Things have to get worse before they get better. It’s just the way of things. These last few weeks after my lowest point was reached have definitely been getting better. But better doesn’t mean perfect. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read this post by A Stranger In This Place: Sitting Through Loneliness.
I come from a big family and loneliness is a terrifying emotion for me. I have always done everything in my power to avoid loneliness. I’ve lived in shared houses, I’ve resorted to Facebook for connections, and I always try to keep myself busy to distract from the loneliness when it’s been present.
Since reading the post by Wendi (the Stranger of A Stranger In This Place), I’ve started to notice things that I do to distract myself from loneliness. I check Facebook and Twitter every half an hour. I repeatedly check my emails, my Whatsapp and my phone messages in case I’ve missed a response from someone. I wander off into my mind and occupy myself with fictional accounts of imagined interactions with people. I over-spend my energy on minor interactions with people through social media just to get a response from someone. Rather than looking after myself, I invest my energy in others around me, with little-to-no return in that investment.
A friend told me that we are each responsible for managing our own energy input and output. It made me stop and think – and I realised that I rely on those around me to respond in kind, rather than keeping a check on my own energy levels. I have always had a tendency to over-invest in those around me – I spend my time, energy and emotions on others without thinking of the strain this might put on me. And I think that I do this out of fear – fear of losing a person, fear of missing out, fear of exclusion from social groups, fear of being lonely. I think that for some people this management of energy is intuitive, and for others it requires conscious effort. For me, it’s the latter. And until I read Wendi’s post, I was unaware of giving away so much energy.
There are times when I feel loneliness more acutely, and those times are when I am single. I’ve been single now for nearly 2 months now, and it takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve been finding it particularly hard this time as I wasn’t expecting to be single. The break-up came as a surprise. At first my energy was so low that I had none to invest in other people, but since I’ve been feeling good these last few weeks I’ve noticed that, rather than reinvesting that excess energy into myself, I’ve been spending it on others around me. Unsurprisingly, as this energy expenditure has been unasked for, it has not been returned. In the past, I would’ve become resentful of the person who did not reciprocate. But now I can see that I have simply been mismanaging my energy expenditure, and mismanaging my expectation of other people’s energy investment in me.
The fact is that the people in question do not know that I am investing so much of my own energy into them. They simply see a friend with lots of energy to invest, and they accept it. Nor do they see my expectations of energy to be returned. That’s all in my own head. So I find myself getting drained and disappointed in others around me without anyone else seeing or understanding it but myself. And even I didn’t understand it until recently. Since this realisation, I have been trying to “sit with my loneliness”, not reacting to it or over-thinking it. Rather than checking facebook, twitter and emails incessantly, I try to sit and be still when I’m feeling lonely. Rather than distracting myself with music, TV or films, I try to notice the loneliness and to accept it, to understand it a bit better.
One of my firm beliefs is that we cannot be happy with another until we are happy with ourselves. Along with this loneliness is a lot of self-loathing. I don’t know where it comes from, but it, too, has always been there, biding its time, waiting to pop out when I’m feeling sad or low. I doubt myself, I feel embarrassed by myself, embarrassed to be me. This self-doubt, -embarrassment and -loathing drags me down, makes social interactions difficult and makes it really hard to feel like I deserve anything other than loneliness and despair. Because I’m feeling much better in myself at the moment, I can see this and acknowledge that it’s just a thought, not a fact. But it’s hard to escape from these feelings all the same. I now have a new mantra: “I am worthy”. It sounds like a cheesy “Americanised” statement, but its something that I have to tell myself these days. Despite my lack of self-belief, I am worthy of being a person who lives in this world, who has friends, who isn’t a complete embarrassment to themselves all the time. It helps me to monitor these negative feelings and to put them into perspective. I’m hoping that eventually I will feel that I’m worthy of living in this world. I want to be someone who believes in themselves.
Many people see me as quite a confident person, but I just hide the self-loathing away from the public eye. No-one likes a pity-seeker. I’m hoping that by learning to sit with my loneliness and by working through the negative, self-loathing feelings, that I will get to a place where I am happy with myself. I’m hoping that by noticing my over-investment in the people around me, that I will be able to stop this from becoming draining and self-defeating. I’m hoping that my acknowledging my fear of loneliness, that I will overcome it, and become comfortable in my own skin and with my loneliness.
Perhaps when I’ve managed all of this, then I’ll be ready to invest more time and energy into those around me, without the risk of losing it all. Energy management, that’s my new goal!