The Things We Do When We’re Lonely

Despite having lived with people for most of my life, I’m no stranger to loneliness. In fact, those of you who suffer from depression as I do can probably attest to the fact that you can feel lonely in the most crowded of places, surrounded by the most loving of friends and family. When it sinks its teeth in, nothing can bring you back.

I’m lonely right now. I’m lonely through situation – my wife and son have left on vacation and I wasn’t able to go with them – but I’m also lonely through isolation. Because of the events that led to them leaving without me (I forgot to book the time off from work), I feel a great measure of guilt, which only serves to deepen my sense of loneliness – a sensation that somehow I deserve to feel this way, and that I shouldn’t do anything about it.

I’ve also been lonely before in my life. It started when I first became depressed as a teenager. The first bouts of depression felt like they stemmed from a sense of insignificance, that in the grand scheme of things I didn’t matter, and nothing I did would ever amount to anything worthwhile. Feeling like a blip on the radar of life is a very isolating experience, I can tell you.

Later, I began to isolate myself from my friends at school, both deliberately and through sheer ignorance and bad luck. It came to a head one drunken night at a friend’s house where I made a fool of myself and got us banned from going over there again. My friends turned on me, left me and abandoned me, and I’d never known such loneliness. This led to some of my first truly suicidal thoughts.

When I went to college in London, I lived in a dorm but with a room of my own. That one year was the absolute worst of my life. I saw no one, spoke to no one, almost never got out of bed; I rarely showered, didn’t shave, stank, and fended off everyone around me with vitriol. I hated myself, hated my life, hated everyone else in the world. And I knew – absolutely knew – that it would never get better.

It did.

I met my wife, we had a child, and for a little bit, loneliness was delayed. But it always returned, in the deep of night or on a cloudy day at home when everyone else was away. And I did some strange things, some of which I recall fondly, whilst others are less positive.

In my teenage years, of course, I dealt with loneliness through self-harm. Before losing my friends, I would compare scars with one of the girls at work. Hers were always deeper, but mine were more plentiful. I dealt with it through drinking, too – sneaking whiskey from my father’s liquor cabinet as often as I dared.

Later, as an adult, I continued to deal with it through alcohol. I would finish a bottle of whiskey every few nights. I stopped cutting, but I drank more and more, and kept the loneliness at bay by minimizing my sobriety as much as possible.

Now, I find myself retreating to drink again, but I’m trying to control it. I know the things that will help, and the things that will make it worse. I’m trying to go out more (I’m writing this at a coffee house instead of my bed), trying to invite people to come over and spend time with me.

My cat also helps me feel less lonely. She is my rock, the one creature who will always show me affection no matter what I do or how I feel. When I pick her up she smushes her face into mine. I talk to her, I play with her, and I act like a complete goofball with her. It all helps.

But in the end, loneliness will always be there in the background, waiting to flood my life and drown me in solitude. I can fight it, I can cope with it, but I’ll never be rid of it. It’s as much a part of my life as my bipolar, my depression and my scars.

What makes you feel lonely, and how do you cope with it? Let me know in the comments.


39 Replies to “The Things We Do When We’re Lonely”

  1. I went through the same thing in my first year of university. I wouldn’t go anywhere…I had a room to myself on residence and if I didn’t have classes I didn’t see or speak to anyone. I actually made an attempt at being social at the start of the school year but I ended up being rejected.

    1. Jeez – this sounds so familiar. I went to a bar once in my freshman year at college, and within five minutes turned around and went home. I didn’t connect with anyone there, I just didn’t want to know them. I spent the whole time in a dorm room by myself, playing video games or sleeping. It was the worst year of my life. I hope things have improved for you since.

      1. Things did improve. I got this really amazing professor who forced me to do group work every week…and the people I worked with actually had things in common with me. He helped me make my first group of friends at university. I mean, yes I spent the entire 1st year alone but…I wasn’t so alone later on. I’ve just always had a harder time making connections with people I guess…and the times when I put effort into friendships…things just didn’t work out. I’m really trying to change that now.

  2. I can identify with a lot of the things that you’ve written here. I think the only way I’ve learned to deal with the feeling of lonlieness is to keep busy and just accept that that’s the way that I will feel sometimes. If you fight the feeling it just gets worse, accepting it lessens it’s impact somehow. Thanks for the post and I hope you’ll find a way to feel better 😊

    1. Thank you – I’m reuniting with my family tonight (after all the mess-ups that led to us going on vacation separately), and I’m looking forward to that. Accepting one’s loneliness at times is really all you can do, and it does help to acknowledge that – like all things – it’s only a fleeting feeling, and will go away with time.

  3. This was a great article. You are a terrific writer. I can relate to extreme loneliness. My severe isolation went hand in hand with my level of severe
    bipolar depression and was a viscious cycle. The more I isolated the lonelier I became. The lonelier I became the more depressed I became and the greater my depression the more I felt safer isolating. I began to enjoy being alone but was lonely at the same tyime. I liked to be alone because no one could hurt me that way. I didn’t want to be alone but I feared being with others. I no longer knew how to have real friends and healthy relationships. I’m doing well now and my mental health is improving. I am trying to force myself to be more socia. The more I do this the easier it becomes. I need to unlearn my isolating behavior. Thanks again for your great post. Hugs, Sue

    1. Thank you, and you’re welcome. It’s exceptionally difficult to break the cycle of loneliness, simply because it feeds itself – the more you isolate, the more you feel unworthy of others’ attention, and the more you pull away in response. It’s difficult to force yourself to do anything, but even if it’s just interacting via WordPress or blogging, it’s worth getting yourself out there. It’s worth trying to interact with people once again.

  4. Loneliness is so awful. I dealt with mine by isolating a lot. cutting, overdosing,s uicidal thoughts would be ongoing. Now I dont get lonely so much, just occasionally. I’m so glad xxx

    1. I’m glad you don’t feel so lonely as much anymore. There are a lot of things that help, but isolating yourself from those around you generally never does. I hope things continue to get better for you.

  5. What makes me feel lonely is feeling like no one understands me and not having much in common with the people in my support system. Though I am extremely grateful for all of them, I still get lonely. I completely isolated for six months once, both by choice and circumstance and it was a whole new kind of lonely to not have any human contact. I was also agoraphobic at the time and only left the house once a month. Blogging has helped me feel more connected to others that have similar struggles. I’d like to join an in-person support group but my anxiety prevents me from doing so at this time.

    1. There’s a great safety in blogging and online interactions – even if someone hurts you, you can always disengage, and there’s nothing more to do than simply never contact that person again. It’s much harder in person, because it’s often so much more difficult to cut contact with the people in our everyday lives – we see them at work, at school, at church, etc., and can’t get away. Loneliness is painful, but so long as you can find someone in the world – online or otherwise – that can understand, you’ll never be entirely on your own.

  6. I can relate entirely. I often feel lonely in my marriage, and even when people are around. Its like you said, it doesn’t go away for good. I’m glad you haven’t relapsed. Do you have a sponser

    1. My wife is a strong person, and rarely leaves me alone (for better or for worse), so I usually end up either moving through the problems or (in rarer instances) devolving into a comatose lump on the floor. Either way, she won’t leave me alone until I recover, which – as painful as it is – has kept me alive for fifteen years. I don’t have a sponsor, but I would say that my wife is my rock – the one person who I can rely on to be there, 24/7, no matter how I feel. To that extent, I feel like the most fortunate person in the world.

  7. Thank you for writing this. When I get lonely I isolate myself as well. I didn’t resort to alcohol, but I did resort to video games. It became a safe haven when all I did felt wrong. When I felt lonely at least I could feel worthwhile in a game. It was very addicting, still is when I’m not careful, but I want to get better. Forcing myself to go outside for a walk and get some fresh air usually helps. That and I’ll try and call and message some friends. That helps too. Anything to break that cycle.

    1. Addiction is a dangerous side effect of loneliness (and many other mental illnesses), simply because the things we do to cope usually are ‘feel-good’ responses, which are always going to demand more of the same. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, games – they all share similar aspects, including instant reward and the temptation of something greater. There’s nothing wrong with quiet time and self-reflection, but when the quiet time becomes about the distraction, and not the other way around, it can be hard to beat.

      1. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s part of the reason why it’s so difficult to break that pattern because it satisfies a need. If you can fill that need through different, healthier avenues, the addiction can slowly start to break away. But it takes time, reflection, and often therapy or someone to keep you accountable.

    2. I can relate. I’m a big gamer as well. As it helps me tremendously. Here lately my husband and I have become more distant because of his gaming too. I tried to tell him that we both need to work on this issue, as it’s causing distance. Which I don’t need. I always put my phone down now when he gets home from work. He plays games on his phone from 3:00 pm to bed time. It’s causing havoc as I already feel like I’m trying 100% for our marriage to work and he isnt. Leaving me feeling more alone with my depression and anxiety. I am going to start therapy again and go from there.

      1. I’m sorry to hear that you and your husband are struggling with this. It’s a real addiction and one that’s incredibly hard to break. I hope that you’ll be able to find some answers through therapy and continuing to work and have open communication with your husband! All the best ❤️❤️

  8. Ah, loneliness. I have found that being alone does not make one lonely. And, like you, I have felt lonely in the midst of family, who did not care to know or see my pain. With CPTSD, and incredibly toxic relationships, I have a big problem with trust. Jesus is always in earshot, and heartshot. He hates our pain. There is a very fine line between being alone and feeling lonely-I rather need my quiet time for reflection and renewal. And slowly, but surely, I am coming out of my self inflicted hermithood, and I pray the very same for you. There are really good people out there, in this place we call WordPress, some of my closest friends were met here, and I will treasure these kind souls, forever and a day.

    1. I agree – WordPress has been an amazing community for me for many years, and of all the online places there are to share thoughts and opinions, it’s by far the most supportive I’ve ever come across. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles, and I hope you can find a way through it – and indeed, being alone doesn’t mean loneliness. The two are often different things.

  9. Stay strong! I personally fend off the loneliness by reminding myself that it’s only a temporary feeling, that tomorrow is a whole other opportunity to improve my life.
    I do thing that I really don’t want to do: shave, take a shower, go to the gym, cook, go out for a walk, meet up with friends… I always try to force myself to do something.

    1. Thank you! The difficulty is in the strength it takes to force yourself to do anything, never mind the functional things it takes to live day to day. Some days there just isn’t that strength there. I also get through it by reminding myself that everything is temporary, even when it feels that you’ve been sad for an eternity.

      1. Perfectly know what you mean :/ the strength is in there somewhere, just keep trying, that’s the most anyone could ask 🙂

  10. When I get lonely I think of the past. I know that is terrible but I also think about if anyone out there cares. I want to go out and do things but then I just can’t bring myself to. I am trying a diet now and seeing if it helps.

    1. There are a lot of things that can help, and a lot more that do nothing. It’s also important to consider not just if anyone cares, but how much everyone cares. Every person you interact with, every person you touch – they are affected by you, for good or for ill, whether you want it or not. Just by leaving this comment, someone else cares – me. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the past, so long as it doesn’t consume you. After all, you can’t change what’s already happened.

  11. I can deeply relate to how you must feel, because I feel it too. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet passed my stage of self harm, I still do it actively. I overdose, or try to, a lot. I think what helps me feel a little better at times is talking to someone, letting it all out and hear myself speak about what I feel.

    1. I was in a really bad state last night, desperately wanting to hurt myself. I only managed to stop because I knew that my wife would be upset. Sometimes it takes an outside party to realize the harm these things cause – beyond just ourselves, self-harm can hurt so many more people than we realize. For many, many years when I felt I had no one to talk to, I would write down my thoughts in diaries. This eventually transitioned to blogging, which is an interesting outlet because it allows for validation from other people as well. I hope you take care of yourself.

  12. First of all: Thank you for sharing this part of your story. Although I have read it quite often these days, one of the things that help to reduce and maybe eventually conquer the social stigma of depression is people talking about it. I find it brave, because it means to face it again somehow, once you are writing about it. As for your question to me the answer is writing. Writing makes me feel connected to something that is bigger than myself. I’m not religious, so I’d describe it as some source from where creativity flows, which is everywhere at all times, you just find a way to tap into it. This might sound sprititual but I’m approaching it rather pragmatically. A daily routine of writing and letting out my thought has led me to some of the darker times in my life. If you fixate something to paper (or a screen if you prefer) it can become less haunting at least in my experience. A companion like your cat sounds like a great anchor to the world and I guess from reading between the lines that you take good care of her and probably vice versa. I wish you well, greetings from a fellow blogger from Germany! Matthias

  13. Great article, I remember when I first got out of the military on a medical retirement, I was only 27 years old and married with 2 young children. I had no idea what the next day was going to bring and depression sunk in as well as Isolation which became an easy thing to sit in the house and hide from the world. I thank God those days are over after I almost reached 400lbs and realized if I did not do something about my situation I would not live to see 40 at the time. Now things are a lot better and I never forget those feelings and when I do feel them coming on I try to focus on the good things and reach out to help others….like what you are doing with your writings. God Bless You Brother…..

  14. Such an incredibly honest piece that has obviously come from somewhere deep within, and I could identify with so much of what you said. You have a real gift and a lot of courage, but hopefully by sharing you thoughts and words, you are finding an outlet to restore your confidence and self belief. Anyway, like your style and you’ve just earned yourself a new follower! Sx 🙂

  15. My spouse suffers from severe, chronic depression and bipolar disorder. She has been under psychiatric care for 20 years. Her battle with depression has been long and arduous. Yours is a tough road. As her caregiver, every smile and every good day is a gift. You are a lucky man to have such a caring wife and caregiver. Cherish her and all the best to you.

  16. Over the past couple of years, I have come to know more of God’s love which He showed to us in Jesus Christ. Knowing He is always near comforts me.
    Thanks for liking my post.
    I loved reading about your sweet cat. Cats can be so sweet.
    God bless you,

  17. I can relate to loneliness …depression …anxiety really all the above. I’m married 31 years same man …3 grown children ….2 grand children and coping with all this while I was younger was work and marijuana…oh and of course 3 little children and one large child. I made it to where I arrive now 51 retired/disabled nurse with a terminal lung disease that now keeps me tethered to an oxygen concentrator. I had plans for this time in my life that did not include all this. It is ultimately my 11 year old nephew my sisters son who nearly brought me to my knees and I put my protective shell up. You wouldn’t think it possible but at 11 he is the biggest bullly I’ve ever met except his mom who is sadly no longer with us as she decided to drink her self to death in 2015. Now he needs help his dad does not want to deal with him put him in a residential facility for 8 months never in my life would I have thought but he can’t deal with him and after trying for two weeks I see why… I’m sad and broken over this but trying to move in a positive manner with the munchkin. I feel completely alone in this because I am in no position health wise to take him being that I’m on 10 lpm of oxygen ….does not look good to courts. Oh and my prognosis is 6 months to a year now but I’m stubborn. Thanks for the follow I’m not a regular writer yet but I could be.

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