking what I’m seeing.

I have a chronic illness which means I need to rest a lot.  I only have so much energy available to me, and once that’s been spent my illness bites harder than a predatory pitbull at a penguin picnic.

My illness regularly floors me like a spade in the face.

So to manage this I started saying “No” to things.

Like going out after work with colleagues because I know it’ll hit me hard a day or two later.

To going out on weekends because it means I won’t be able to get up and get things done on Sunday and won’t be ready to start another week.

To going on dates because I know I don’t have the time or energy to put into romance right now.

In the interests of self-preservation I’ve chipped away at the edges of my life; each strike of the hammer sending another sliver flying away.

What’s left is smaller, neater and can be put in the corner of the room without it dominating anything.  That’s great if the aim was to create something small, inoffensive and entirely unremarkable.

But that has never been my aim, and I’m left with a life that’s been crafted by my own hand, but lacks the texture and richness I love and need.

I’ve noticed the lack of human contact impacting my energy levels, my enthusiasm about things and even how I perceive my own feelings.

The whole thing alarms me and disappoints me, and all of this is potentially more damaging than anything I could set out to do intentionally.

Unwanted change happens incrementally, is only observable over distance and is not benign.

Don’t get me wrong, I have so much to be grateful for and I love so much in life.  I’m fortunate to know some truly extraordinary people; I’m lucky that I have a fantastic family who I love dearly; I love that through my illness I’m discovering some of life’s most valuable secrets.

I’m lucky, and I’m grateful.

But I also know that this incremental change will continue unless I find a way to get off the remote island I’m living on.

Staying still won’t stop the waters from rising, and by “keeping on keeping on” the change that’s been imperceptibly underway these last 5 years will continue unchecked.

There is no standing still.  There is no treading water.  There is no “just surviving”.

I know that an isolated life is not the kind of life I crave or need, and I honestly don’t know what the road ahead looks like or if I can even stay on it.

All I know is this.

When the path you’ve been on has been necessary, but the place it’s taken you to is undesired and unsustainable, you have to open to it.

You gotta embrace where you are.  You gotta open to what’s already here.  You gotta love the place you’re in first.

This is how I get to make new, better decisions based on the best of me rather than the small, embittered man I could become.

This is how I’m starting.

Want to come with me?

Photo by mislav-m

Steve Errey

Steve is a confidence coach who helps you find your natural confidence so that you can put your dent in the universe – which basically means doing what matters to you in ways that work for you. Go grab The Code and get more of him on Twitter.

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53 Comments

  1. I love your positive attitude about accepting where you are.

    “In the interests of self-preservation I’ve chipped away at the edges of my life; each strike of the hammer sending another sliver flying away.”

    Sadly, most people limit their lives in this manner and they don’t have a good reason for it other than fear.

    I wish you well. Though I don’t know what your illness is, I’d like to suggest checking out ‘The Perfect Health Diet’. My sister has cured herself of the symptoms of a chronic illness with this diet.

    Dan @ ZenPresence.com

    Reply
    • Thanks Dan, appreciate your thoughts. Diet is a big piece of it for sure, and I know I’d be a whole lot worse off if I didn’t love eating heathily!

      Reply
      • Hey Steve….. Your post is really touching…. I don’t know what your illness is…. I wish you well…. Loneliness is the worst enemy for mankind. I believe we all go through it some point of time in our life. Keep up the positive attitude and spirit.

        Roopa
        http://www.glint.im

        Reply
  2. I love your posts. This could have been written about me. I contemplated the same things as I also spent the holidays (along with many recent weekends) alone. I do not have a chronic illness, my small incremental changes were brought about by time and financial constraints, along with job and venue changes. I would love to come with you on your journey…perhaps I will get out of my comfort zone that I have embraced a little “too well” im afraid.

    Reply
    • Right – it’s that comfort zone that you slip into unknowingly, right?

      Start small Janet, but please do start. Let me know how I can help.

      Reply
  3. Thank you for posting this — I too have came to a point in my life where I’ve realized I’m alone. After the kids have left home (empty nester) – suddenly its just my husband and myself. I have no friends and my husband has a mental illness. Its been so long since I’ve spent time with my not so immediate family like cousins aunts uncles that I’m not how to get involved again. My closest family is only my Mother. She also has illnesses. I do want to reach out to others and have friends and be involved but fear does hold me back. Plus its hard to do all that and keep up with home life and work. I love your positive attitude. I just need to think that way as well. Her’es to positivity and change that is going to come our way.. Wishing you the best regarding your illness.

    Reply
    • You don’t need to think like me, sounds like you already have some great thoughts about what you’d love and the kind of texture you’d love your life to have.

      What’s a way you could reach out to one of those people you mentioned this week?

      Reply
  4. Wow..This is the first of your posts I have read and yet you are speaking directly through and to me.
    The past three years has brought so many changes to my life. Divorce, financial ruin, learning how to be alone, and yes embracing my aloneness. I think for me it was a way of protecting myself. No one can take these things away from me. And yet I sit at home alone..sometimes lonely and sometimes comforted by my cocoon. So much so that I am not sure I will ever be able to give that up and eventually have a “normal” relationship without feeling overwhelmed by having to share my space with other people constantly.
    People have commented on how different I am now..I feel somewhat pressured to be my old self and yet that person I was is a stranger to me now.
    Pehaps it is time to take a few steps outsife of this safe cocoon of mine..baby steps and see what might happen. I wish you well in your journey.

    Reply
    • Sometimes I think going “inside” is necessary. It helps you regroup, recentre and find what matters to you again.

      You gotta do what feels right, but do be sure not to let that comfort that the cocoon brings start making the decision for you, okay?

      Reply
  5. Thank for writing this. It’s hard to see things and yourself changing in a way that didn’t seem to be your natural path and wonder how to get out of a cycle you can’t. It’s hard to be feel lonely but hopefully you aren’t truly.

    Reply
    • It’s funny. Sometimes that loneliness hits home, and sometimes I feel connected. Perhaps we only really feel as alone as we think we need to be…?

      Reply
      • thank you steve…your wording is wonderful…sometimes i also think like you…but sometimes i love loneliness…..sometimes i feels so good when i am alone because at that time you can cry as much you want and no one is there to stop you…..

        Reply
  6. Wow, so many of us with similar feelings of loneliness and no way out. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to connect many of us just a little bit. How can so many people be so disconnected but longing for that connection that makes life worth living? Sign me, Out there and alone…

    Reply
    • Hopefully this comment thread is achieving this connection in a small way V. I honestly believe though, that if you’re feeling “disconnected” the very first thing you need to do is to reconnect with yourself.

      It might sound trite, clichéd or vacuous, but it’s true.

      Reply
  7. Loneliness has been the hardest part, for me, of living with chronic illness/chronic pain. Moving, for financial reasons, to a less populated place with very different energies and lifestyles has made it much more difficult. If it weren’t for my two young adult kids, the isolation would be much deeper.
    But, this is something I’ll be addressing. My word of the year is ‘Inspire’, which originally meant ‘to breathe in’, so I’ll be breathing in connection, creativity, joy, gratitude and health – and hopefully be inspiring others along the way.
    Thank you so much for your post! It is always a gift to know that we don’t journey alone. That reminder is precious!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much Cynthia. I love your ideas around breathing in…just remember to breathe out sometimes too. That’s not meant to be as facetious as it might sound!

      Reply
  8. We moved from a house to a condo apartment 6 years ago. I am so lonely that it hurts! I have as a result of an accident and must use a walker at all times become dependent on my husband who suffers depression but is physically very fit. In the past no matter where we lived I organized us into friendships. It is not working now.. Maybe a friendship for elderly seniors who just need a pal, no romance. Maybe just a chat group to bring the outside in. Does that appeal to any of you lonely souls?

    Reply
    • So sorry to hear how things are for you Joan. I’m not sure what part of the world you’re in, but there are all kinds of groups that you might connect with, both offline and online.

      How could you start to find a group that’s local to you?

      Reply
  9. Thank you for this Steve. My husband suffers from spinal osteoarthritis, and nerve damage to his lower limbs, and standing for a prolonged time, or walking any small distance outside of the house causes great pain. He went from being an active working man, with many friends, to a house-bound lonely man. His family all moved away from our town, and all we had was my elderly parents for help & visits. His depression worsened, I developed depression as well, caused by my inability to help him the ways that I wanted to – I am his carer, but I couldn’t find friends for him, and I couldn’t help with the constant pain.

    So, we moved. Away from my small hometown, and closer to our children, to a larger city. It was a wrench, to leave my friends, and my parents, but it has been the best thing I have ever done in my life. We have constant visitors, new friends that DO visit, a new grandson, a mobility scooter on the way, lots of laughter – and enriched lives. The pain, and the depression will never go away, but we’re dealing with it … and we’re not lonely any more. It took us a while to make the decision to move, and it was a huge leap of faith to actually do it, but I don’t regret it. I would however, have regretted not doing it.

    Reply
    • Thanks for letting us know about your story Lynette – shows how important your environment can be in that it can either limit your experience of life or open it up.

      Great to hear that you’re doing so well.

      Reply
  10. Dear Steve,
    your story sounds like a long and somtimes
    hard learning process to me. All the way home
    to the secret that we are alone and we have
    been alone. And that is okay! Freedom is insight
    you and me. We do not have to go out and
    look for joy, freedom.. It is all there. Knowing
    that there could be much healthier relationships
    between people.
    Thanks a lot for your story and all the best for you!

    Reply
    • Thanks Bianca. I agree with you that the beautiful things in life don’t need to you to go looking for them – they’re right here.

      Reply
  11. I am OK being alone — without feeling lonely. There is a fine difference and only people who are OK being alone know what I mean.

    Reply
  12. Thank you for being so brave and share your story.(I know I wouldn’t have been that brave.) I got beaten up pretty badly when I was at work and I had to move back home to recover. (Before that I got burned-out in my previous job which didn’t help.)

    My friends that I had tuch with they left me.(Partly also because I changed interests into the business-profession.) On top of it all my father got alzheimer and I am taking care of him (and partly my mother), as well.

    I experienced,and still does, that people look down on me. I went “undercover” and like a mole trying to hide and as much as possible. I am spending so much time and energy to defend myself. I just want to be accepted and respected for who I am. (I just finished an online business-course at master level offered by Stanford and I got an A+ would you believe, which is unreal and incredible for me, english is my second language and am dyslectic. I know I could put that in an ad and still I’ll be put down, maybe even more so.)

    Thank you for sharing this. It is a comfort to know that there are other moles out there who feels the same way.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you’ve had a hard time Everine.

      Your A+ in the business course is evidence that you can do great things and achieve what you put your mind to.

      You don’t have to become a mole in order to try to fit in; you just need to accept who you are – all the strengths and all the weaknesses. You don’t have to earn it – you’re already worthy

      Reply
  13. Thanks for this post, it is inspiring. While I do not know about the specifics of your condition, it seems to be very challenging.

    I believe honesty with ourselves is the starting point of anything positive and I salute you for yours. It is truly impressive. Your words read positive outlook so strongly, it makes me feel very grateful, for what I have. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Honesty indeed Boris – the starting point for any meaningful choice. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  14. Hi Steve…. I choose Loneliness sometimes…. When I see people and they look so happy(not sure if they are really happy in their personal life), and I feel I am not really happy, I tell myself that I don’t belong there…. I quietly maintain distance from them…. I don’t go so close to them, don’t let them know me better…. It’s a fear and its in my mind that, people don’t like them who are not happy…. they want to see and be only with them who are happy like them….. I sometimes feel I am fine being alone in my own world…..

    Reply
    • Sometimes I choose to be by myself, and there’s great value in that. I guess it comes down to whether that choice is fuelled by self-protection or nourishment…

      Reply
  15. Thank you for your story. I have chronic fatigue syndrome, fbro, and depression and that worsened or became evident after a car accident 12 years ago. I have always been somewhat of a loner and an HSP, but I also don’t like to be alone for too long as I was an only child who was left along a lot and I start having symptoms of PTSD if I end up alone too long. And yet, my conditions dictate that I take a lot of down time – alone. Sometimes being around others will give me some energy, but other times it is totally draining. What happened to me is that I became so alone that I started accepting bad company and letting these toxic people stick around, which only drained me more. Now they are gone and save for a few friends I don’t get to see that much, it’s just me a lot of the time and my great dog. There was so much chaos in my life with the toxic relationships that other things in my life became chaotic and my living and home work space became unmanageable. Slowly but surely I am putting it back together again and started a serious yoga practice which is helping me finally after all the things I have tried. But the loneliness of it all hits hard at times and I get down on myself for not “getting out there” more than I do. But I also know that I do better than I think about it, though I can go 4-5 days without having any significant social interaction. I kept telling myself that I would get out more when I get my place cleaned up and these others things done and now 2-3 years have gone by and I’m finally getting there. Maybe there is a reason for all this and I am right where I need to be. I try to think of the uses of my solitude. I can finally really start working on my goals as the mundane gets put back into place. And I know that I will seek out company when I really need it or go out by myself to meetup groups, places where I know people, etc.. So I do have a plan and the energy is getting a little better. And I’m totally with you on this journey. I’ve come to the same realization after so many years – so I try to choice my time now with others well. I am hoping this will lead to more friendships that can deepen over time and ones I can keep because they are healthier as I get healthier. Until then in my solitude, I am working on taking care of the best life for myself that I can and upping the quality of my life in little ways. So it took me three days to finally finish organizing a close on top of surviving. But it’s getting there……

    Reply
    • I have CFS/ME too Cat.

      I honestly believe that the illness and everything that it’s lead to has been happening in order to show me something, and I’ve already learned so much from it,

      Sounds to me like you’ve learned a lot about yourself and the world as a result of what you’ve been through, and that will only continue.

      Good going Cat.

      Reply
  16. I love the honesty and transparency in this post.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading your follow up post in a few months to see where you’re at.

    Brendan

    Reply
    • Thanks Brendan – I’ll be looking forward to seeing what happens too!

      Reply
  17. Positive change also happens incrementally. If we are able to become self-monitors, we can catch unwanted change before it goes too far.

    Reply
    • Great point re positive change, thanks Dan.

      Reply
  18. I would like to add after reading this just now is how much I identified like you were telling my story. Saturday was the 7th yr anniversary of the death of my only brother at the young age of 32. Unexpected, unprepared his life was stolen by violence as he drove through an area where bullets suddenly began flying and hit him. My life has incrementally chipped away in more ways than I can count. I struggled with mild depression throughout and tried meds/talk-therapy on and off determined not to become dependant on a prescription. Well, when this loss abruptly happened PTSD was added to my medical record and it’s been challenging ever since. Over these past several years ” So to manage this I started saying “No” to things” this statement has become my life. I spent a year and a half back in therapy and back on meds but find life as I once knew will never be the same and unlike you a support system is minimal. To add more life challenges, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia so now that has been added to my plate unexpectedly. She was always a stellar student, no trouble ever, drinking, partying and all the mischief teenagers and young adult experience was not even close to her story. Her first year away at college is when her bottom fell out and it was two years after losing her uncle I believe triggered the stress level and mental illness exposed itself at age 20. People in our family/friend cirlce seem helpless so they back off as if we’re too much a burden or so it seems so they extend prayer and wll wishes from a distance. I have always been the one to take on the most difficult challenges for others but now that I have an ongoing challenge my there’s no one I can turn on. So it’s one day at a time because I can’t crumble and leave my daughter without support.

    So thank you for sharing I really learned another perspective and how we have the power to change because we are not our circumstances

    Reply
    • How horrible to lose your brother in those circumstances Sharon, I can’t imagine.

      I know that you’re more than the circumstances you’re in though. I know it. As difficult as the last few years have been for you, what if it was all leading you somewhere; taking you on a journey to show you some important truths?

      You say that you have nobody to turn to. I’m not sure I agree with that. Even though your friends or family seem to have withdrawn, is there someone you could ask to talk to, ask for support from? What about a group in your area ,or a group online (either Mum’s with children diagnosed with schizophrenia or Mum’s feeling like they “can’t crumble”). There is support out there for you – will you promise to find it and make use of it?

      Reply
      • Thank you Steve for the feedback it was truly helpful. Actually, I do have resources available for support in learning more about mental illness and my daughter’s diagnosis in particular. I just completed a 12 week family to famiy class through NAMI ( national assoc for mental illness) I learned a great deal and connected with a few people to stay connected. Your absolutely correct to disagree where I said no one to turn to. I think in the moment the self-pity was speaking more accurately about the lack of family support. I’ve learned over the years through many trials that our biological families are not always the most supportive. I have received more support from extended families and strangers who walked me through many life situations.

        I have to pay closer attention to my emotions when sharing about my struggles because at times those feelings can drive my thoughts and words. Feelings are just that and they change all the time so I have to keep that in mind.

        It was an online support group that helped me through the grieving process early on. i would never have imagined I would be so open to speaking freely online in any forum. Boy am I glad I let that fear go and have since come across sites like yours and have identified with alot of people.

        I appreciate your response….

        Reply
  19. Thanks for sharing that Steve. It was touching and inspiring. We’re all here to be us. It’s the only way we can be happy and contribute to the world. No matter what life throws at you there will be a way. With you all the way.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much Brian, appreciate the support.

      Reply
  20. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your article. I have been suffering with many chronic illnesses and also this hypersensitivity to mobiles.laptops,tabs etc and experiencing slight currents/shocks through the keyboard etc making life and work a struggle all through. Depression etc etc.

    Reading your article and the many reponses, I went through the syptoms of CFS and realized this is something i have completely overlooked. Thanks for being of help unknowingly : )

    I hope to get better with time and find a cure and get better. If you happen to know anything about this electrical hypersensitivity, please do share.

    Keep Shining !!

    Reply
    • Can’t help you on the hypersensitivity front PB, sorry.

      Don’t wait for a cure or until you “get better” to start making small changes in your life though – you can take baby steps right now.

      Reply
  21. I really identified with your article. i have suffered from depression for most of my life, I am now 45, and have found myself in the same place. No friends, no social outlets, no job, nothing to look forward to or to give me a purpose when I wake up every day. Your article has made me aware of my behaviors over the past 30 years and how I have contributed to the present situation I am in.

    It also gives me hope, that with hard work, and accepting myself, and not worrying about the judgement of others, that I do not have to resign myself the inaccuracy of the thought that this was the hand I was dealt in life. For the most part, I choose the cards.

    Reply
  22. I had this same realization not too long ago. I’m a young man in college and shouldn’t have a life like that. When weekends came around I was satisfied with chillin at home with my dog. Friends would ask me to go out and i would tell them”Na bro I’m not feeling it”. Over time I would shut down any plans that people wanted to make me. It got so bad that the TV was more appealing to me than human contact.

    Then it hit me, I’m young and should be making a good story to tell my kids someday. The one I was writing was definitely not one worth publishing. So I do as much as I can now. I hear possible plans and I’m down. Honestly, it has made me feel so much happier. I’m also starting to go after my dream of being a professional athlete.

    Good Luck with your journey

    Reply
  23. I have suffered with this feeling most of my life and i am only 24. When i am around people i am sunshine, always friendly, always happy but i have never been able to make any long lasting friends. At the end of the day i am lonely. people think i am such a social bird but i am not. Its only me who realizes how lonely i am. I don’t have boyfriend, not that its such a big deal here in India. But whenever someone learns about that i don’t have one they all ask me only one thing’ how come i don’t have one.

    Even a simple thought that i will be alone in my room in a month or so since my roommates/best friends are leaving ( not that they are the greatest treasure i have. they are all like me. And you know that awesome feeling when your friends have the same mental disorder as you have. Beauty.) But the whole loneliness thing is freaking me out. i am in peace with my loneliness when there few people who i care about are around. With them leaving i will be alone alone. i don’t do well in such situations. I am an MBBS intern. sometimes i have days when i in my room most of the time and it is then when the loneliness hits me. Otherwise i am so busy working or chit-chatting and being around people that i don’t realise it.

    Reply
  24. I am at a loss for words after reading this. I stumbled upon your blog, err, not sure what this page is exactly as it was in a google search result.. I am at the lowest of low, having ‘had it all’ only a couple of years ago to today where literally nearly everything I loved, worked for, lived for.. is gone. Taken from me. Beyond any control of mine, and absent any fault of my own. At this point I truly wonder if I have been cursed. I am no longer living; I simply exist. Barely, at that. I’m talking not your average kind of crisis.. beyond even extroidinary circumstances.. Maximum, too radical to be true kind of story is more accurate.

    Today, just now, I’m have a different plan for myself than what I originally set out to accomplish. Thank you, that is all.

    Reply
    • I can relate to your story in so many ways I lost my way in life mainly down to my ex now she is living with my daughter with a person who I hate more than anyone, I have had the feelings that you have had but I don’t want to beat me its one of the hardest things that I have had to endure

      Reply
  25. Wonderful and interresting blog indeed. I read all the stories because they are real and we can learn from them. I believed if not all, but most people experienced loneliness. Everyone has their own experience in life. I was exited to come to America the land of opportunity. I left my family, my business not knowing that I will be lonely. The first 5 years of my stay was a struggle. All the the strange feelings like life has no meaning, emptiness,
    and loneliness. came to my mind. I felt betrayed and unloved and I came to realized that I’m depressed. Back to my home country Philippines I did not hear someone who is depressd. I heard news about a lot of people in America are depress. I don’t understand what is being depress, Then I came to realized what depreesion is. My only solution is to
    talk to GOD in prayer, I cried out to him as my dearest friend. It needs enough faith to make things right. Ask God for help to have the right choice and a right decision. It is our
    choice that will make us lonely. Yes it’s not easy, sometimes we can not avoid of the circustances, But our true and faithful friend JESUS is just a prayer away. Anywhere we
    go he is by our side. WHY not try to talk to our heavenly father and our Lord Jesus Christ
    who is always ready to help you 24/7 and let go all the baggages in our life. Hope you will find peace happiness and blessings in Jesus. He is the source of everything.

    Reply
  26. Thank you for your touching and open article. Thank you for reaching out and creating a place to opening talk about this.

    I have had severe health changes over the last two years. Apparently, arthritis is over taking over all my joints. So, I understand your struggle with limited energy levels, having to make some tough choices and coming to accept where you are at… which means reaching out from where you are.

    I don’t know about you, but one thing that has put a damper on things is all the doctor’s appointments. So, not only do I have limited energy levels, limited amount a movement, but also a limited schedule.

    On top of all that, I am really trying to concentrate on health and exercise. People don’t understand when I say, ‘no’… think I am making excuses for some hidden feelings, I am guessing.

    For the last bit, I am working on is de-stressing my life. Which mean, sad to say, limiting exposure to certain kinds of people and people who are going through certain kinds of “phases” in life.

    Yes, life is not how I imagined it should be for me and folks often have a hard time understanding.

    Your words: “When the path you’ve been on has been necessary, but the place it’s taken you to is undesired and unsustainable, you have to open to it.

    You gotta embrace where you are. You gotta open to what’s already here. You gotta love the place you’re in first.”– is a mantra going on my wall!

    Many Blessings, My Friend,

    Mario

    Reply
  27. Wow, I sure have been there, but what ate away at me was caring for ademanding elder;y mother and working. I am trying to step out again now. All the best Steve.

    Reply

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