If you sit in a room full of chatty people and gently close your eyes, their voices will start to sound farther away than they actually are. This is what it means to feel lonely.
I recently started reading Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, a professor from Texas whose studies focus on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. This book specifically examines the concept of belonging. I’ve struggled with belonging my whole life, and frankly still do. I didn’t really belong at school. Yes, I was obsessive about getting good grades, even to the detriment of my own health. Good grades doesn’t translate to a sense of belonging though. I had a few close friends, but never had a solid friend circle. Instead, I had a girl in middle school move my backpack across the cafeteria because she didn’t’ want me sit with her group. I had someone throw goldfish at the back of my head senior year of high school because I asked her to quiet down when I was finishing a test.
I didn’t belong in any sort of family dynamic. The last time I spoke to my dad was sophomore (or freshman?) year of high school. He offered to pay me by the hour to spend time with him. I almost took it because we really needed the money, but I like to think I have more dignity than that. My mother, God bless her, is on the one hand, really wonderful. She works with handicapped children, and makes a difference in their lives. She also used to throw me out of the house in high school, almost called the cops on me for using her car to go work on a group project, and tells me that I ruined her life. It’s a Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde situation.
I belonged at the skating rink. I was a competitive artistic roller skater for close to a decade. I generally trained 4-7 days a week. I won my division at nationals five times, and had the opportunity to compete internationally. My two skating coaches are the best people I’ve ever known. When I need a reminder that good people exist in this world, I think of them. Skating became my identity, and when I retired, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. From a very early age, I equated belonging with success. This also means the opposite is true- when I don’t belong, I feel as though I’ve failed. I feel ashamed to not belong.
Brené Brown writes about how in high school, she wanted nothing more than to make the drill team. To her, it meant an immediate group of friends and a sense of belonging. I felt similarly when I did a fellowship program after college. It’s good for my career, but it also meant mentorship and people who care about me. When I found out about a group trip I wasn’t invited on, it felt like my entire world fell apart. I’m incredibly paranoid about not fitting in, and not being invited was like having my worst fear realized. I didn’t belong. Nobody wanted me, or cared that I existed. I had failed, again.
In some ways, loneliness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In recent years, I’ve minimized the amount of social events I attend due to pervasive anxiety and paranoia. I’ll get a Facebook invite to a party and wonder if they accidentally clicked on my name, because after all, no one wants me there. If I do go to an event, I need to constantly check myself. Am I being too loud, or too obnoxious? Was my joke too morbid? Am I acting awkward? Does my outfit look okay? It’s a flurry of never ending questions and self-ridicule that make me want to crawl under a rock and never come out. It’s not enjoyable, so I don’t go. And yet I feel awful if I’m not invited, but why would anyone invite me if I never go?
I’ve deleted my social media apps of my phone so many times it’s not even funny. I specifically hate the story feature on Instagram, because it’s an easy way to see what events I wasn’t invited to, whose hanging out without me, ect. Look at all the fun other people are having without me! Story mode makes me feel terrible about myself. I was facetiming with a friend this morning, and she told me how she’s tailored her Instagram feed to follow mostly inspirational pages. My goal for this week is to go through my Instagram and follow more inspirational pages, unfollow detrimental pages, and watch less stories.
If you’re reading this and have ever felt the pain of loneliness gnawing at your soul, here’s my challenge for you. Do something kind for someone this week. Whether it’s buying someone a coffee, or giving someone a hug and telling them that you’re glad to see them. Shoot someone an email and encourage them to make it through the week. I know I’m not the only one who’s ever felt lonely and isolated, and the smallest acts of kindness go a long way with us lonely people. In the meantime, I’ll be learning how to be my own best friend. Not belonging in a social group is nothing to be ashamed of. I didn’t do anything wrong, I just haven’t quite found my niche.
The below video is about anxiety and social situations. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be inside my head, go ahead and watch it. I’ve also included a short skating video, so y’all can see what I’m talking about.
Till next time 🙂