“I think I’m going to get a cat,” I said as my mom listened on the other end of the call. We were on our third call of the day, which wasn’t unusual as she often called to make sure that I ate something that wasn’t prepackaged. She countered with a reminder of my cat allergy before asking why I wanted a cat. I probably listed various meaningless benefits of pet ownership, subtly skipping over the benefit that resonated with me the most: Companionship.
In the middle of the 2020 spring semester, life shifted dramatically from sports events, packed lecture halls and concerts to Zoom classes, Netflix binges and a lot of solitude. What first seemed like a much-needed break from life became a dreaded stillness despite the chaotic year. With so many people working from home, mental health issues surged as many struggled to cope with the mandatory isolation.
Although I knew my loneliness was ironically a collective experience, I found myself experiencing depression and shame about feeling lonely. Being alone had never been foreign to me, but it was always something welcomed and full of intention. I previously believed that I had mastered being alone to such a degree that I was exempt from loneliness, but by early 2021, I was in uncharted territory.
To heal myself, I knew that I had to gain a better understanding of loneliness instead of repressing it. So, I got to work.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness – not to be confused with the state of being alone – is a naturally occurring warning sign from the human body. Since humans are social creatures, the feeling of loneliness serves as an alert that your social needs are not being met, similar to how the stomach growls to alert the body that it is hungry.
Socialization is often trivialized as a want rather than a need, but humans have always heavily relied on social structures such as family, villages, and communities to survive. Essentially, socialization is necessary to survive, and loneliness exists to ensure survival.
How I made loneliness work for me.
Without a proper understanding of what loneliness is, I found that the reason I felt so ashamed of feeling lonely was not because of the feeling itself, but rather my inability to continue to fight it off, accepting my emotions felt like a failure instead of a step forward. But once I did accept it, it was indeed a step forward.
In order to make loneliness work for me, I had to allow myself to feel it and dismantle associations between loneliness and lack of self-confidence, likability, and the ability to connect with others. In reality, loneliness affects everyone at some point. It is what you do in those moments of loneliness that matters.
Instead of sulking and ignoring it, I shifted my focus to bettering myself since I only had to worry about myself. I use my solitude to study, work out, enjoy nature, and learn more about myself. Although I find myself alone most of the time, rarely am I ever lonely.
Coming to terms with loneliness is a continuous process that revolves around a temporary feeling, but there is always something to be learned and room to grow as an individual.
And for some reason, if it doesn’t work out, maybe get a cat.
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Sandra De Leon on June 30, 2021
Great article! We love your honesty and transparency! Maybe, get a cat.
Love, Mom and Dad