“Busy” is the word I would use to describe my family of seven. My siblings and I were always running around the house; constantly leaving behind us a trail of crumbs and debris, getting muddy in the woods and scraping our knees like any other kids. When my older brothers and sister moved out, I always had my twin sister to keep me busy. We fought over clothing on a weekly basis at least, but I had her to talk to, to share the TV with, and to eat the other half of the pizza.
When I went to college, I was constantly surrounded by friends. There were eight of us and we were inseparable. Through our meals, homework, gym, class - you name it - we were together. During my second year, I left in the middle of the happy commotion for a semester abroad. When I came back the following fall, school wasn’t the same. My dorm was strikingly quiet. I walked down the beige hallway hearing only the clip-clop of my boots beneath me.
I think the first two years of college you get the eager-to-meet-new-friends type of students, but by the third year, that enthusiasm just goes out the window. People have their groups, and although the eight of us dwindled down to about three, I had my little group too.
That year I spent more time on my own than I ever had in my life, and I didn’t know how to cope. I felt out of it, like I needed someone to give me a good shaking. I would walk around campus and everything around me was a blur. I spent days in bed, numbing myself with Netflix and naps. Weeks went by where the only real conversation that I had was ordering an omelet from the dining hall.
I thought maybe my university wasn’t right for me. Maybe it was the school that was so bad. Maybe I should transfer. Maybe I should say to hell with it and move back to Scotland where I had spent the last semester. Or maybe I was just stressed with schoolwork.
Whatever it was, I made an appointment with my school’s counseling services. I talked through how I was feeling for just an hour before, thanks to the perfectly focused questions of a trained counselor, I finally found the root of the problem.
It made sense. I hated being alone. It’s not the being single kind of alone. It’s the empty house, haven’t spoken to someone in days, disconnected from the world kind of alone.
I can’t explain why being alone shut me down so quickly. When I was younger I could be sitting upstairs in my room reading a book but if I knew my sister was in her own room sleeping, I felt fine. But being home alone completely was a whole different ball game. When you’re used to a busy home or a hullabaloo kind of life, the gift of solitude is not as easily accepted as you’d think. So a couple years ago, when I came back to my silent dorm room, I felt this burning emptiness. I endured this constant battle within myself—a fight between just shutting everyone and everything out, and hyper-consciously trying to make friends.
Loneliness is weird feeling because you don’t always know what it is when you’re feeling it. There’s a façade of sadness or emptiness that can make it hard to figure out how to overcome it. These thoughts slip into your head, telling you that you’re a loser and that no one wants to spend time with you. Loneliness can drive that self-doubt until it gets the better of you.
For me, snapping myself back into it was not quite as quick as a snap. It took a while for me to realize that no, I was not weird. I was capable of making friends. And yes, I could be happy on my own just the same.
Here’s what it took.
I had to recognize that this numb feeling within me was indeed loneliness and that I was feeling this way not because I missed Scotland or because I had a lot of homework to do that day, but because I was in desperate need for friendship - friendship with others and for a deeper, rawer friendship with myself.
I also had put to rest those unkind thoughts in my head telling me that I was an outcast; telling me to be nervous interacting with others because I looked like I was trying too hard to make friends.
That being said, I did have to try extra hard to not let myself withdraw any further. I made plans, and stuck to them. I joined a few clubs on campus and went to the meetings every week. I worked harder at my job, in my classes, and talked to new people because of that.
And most importantly, I took the time to get to know myself. It was no longer the dreaded “alone time”. It was “me time”. I took baths and listened to music and sang until my lungs hurt.
The reason I wanted to share a piece of my twenty-two-year long story is because I know. I know that there are so many people who go through phases of loneliness in their lives without even knowing it. It could be when you go to college, or when you move to your first big-girl apartment on your own. It could be after a break up or even when you’re older and your own kids move out. Loneliness can creep up on you any time the familiarity of a routine is lost. Take it, accept it, and grow from it. Learn about yourself, find your new favorite things and deep down know that “just you” is absolutely enough.