There are these hidden costs of loneliness which no one really talks about. Sometimes, I think it's because some people simply do not know. They haven’t been there. Not in the depths of despair and isolation.
Whether you’ve been caught up in the pain of loneliness yourself, or whether you’re interested in learning more for a friend, it pays to understand what lonely people often pay.
The toll on your mental health.
I describe the whole experience as a sort of drowning. Isolation fills your lungs up so full that you can hardly breathe. It’s both an emptiness and an all-consuming suffocation.
You reach out, awkwardly splashing, eventually thrashing about the dark waters. And you think to yourself, if I can just hold on… I’ll survive. But you begin to feel too weak to hold on in the depths of your loneliness. Your grip is slipping.
So you reach out again and pray for someone to send out a life preserver. Even though you know that no one can save you.
But you also know that you need people to stay sane.
That’s how loneliness and isolation have been for me. My epitome of poor mental health. Back when I was pregnant or while I adjusted to motherhood, I would have given anything to believe there was a place for me. To enjoy some routine companionship.
In those days, I often lost track of how many days went by where I didn’t have one real conversation with another human being.
I don’t think most people comprehend just how bad loneliness can be for your mental health. At times, I’ve had to come out and say that I’m scared if I didn’t get some human connection anytime soon, I would never be alright again. I have even been so frightened that I thought I might kill myself because of the isolation. We’re not meant to be alone, people.
If your mental health starts suffering because you are living in such deep loneliness and true isolation… there’s nothing weird or wrong about you at all. Isolation is terrible for your mental health. That’s only natural.
The toll on your social skills.
You may feel so consumed by the shame of your situation that you find you’ve forgotten how to interact with other people on the few opportunities you get to be around them.
Since you’re already paying for the loneliness with your mental health, you avoid seeing old friends even when you want to see them. Because you don’t want them to see how bad you think you look or feel. There’s always one more reason to withdraw even when you’re secretly craving connection.
You skip your high school reunion because you feel like a loser going nowhere.
Upon meeting new people, you find yourself feeling slow and awkward — sweaty hands, a thick tongue, your voice echoes in your ears as you simply try to speak. So, you quit speaking because the words never sound quite right as soon as you say them. You feel weird, you feel wrong. And you fear that everyone else can see it too.
The loneliness exacerbates all of it.
People talk about social anxiety as if it’s only nervousness. Like it's something you can just practice away. They don’t always see how it’s a legitimate symptom of your pain. Or the way loneliness can fuck you up in more ways than one.
Again, all of this is normal. Our culture does a poor job of blaming lonely people for struggling, and judging them for having poor social skills.
Lonely people deserve much more grace and understanding.
The toll on your reputation.
You suffer. Your mental health suffers. Your social skills suffer. It’s only natural that other people will have their opinions about you too. Friends will wonder why you can’t snap out of it. You will wonder why you can’t snap out of it.
People will tell you that you’re not alone. They will say things like “I’m rooting for you!” They will tell you how they’re in the same boat as you or that they’ve been right where you are.
And you’ll suspect that they’re lying as soon as they start telling to what you should or shouldn’t feel.
Among certain types of people, your reputation suffers. They find you negative. They think you’re just feeling sorry for yourself. Your reputation suffers in part because you’re not living up to their expectations of a good human being. You’re not all sunshine and rainbows.
And your reputation suffers partly because you don’t even realize how negative you sound… because you’re sick! Not wrong, not selfish, and not broken. You have real pain due to real illness.
Loneliness is real.
If you talk about being lonely, there will be people who will judge you for it. People who not only think your feelings are all in your head, but who also take offense to your cries. As if your pain points a finger on them.
Your stock tanks in their eyes because they’ve made an awful lot of assumptions about you without actually listening to anything you’ve said.
The truth, of course, is that we need more lonely people to care less about their reputation, because we need more people to talk about loneliness in general.
We need to quit seeing loneliness as a personal problem and start recognizing it as a social epidemic.
Loneliness and isolation are very real problems with serious consequences. And few of us know how to react to a person in the grips of that kind of pain. It’s something we need to start talking about, and it’s something we need to quit judging.
We are all in this together, whether we recognize it or not.