For the majority of last year, there was something fundamentally missing from my life. I was desperate for human connection. So much so, that I often made a trip to a local shop to buy something I didn’t need, just so I was able to have a conversation with another living soul.
2019 was the loneliest year of my life.
Two years ago, I broke free from a path that society had conditioned me to believe was my path. I decided to give up my flat in London and packed my life into one small, grey, banged-up suitcase. I purchased a one-way ticket to Bali, and with less than £1000 to my name, I set course to pursue something greater than just existing. Living.
Fast forward 18 months to my 25th birthday. I found myself sitting in a bustling and gently lit restaurant in Canggu. I’d been dating a girl for three months, she had invited me out for dinner with her friends, who were on holiday visiting her from the UK.
On the drive over, I was rehearsing my response to a question that I knew I would be expected to answer, it was one that I was dreading. Sure enough, it was asked not long after we’d taken our seats at the table: “So how have you spent your birthday?”
I felt so much shame in answering this question. I couldn’t bear to answer it honestly as it would demand me to present my vulnerable, fragile soul to a group of people, whom I had just met.
So I told them all that I spent it in the ocean. Catching waves and drinking coconuts whilst lounging about on the sand, dipping into my book and eating some wonderful food. Before watching the sun descend from a candy-pink sky into calm blue waters.
The reality was that, I spent the day in bed. Watching Netflix, cuddling my dogs and feeling sorry for myself. I was pondering why I felt so deeply alone. As I’m sure you’re aware, Bali is a sort-after tourist hotspot, with people coming and going constantly.
I would find people that I would connect with, momentarily, yet they would leave the island on their travels the following week. Meaning, I struggled to form deep, nourishing and long-lasting friendships.
For well over a year, I felt such a crippling and debilitating feeling from the absence of intimate and genuine friendship. Of course, I willingly signed up for this. I moved to the other side of the world, where I knew no one. Everything and everyone that I knew, were an 18 hour flight away.
All of my life-long friendships were back in the UK, as well as my family who support and love me dearly. My relationships with them had been redefined, they had become restricted to the confines of a screen. So day-to-day, month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter, I found myself longing for human connection.
2019 wasn’t a bad year. I visited breath-taking locations, shared some incredible experiences with soulful people, learned life-changing lessons and tuned into myself in new and profound ways. It was a tough year, really tough, but it gave me the space and stillness required to connect with a part of me that I had neglected for some time, if ever.
Here are some things that the loneliest year of my life taught me:
1. If you’re willing to learn, you can’t get life wrong.
Despite what we’re conditioned to believe, from society, from our parents, our teachers and friends, there is no right way to do life.
No matter what we see on Instagram or whom we compare ourselves too (we all do it), every single person on the planet faces adversity, pain and heartache. It’s an inevitability and a clause found in the terms and conditions of being human. Life is messy and we’re all searching for purpose, serenity and belonging along the way.
If I hadn’t left, I would only ever be familiar, with the familiar. I wouldn’t have been forced to learn lessons that helped me to discover things that are critically important in nurturing my soul. I wouldn’t be so clear on the concepts and connections that define my existence, and what specific parts of being that bring colour to my life.
“If we always do, what we’ve always done. We’ll always get, what we’ve always got.” — Adam Pearson
Every single experience has a lesson in it if you’re open enough to look for it. When you dig deeper into your self, you’ll notice the intention behind your actions, decisions and goals. What was my true underlying desire behind the decision to leave the UK?
It wasn’t just to experience living opposed to existing. It wasn’t just to break out of the career shackles that I found people ushering me into. It wasn’t just to itch the dissatisfaction that had become my life.
It was to understand who I was without the influence of others, to find myself, and above all to come home to my true essence.
2. You have a duty to respect and honour yourself above anything else.
I don’t usually like the word ‘duty’, but it works well here. We all have the responsibility to be courageous enough to be ourselves.
Yet, through my experience, I’ve witnessed many people trample over themselves in order to please others. Rather than honouring what’s present and true within their own heart.
“I would love too, but my parents don’t approve”
“I don’t really want too, but I guess I’ll just get it over and done with”
“I can’t change my mind now, can you imagine what they’ll say?!”
In my university years, I spent a considerable amount of time taking copious amounts of party drugs, in order to create and sustain relationships with people I’m no longer in contact with. Something that, I had fun doing, at times, but would often bulldoze my true feelings in order to ‘fit in’, or to please someone, adding to their narrative instead of my own.
During the years I’ve spoken of, I found stillness to reflect on my life. Stillness without external influence, and it showed me that in previous years, I had given up part of myself. I had actively dishonoured my being in order to align with people’s view of who they thought I ought be. Something I did through the ‘duty’ of codependent relationships.
I now choose to respect and honour myself, and I invite you to do the same.
3. The willingness to share creates connection.
As time has gone on, I’ve tried to allow the feeling of shame (around being lonely) to live inside me. I’ve learned to make friends with it, to love it, and to speak about it with others.
Recently, I was walking my dogs in a field. I naturally caught up with a man who was walking his, and together, we walked and started to chat about life. He started to share with me that the field we were in, made him miss his home in northern Wales. He continued to tell me that when he first moved here, his daughter had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
But to some miracle, she defied all doctors expectations, battled through it, and came out the other side. He told me the story of how she continued to push herself, to learn and get herself through university. And that now, she had even found her purpose in life. He looked at me and expressed how hard the journey was for him, but above all, how unbelievably proud he was of his daughter.
Inspired by his courage and willingness to share, I went on to tell him about how I faced challenging times in the last few years. How I felt isolated and alone, craving friendship and lacking connection. But most of all feeling shameful for having a somewhat lonely existence.
It’s those moments, of sheer vulnerability and presenting your bare soul so that it can be listened too, and heard. It is through sharing that everything else fades away.
It struck me that no-one’s path in life is a straight line, no matter how it seems from the outside. That at some point, we are all required to stand face to face with adversity, pain, loneliness and heartache.
Yet the power of sharing has the ability to shave off life’s sharp corners for each other, to help heal our wounds, and makes space for us to live a more liberated and colourful life.
It took me a while to make friends with the shame that came with the loneliness. It was something I didn’t want to identify with, but in doing so, it brought me healing.
In a distant land, word spread far and wide of a holy man with magic so powerful it could relieve the most severe suffering. But to reach his wilderness refuge and receive his healing, a seeker had to trek through dense forests and over precarious mountain passes. Those who persevered arrived at the holy man’s simple hut exhausted and dirty. After guiding them to a refreshing stream and then offering tea, he’d sit with them in silence, gazing out at the pines and sky. When he finally spoke, it was to swear them to secrecy about what was next to pass between them. Once they took the vow, the holy man asked a single question:
“What are you unwilling to feel?” — Tara Brach