I am one of the lucky ones with neighbours, friends, acquaintances, and family that care about me.
I can also afford an internet connection that allows me to Zoom regularly with my peeps who do not live close enough for a masked-walk, or a coffee in the park at a safe distance.
And still, loneliness haunts me. Not usually during the daylight hours, although a grey day can trigger that feeling of falling alone down into a bottomless pit. No, mostly it’s nighttime when I encounter a powerful silence reminding me that I’m the only living breathing warm blooded entity inside my four walls. It scares me, despite all the positives I can list off.
If I’m not paying attention I default to my first line of defence against the darkness. I hesitate to call them “coping” strategies since when I practice them, they can cause collateral damage. In order of most to least damaging: overeating, watching TV, and reading fluff.
Sadly, I can easily over do it with these and that can impact my health negatively: overeating, watching TV and reading fluff – when binged they trigger an underlying anxiety that makes it almost impossible to sleep.
My second set of strategies takes more effort but has better outcomes: dancing, making breakfast at night, and taking a bath. Dancing raises my spirits because it allows me to express feelings of loneliness and discharge the nervous, sad energy that goes with them. Making breakfast at night: The physical activity of preparing food for the next morning postpones the pleasure of crunching, chewing, and tasting just enough to be oddly sufficient. I end up feeling both virtuous and anticipatory. I am making good nutrition choices and looking forward to tomorrow. Taking a bath: If the bath is hot enough I will relax enough to go to bed at a decent hour, thereby escaping the dark thoughts of night time.
Of course none of these second string strategies do anything to address my feelings of loneliness.
Although healthier than my go-to default destructive practices, they only succeed at stifling the awareness that I am alone – not only because I am a single person living on my own, but because we are all alone: fundamentally unique and therefore isolated from others – in my mind, essentially alone. The goal is to be able to be alone and not feel immersed in loneliness.
Let’s be honest, loneliness is a difficult emotion – that is until it we can find ways to alleviate it. Despite having found some healthy-ish ways to cope with my feelings (and I am truly thankful for these), I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there’s an opportunity here. I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding unpleasant feelings.
So, what if occasionally I muster my courage, make an herbal tea, light a candle, set a timer for five minutes, settle down with writing implements, and simply sit with these uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying emotions? What if, instead of attempting to avoid, dull, or outrun them, I listen with compassion for what they might have to say to me? Could I learn something of value about myself? Can I feel my feelings without self judgement? As though my best friend were confiding their deepest darkest secrets to me? Might the feelings play themselves out without a negative effect? And if, after a while, the feelings persist, at the very least, I’ve had a few minutes to sip a warming tea and watch a flickering candle light up a small corner of darkness before I get up to take a bath, dance, or make tomorrow’s breakfast.
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Nikki Everts is a poet, author, facilitator of writing workshops and provider of writing services through Scripted Images.
The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.