For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with loneliness and depression. It’s an ongoing cyclical pattern in my life that correlates with overcommitment and burnout; it’s also one of the reasons I have such difficulty experiencing joy.
I think that each person battles their own version of being alone. For some, it’s the entrepreneur whose identity is bound to a company that never seems to succeed. For others, it’s the single mom who’s overwhelmed by juggling the pressures of her job while raising a child. For me, my loneliness is triggered by perfectionism and the expectation to bear burdens larger than I can carry.
I write this post having gone through a recent cycle — well, still going through a recent cycle— and knowing that while living with loneliness and depression may be a lifelong battle, these are a few practices that help diminish the severity and allow me to continue fighting.
Disconnect from comparison
When I feel myself in bouts of loneliness and depression, one of the ways I wrestle with it is to cut off channels where I might be comparing myself to others; specifically, unplugging from social media. I’ll delete the apps off my phone and block them on my computer. More often than not, my loneliness and depression gets triggered by unhappiness with where I am; social media only amplifies comparisons between my life and others. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for social media — it’s likely how you’re reading my blog — but the goal of social media is to engage you in a virtual warp hole asynchronous with real life.
I’d like to say I’m above this, but I’m not, especially in bouts of depression. It was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I would rather nip it in the bud than let it run rampant in my life.
Be with your squad
If I’m unplugging from social media, I’m going back to my community and the meaningful relationships in my life. I recently wrote a post about #SquadGoals. Essentially, my “squad” is composed of individuals closest to me that I trust with my life. They don’t judge me, they already know my dirt, and vice versa.
When I’m in a season of loneliness and depression, these are the people I rely on to point out the things that I’m not seeing, to empathize with me, and to point me back to the things that matter. My gut-reaction is to isolate and numb any sense of shame. As a human being built for connection with others, isolation is probably the most destructive way for me to cope with my despair.
It can be a scary experience sharing pains and admitting weaknesses to those around me, but it’s also the most healing and therapeutic method in the world.
I’d have to trust that my flaws were the ways through which I would receive grace. We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either. — Scary Close, Donald Miller
The people I consider my squad know what questions to ask and how to piece together the pieces. It didn’t start off this way — I’m still learning patience with the process — but as I open up to vulnerability, my authentic self begins to be known.
At the end of the day, regardless of what the person on the other side of the table has to say, simply shedding light on darkness by vocalizing frustrations can bring a world of comfort in knowing that my secret is no longer a secret.
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson
Buy into something bigger than yourself
Buying into something bigger than oneself is much easier said than done, and I get that. Yet the reason I bring this up is because I’ve realized that depression isn’t what causes my self-absorption; self-absorption is what causes my depression.
What’s most difficult for me to notice in the moment is that when I begin to rely on myown talents, my own giftings, my own strengths to accomplish what I want to get done, the house of cards always — and I mean, always — comes crashing down. When I lose sight of the bigger picture, I lose sight of what really matters, and that’s when I feel more alone than ever.
I’m a firm believer that we are all meant to serve a bigger cause, one that extends beyond our own self. When we attach ourselves to the greater narrative, our individual burdens seem less and less significant.
“He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘how.’” — Nietzsche
Sometimes it’s difficult to the see the big picture, and in these instances it helps to have community to remind me of it. As I get older, I’m learning that life is very much a team sport; it seems empty without it.
Cultural norm tells us that the acceptance of anything negative is to admit defeat. I think this is one of the greatest lies that prevents us from truly understanding ourselves more deeply and meaningfully. Do I wish for greater joy? Absolutely, and I fight for that everyday. But I also know that to an extent, this is an area of my life that will always be lacking in comparison to others; so I try and make the most with the set of cards I’ve been dealt. Accepting this doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the towel.
I’m learning that as I get older, not to suffocate “negative” emotions. For me, I’m okay with loneliness and depression being a constant companion for the rest of my life. I’m okay with it being a lifelong journey where I learn to navigate, befriend, or at least accept them in a way that doesn’t draw me away from the bigger picture.
If I look at the silver lining, my seasons of loneliness and depression are also the ones where I learn the most. In Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the hero always leaves a place of familiarity to venture out to a world fraught with trials and setbacks. It’s not until he or she reaches a breaking point that the crucial lesson to complete the journey is earned.
My loneliness and depression serves to break me of my old self — the boy I once was — to grow into who I am to become — the man I am to be. It’s painful in the moment, but I’m not who I am without it.
I’ve spent two weeks debating if I should publish this post. Partially because intellectually, I get it, but in practice, I still have a long ways to go. And in fact, I’m still going through a season where each day is a struggle with no idea how long the cycle will last.
But I was reminded this weekend that my identity isn’t bound by my emotions, and neither is yours. At the end of the day, I find solace in the fact that we’re all lonely. We’re all uniquely lonely — and that’s what draws us together. Every winter eventually gives way to spring and there is coming a day when my loneliness and depression will be no more.
But until then, keep fighting.
You’re not alone.