While loneliness is a ravaging symptom of Depression or untreated Anxiety, and feeling like you’re apart from everyone else can make you feel poorly, loneliness is also a symptom of being alive, and so we all feel it.
This post is not particularly actionable, but I wanted to share a positive shift in attitude I had not long ago. I hope I can give you the information that allowed me to gain some perspective that helped me feel less alone.
As I would worry about something incessantly, as I was wont to do, my perceived connection to everyone else grew weaker and weaker. As I worried, my mind tried to prove to me that I was different from others, that I was crazy. I tried to curb this feeling of isolation by looking for people, real and fictional, exactly like me so I felt less particular. And I image we all do this to some extent.
I looked to different kinds of media, but particularly movies, books, and video games. In them, I wanted desperately to find a sense of purpose, and I wanted my mind to be cooled down. The closest I ever got was when I read Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I don’t think it’s one of his best books, but to read about someone struggling with OCD, I felt more at-ease in my life for the duration of the days I spent working through it. But by and large, my looking to entertainment for a sense of purpose and companionship was not fruitful. Here’s a visual of the cycle I took part in.
What is Catharsis?
Catharsis is a powerful release of emotion, particularly fear or stress. In the context of media, catharsis means that as a viewer sees horrible things happening to characters, they gain perspective and gratitude. Therefore, such an event has a healthy and humanizing effect on the viewer. They are grateful that their present situation is better than that of the fictional people they saw.
Humans’ ability to feel catharsis proves that we have the potential to draw inspiration and relaxation from the experiences of others. But that may be hard for you to find because you feel your experiences and feelings are somehow different than anyone else’s, just as I did.
I don’t run, but my brother does, and I understand it is a powerful example of the point I’m trying to get across. In my brother’s first year running in high school, there was a delightful cast of older kids he could laugh with and talk to while running. He has expressed to me several times that cross country would be so much more difficult if he didn’t have friends with which he could share his suffering. His enjoyment of running is partly dependent on the people he’s surrounded by. Thankfully, this is rarely a problem for him, because I believe running attracts a particularly disciplined and optimistic kind of person.
When two people are running together, they’re on the same page. They’re both feeling the same pain, both gasping for breath, both convinced they won’t make it, and sweating profusely. But because they share a similar experience, their personal pain is, to some extent, relieved through dilution. Running with a good person removes the emotional torment, which is the most significant barrier to successful running.
How can we use this for mental health? By changing our attitude about other people versus ourselves.
Without realizing it, you may be effectively selfish concerning your own suffering compared to that of others.
Sometimes, we believe our struggles are somehow different. Although we can’t put our finger on it, we feel like no one else has struggled internally as much as we have, or at least not in the same way. This contributes to feelings of loneliness: we think that no one could understand our feelings, even if we tried to explain them. Further, this causes us to pity ourselves and curse the world for its unfairness.
There are Many Ways to Feel Less Alone
Although it would be a huge relief to see that other people are thinking the same thoughts as you because you would feel less singular, it’s near impossible. Because humans are all very different—luckily, we are united by something.
I try to think often of this golden piece of information, which just so happens to be the first Noble Truth in Buddhism.
We All Suffer
Although it may not be exactly like ours, the problems of others are just as frightening to them and just as valid as our own. It is hard to believe this, since the only problems we’ll experience are our own, but it’s an important thing to remember in order to gain perspective. With the right attitude, you can learn to feel like everyone on earth is your running companion—we share this thing that gives us the ability to empathize with each other.
Therefore, anyone who has suffered internally or externally (which is literally everyone, by the way) should be able to empathize with your feelings, if you took the time to explain yourself to them. We feel like other people won’t “get it,” so sometimes we don’t bother to try explaining, which in turn heightens our feelings of loneliness. And although they won’t get it exactly, they will be able to sympathize with the struggle you express to them.
I promise, your problems are not the only insurmountable ones. Just like the problems of each of the 7 billion people on this planet, you can and will be able to work through your own.
Neither me nor you are special. Luckily, that means our issues are just as solvable as those of anyone else who has ever lived. But, just as they did, we have to work for resolution.
If you have any suggestions, questions, or need help being accountable, comment or message me directly. Next time you feel like you’re fighting alone, remember that it’s a matter of attitude to see that we’re all running together.