By Brandon Diep, Oct. 5, 2021
You only have yourself. Only you can hear what you’re thinking. You want to reach out to someone but instead, you wrap your arms around yourself. It’s another night of waiting to fall asleep. You hide from people, run away from others and keep to yourself. The sad music speaks to you and for you. You don’t feel at home in your own home. Like a lone whale in the sea, you can’t help but feel lonely.
I came to understand my loneliness. There was a time I can remember near the end of summer that allowed me to understand the idea of loneliness in a new way. I’m an English teacher at a tutoring center, a job where I have to seem strong in order for children to think life gets easier as it goes on. One of my students was telling me about how she was going to start school soon. I wanted her to be excited about going back since many of them forgot what it was like to be in class with their peers surrounding them.
“How excited are you to see your friends again?” I asked.
“Pretty excited,” she meekly responded.
That was good to hear.
I tried to relate to her, “You must be happy to see them again after all this time being alone in the pandemic.”
To my surprise, she said, “I didn’t feel alone.”
I paused. “What?” I asked, “You didn’t feel alone this past whole year?”
“Nope,” she answered.
I was quiet for a second. “Did you feel alone, Teacher Brandon?”
That’s when I lied.
Loneliness is one of life’s most painful feelings. It’s a dangerous condition that continues to affect many. A Harvard Graduate School of Education report suggests that 36% of all Americans feel “serious loneliness” and of those, 61% are young adults and 51% are mothers with children.
“Not surprisingly, loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic,” the article says.
This means that in a room of 10 people, four of them feel disconnected from the world and the individuals around them. Our recent events have brought loneliness to the forefront of the conversation and the issue seems to be worsening as studies show the consequences isolation plagues on one’s health.
According to a 2021 study from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), social isolation leads to “about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia” and poor social relations resulted in a “29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.” Loneliness was associated with higher rates of “depression, anxiety, and suicide.”
The pain from feeling lonely doesn’t just affect the mind but also the heart; it’s a real illness that causes many people to suffer every day — destroying their health. From the research, one can gather that they are not alone in their struggle with being alone.
Before speaking with my student, I began to tell myself that maybe it’s okay to be alone forever. I spent days not talking to anybody. I began to think being lonely was lovely. That didn’t last long. When I was alone, like many of us in the past year, I did many things to take my mind off of where I was at the time. I put myself in the wrong situations, I made friends with the wrong people; I was fine letting myself get hurt. That’s when someone starts to believe maybe they should be lonely.
The conversation with my young student helped me realize that children don’t feel lonely. After she expressed her hopefulness, I remembered being 10 years old, staying up all night playing “Minecraft” all by myself, waking up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons alone, making up games to play with just me in my backyard.
Children don’t feel lonely but as time goes on, society teaches us what loneliness is. As we grow up into adults, we see non-physical things like social relationships as part of our ‘things we need to be happy.’ Relationships, popularity, networking — things people strive to achieve once they see adults start reaching them. These abstract ideas are something we don’t observe as a necessity as children because it’s not something we grow to depend on.
With this new perspective, I was made to understand that loneliness isn’t just something that we create but also something that we can control.
We all come into this world alone and leave this life alone. It can be difficult taking on this life all by yourself, but eventually, you get through it. It is only when you can’t stand being in your own thoughts when you feel lonely. However, if you can take comfort in what you have — yourself, you can fight whatever negative feelings you may have. I still feel alone — sometimes — that is when I take a second and look around. I see that I’m not alone in my experiences. I find happiness in that loneliness is only a feeling.
We are all alone in this together.
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