Everyone, at some time or another, feels lonely. Sometimes circumstances occur that are out of one’s control and one of the results is loneliness. A good example of this is when my dad passed away. My mom experienced intense loneliness as she transitioned from full time caregiver to a small apartment with no one but herself to care for. Other times, loneliness can be self inflicted. Regardless of which type of loneliness one may be facing, it is not always a fun place to be.
I am, by nature, an introvert. I always have been. I remember when I was in kindergarten at Kaegebein Elementary School. My teacher’s name was Miss Sharp. She was young and nice and soft spoken–great qualities for a kindergarten teacher. At that time, kindergarten was half day and I was a morning attendee. Some things I remember about that year–a boy in my class named Troy Leach threw a box at me and got in trouble, during recess I only wanted to swing on the belt swings, the only friend I had was named Tammy Anderson, we made lanterns out of construction paper, and I never said a word to any adult the entire year. Did you catch that? I NEVER said a word to anyone except Tammy the entire year. If I wanted or needed something, I would ask her to ask for me. It seems I’ve never been much of a talker. Some things just don’t change.
My mom used to yell at me for being shy. Looking back, shy doesn’t even come close to what I was. I actually think if autism/Asperger’s was more researched back then, I would have been diagnosed with it. Academics and athletics came very easily to me, but social skills were always an issue. Taking a risk was met with rejection several times early in life. I found the best way to cope with that deficiency was to withdraw inside myself.
Some behaviors stick with us through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. I was never popular–in fact, through high school I was made fun of for various reasons. The only place I was accepted was on the soccer field or the basketball court. I was a gifted athlete, much to the chagrin of my mother. She often said she ended up with another boy when talking about me. The fact was, I knew I wasn’t liked unless I had something to offer someone. Scoring goals and winning games made a team happy and, for at least a short while, made me accepted.
The problem, of course, is when one reaches adulthood, one can no longer rely on those types of things to gain acceptance. The adult world is a cutthroat, competitive arena with a much more level, all be it unfair, playing field. To avoid the sting of continued rejection and feelings of being a misfit, I found once again withdrawing into myself was the best defense. The only drawback to that is it leaves one in a very lonely place. It isn’t that I am unable to gracefully socialize with others. I have on countless occasions been able to enter into wonderful conversations with others about a wide variety of subjects. The truth is, though, that often drains me, especially in a season of depression (like the one I seem to be facing now). It is easier to avoid than to feel like a misfit. So, the last week that is what I have done. That action, however, is a two-edged sword. Avoiding people is safe, but it leaves one feeling lonely. Loneliness feeds the depression. Depression says, “No one cares anyway so just avoid everyone.” And the cycle is viscous. And it seems unbreakable. And I wonder if I will ever be able to dig my way out of it.