Flavors of Loneliness

It will surprise exactly nobody who knows me that I am intimately acquainted with loneliness. She and her siblings – anxiety, fear, sadness – travel with me every day. On different days I carry a different one on my shoulders, feeling knobby knees bumping into my temples and shifting to try to walk steadily while balancing such an awkward and heavy load.

Lately, it’s loneliness I’m carrying, and I find myself staggering under her weight. This has been a long carry, this one, a long slog. And I’m realizing that loneliness’s mood changes day by day, depending on me and the circumstances I find myself in. She has flavors.

The basic loneliness, and the one I am most comfortable with, is that of being physically alone. In fact, in truth, I crave this kind of loneliness sometimes. I like being alone. Of course, much has been written and theorized about the enormous distinction between loneliness and aloneness, and I agree with it. Still, sometimes, after a long afternoon by myself in the house or a quiet night at home, I am surprised by a shiver of loneliness. This loneliness always straddles the line between pleasant and chilly, and it always passes as quickly as it comes. Well, like a shiver.

Then there is loneliness for a specific person. A friend once told me she felt like an amputee when her boyfriend left for long trips. This loneliness is profound, and feels for me like a pulsating ache that will not go away. It’s a preoccupying kind of pain: the sting of a deep cut that blots out everything else, the sharp hurt of a bad knee making it impossible to walk without mulling and considering the injury with every step. This loneliness makes itself known, it shouts out to us that we wildly, agonizingly miss someone who is special. It seems to point out the empty space next to us that used to hold the person who is gone. I am always surprised by what feels like the blank disloyalty of physical space: how can it not hold in some energetic way the remnants of the person and the experience we shared?

Finally, there is the loneliness that I’ve been carrying lately, the kind that is to me the most pervasive, the most invasive, the most toxic and terrifying. This is the feeling of being lonely when surrounded by people. Worst, by close friends. For me this kind of loneliness creeps in on little cat feet (like fog in a harbor) and, when it sits down and makes itself comfortable, is hard to evict. This loneliness is not fog for me but a cold liquid syringed into my veins.

This loneliness is existential, and it reminds me that there is no way to be fully known. That regardless of how many words I spill, of how desperately I seek to connect, I can never really share the contents of my heart and head. That what I have is myself. And just that. These limbs, this skin, this network of synapses working overtime, frantically, making me grind my teeth to try to burn off some of that excess psychic and emotional energy. I realize intellectually that this is a very useful reminder.

I believe that even the most introverted people long for some kind of connection. Nobody, as much as they love being alone, wants to be lonely. Everybody wants to be seen and known. Once again I return to my evergreen theme, and one of my favorite quotes of all:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – Plato

Everyone knows loneliness’s moods. Everyone struggles under her weight, or that of other burdens, some of the time. And for me, loneliness has absolutely nothing to do with how many friends or family I have, with what my life looks like from the outside. Those things might actually make the third kind of creeping, icy loneliness worse. Because I sit and look out at my life and clench my fists with frustration that with all of that richness out there, all of that love, I cannot feel less alone. I know. I know. I’m trying.

18 thoughts on “Flavors of Loneliness”

  1. i'm at a loss of words that fully convey how much i relate to this specific post right at this very moment in time.

    and my loss of words is its own loneliness because i once had an abundance of them, and now i find myself silenced or simply not knowing what to say.

    i love that you refer to loneliness as female… the moods… the shifts… the layers and shades… so feminine. so delicate. and still, so lonely.

    i hear you.

  2. This is pure poetry, utterly exquisite. I know you are trying. Your effort is palpable in your jeweled musings.

  3. wow. well i kind feel like i'm going out on a limb because i haven't spoke to you in a lonnnggg while. But my thoughts on loneliness are; it is best to sweep it back under the rug. Meaning to me; you can't rationally do anything about it, but recognize it and go on cultivating a better well being. Now it's one thing to miss someone and another to feel like your missing out on all the connectedness out there. There are a lot of choices we must take responsibility for and it seems like the ones that are socially "nobodies business;" seem like the one's we are the worst at(people that is). Probably because their are no shows on televion that talk about those things;haha.

  4. just wanted to be one more shoulder to lean on…ear to hear…i just posted about stress, anxiety, depression so i understand the "flavors" of these things…children literally hanging on me so i'll read your post more slowly tonight and hopefully comment more directly…

  5. Lindsay. I feel as though I should say, "I have no words" as yours are so piercing, so poignant, so powerful. But I do have words, or at least images.

    What I'm reminded of, actually, is the beautiful boy in the movie, Where The Wild Things Are. His loneliness is palpable AND his imagination befriends him, heals him, unites him with himself and others.

    You, Lindsay, are a Wild Thing yourself – a bold, beautiful, and risky woman who expresses her heart. You imagine a story for yourself that is lyrical and magical. And though I'm not a huge believer in banking on happy endings (because I don't think they occur as often as we've been led to believe and expect), I do believe in you and the hope you tenaciously cling to, the faith you exude.

    You've invited me into my own pain, my own loneliness, in tender, provocative, and disruptive ways. I'm grateful. You're stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching, amazing, and not alone.

  6. Thank you for sharing this vulnerable piece of you with us, Lindsay. It resonates for me as well. I appreciate you putting it into words the way you have here.

  7. The Plato quote – I thought of this from your earlier post, as it contained, "Be kind," and I was certain it was an allusion. How is it that so many of us share in these underlying sentiments? Surely there must be more than pure coincidence. What are the shared characteristics of our lives? Simply a shared genetic disposition? How come so many of us share these feelings?

  8. Wow, Lindsey. Wow.

    At first your post left me speechless. And then a song came into my head. Its lyrics go something like this: "It's loneliest when you don't even know yourself."

    That is a danger, at least, to which you will never succumb.

  9. Ah, Lindsey.
    There is so much to say about this. With heavy heart. With this thought that we are never truly known…

    My mind is trailing off just as my words are. There is an overwhelming amount of sadness in your words. I find it frequent. I see you searching. And I understand. Although I would so very much like to hear a token of resolve in your words. Or about a remnant of comfort you feel. In something. One thing.

    I don't know. I have to think on this. And reread it. I do so love your mind and your voice and your heart spilled out before us. For this I am truly grateful. And in this there is true connection.

    So thank you, Lindsey. Thank you.

  10. What a beautifully written post Lindsey. This is my first time visiting so I do not know your past but your words make it infinitely clear how you are feeling. I often struggle with telling my husband I am lonely, even when he is there. He doesn't get it. How can I be lonely when he's sitting on the couch next to me? Well, because you aren't giving me what I need sometimes, I tell him. And that's what it is about I think. I can't be lonely if what my mind and body craves it is given. It's not always just a hug or a shoulder to lean on. For me, it's more about the words spoken to me and the ears that are hearing MY words. I don't always get that from friends and family.

    Somehow though, I'm never lonely when I'm writing my blog and reading the comments and other people's blogs. Here I find what I need. And hopefully, you too feel less lonely in our company!

  11. Hi Lindsey-
    I read this post days ago and it has stayed with me. At the time I didn't have words and I still don't but these–yes, I know, me too. This whole journey of coming home to ourselves and feeling full-I think it is the journey back to our souls and it can be sometimes lonely. Heartbreakingly so. But the loneliness can be our teacher.
    Yes. I know. me too. Here alone with you.

  12. well dear
    i know exactly what are you talking about
    i'm trying to deal with my loneliness and it's friends for too long
    and sometimes it feels so hard i even think it would be easier not to exist anymore..
    so i totally understand each word, you write in an amazing way
    pure and clear

  13. I found your blog through Elizabeth's site too. I wanted to say that I can relate to loneliness on so many levels. Mostly my arms ache for my daughter, as you perfectly described it, the "preoccupying kind of pain: the sting of a deep cut that blots out everything else". And along with grief there is that awful loneliness in a crowd. I cannot tell you how often I felt that, especially right after she died.

    I am sorry you are feeling this loneliness. It creeps into our lives, and it is such a scary place to be. I hope and pray that you find the connection you long for.


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