I am under no illusion that I can do this alone. By this, I mean, life. I’ve never been a loner. I usually have to talk things out to feel better about whatever it is I’m experiencing — even if talking doesn’t fix it, just getting all of those thoughts outside of my head and letting someone else hold them for awhile is more than enough to make me feel better. I need people around me to help me process this. I’ve always been that way. I like being around people. Until the last ten years or so, I had a hard time being alone. I needed plans or people or something — a night at home alone was very challenging for me to handle.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that alone time is not as scary as I once thought it was. In early high school my dad took my brother and I, along with one friend each, to King’s Island for the day. I’m not sure where my mom was, but I remember being sad throughout the day that my dad was alone.
Fast forward 10 years to youth ministry and I was spending the day “alone” in King’s Island my self. It turns out: a) it’s virtually impossible to be alone in an amusement park, b) when you have to check in with teenagers every few hours the break in between in quite nice, and c) people-watching, reading a book and eating whatever you want are far from sad or lonely endeavors!
Being alone is great, sometimes. When my husband leaves for a week long work trip, the first few days I do all the things! I read upstairs in my comfy chair. I quilt all evening. I go to yoga. I eat spaghetti. I watch my shows. And that’s just the first night! Haha! However, once the weekend hits and I’m no longer spending days with co-workers and trying to fill all that time without his companionship… well, that’s when being alone is no longer great.
For me, alone can easily slip into lonely. Those are two different states — one is welcome and often necessary, the other is depressing and well, lonely.
So, last month after those few days of doing all the things was over, I knew what was coming next. I knew I needed to do something to curb the loneliness or at least feel like I have a little control over it. However, before I was able to make some healthy choices, I first got annoyed, probably even mad. As I was walking the dogs my mind was spinning:
Why isn’t anyone calling me? Don’t they know I’m alone for a whole week? Does anyone care about me? Why are they ignoring me?
Once I was back home, still sulking, I got on Instagram (my go to “tune out/drown out the thoughts” mode lately [btw, it’s not helpful]) and saw someone share how she was having a hard day. To help manage her feelings, she sent a text to a few friends giving them specific ways to help her through it. She didn’t make assumptions that her friends would just intuitively know to reach out to her. She didn’t get mad at them for not reading her mind. She took control of the situation and asked for what she needed.
So I followed her lead, composed this text and sent it to four friends:
So Brad is out of town (left tues and will be back tues). I’ve been feeling down/lonely/irritable/really tired. Trying to make myself take it easy this weekend. I have “things to do” but what I need is for friends to check in and just say hey, to help me feel less lonely. So, I’m asking that from you. Nothing big but it will mean a lot to me. Thanks
Two of my friends thanked me for asking. One said she is also trying to ask for what she needs and wants. Another appreciated knowing how to help. All four sent me texts and/or called me several times throughout the weekend. I felt less alone. I also felt more in control of my time and emotions. Even though I was still alone, knowing that I’d be receiving messages from them throughout the weekend helped me feel less lonely.
The only way to make the switch from feeling angry to taking ownership was for me to:
pay attention to my emotions and notice where they were showing up in my body,
acknowledge that I am not my emotions and have control over how I respond to them, and give myself permission to ask for help.
When I’m stressed or lonely or starting to turn too far inward, I get really tired out of nowhere. I’m on the verge of tears constantly. My chest feels heavy and hollow at the same time. That’s what sadness feels like in my body. I may not recognize one of those, but when they all start showing up around the same time, I know it’s time to pay attention.
So, I’ve noticed that I feel sad. Next, I acknowledge what that really means for me. It doesn’t mean I’ll always be sad or that at my core I’m a sad person. It means in this moment, during this time of my life, I feel sad. Often when I’m having intense feelings I tell myself, this won’t last forever or you won’t always feel like this. When I recognize fleeting state of my emotions, I am more comfortable to embrace what I am feeling in that moment because I know it will pass. After embracing them, and maybe wallowing in it for awhile, I start thinking about ways I can respond to those emotions.
More often that not, what I really need is to give myself permission to ask for help in managing my feelings. This might look like crying while my husband holds me. Or it could be texting a friend to share how I feel. In the example given above, it looked like texting a group of friends and telling them how they could help. Sometimes it means asking for space to be alone until I’m ready to talk. Other times I just need to let it all spill out verbally and ask for some guidance on how to move forward. In some situations, I just need to change environments — asking a friend if I can come over or inviting someone to join me for dinner or suggesting a craft night.
When I take these three steps, I’m much more likely to respond to my feelings in a healthy way — a life giving way. This doesn’t mean I won’t feel sad or lonely or frustrated. I can’t prevent feelings, but I can pay attention to them and find healthy ways to respond to them.
And, if all else fails, it’s good to keep a pint of ice cream in the freezer.