Can you be alone without being lonely? Or lonely without being alone? I would say yes on both counts.
Google gives this as the primary definition of lonely: “sad because one has no friends or company.” A secondary definition is “without companions; solitary.” For both definitions, “alone” is listed as a synonym. Google’s definition of alone is: “having no one else present.”
Lonely is a word that has a certain emotional charge and judgment attached to it, whereas alone is more an objective observation about the immediate social environment. Being alone also has a temporariness to it; you can stop being alone quite easily. Loneliness, though, seems like a more persistent state of mind that can only be changed through mental adjustment.
I’ve always liked being alone, and am very much an introvert. I rarely have a hard time amusing myself when there’s no one else around. For more than half of my adult life I have lived alone, and I’m good with that.
When I do experience loneliness, it doesn’t tend to have much to do with who or what is in the immediate physical environment. I sometimes feel lonely when the figurative distance between myself and important people in my life has grown wider. This is usually as a result of my depression-related tendency to push people away, And yes, I do see the ridiculousness in feeling lonely because I’ve pushed others away.
Loneliness can also be triggered when I fall into the trap of comparing my life circumstances to others. This isn’t a trap I get caught in too often, but it’s still there lurking in the background ready to pop out and knock me down every so often.
There’s also the issue of feeling lonely when I’m around people. Being around others and feeling completely disconnected can be a strong reminder of my level of isolation. I’m not anxious and I’m not worried about what others think; I just feel like an alien life form with no shared language of meaning or experience. That kind of loneliness isn’t eased by being around people; in fact, the more contact there is, the worse it gets. I only feel better when I’ve settled back into my cave. More alone, yet less lonely.
On days that I’m not working, I have very little face to face contact with people. My best friend and I either talk on the phone or text every day, and that’s been an important source of support for me. With that plus online interactions, I seldom feel lonely, despite being alone the vast majority of the time. My guinea pigs make a difference too; it’s hard to feel lonely with those five little balls of fur paying attention to my every move (because it could mean treats).
Alone but not lonely; works for me.
Originally published at http://mentalhealthathome.org on July 2, 2019.