Loneliness: A Call to GenerosityFeb 27, 2011
Like many people, I experienced periods of intense loneliness during my recovery after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Over time, I learned that my loneliness was a call for me to be more generous and to give of myself. Here’s what I mean:
Loneliness and being alone are two different things. In my early recovery, being alone was an important self-care strategy for me. At that time, being around people and being involved in the complexities of relationships was too much for me. I liked living in a single room in a boarding house. Closing my door, listening to music, and shutting people out helped me relax and feel safe. Over time I learned that isolating for too long was not good and that I had to venture out into the world of people every few hours. In effect, I learned the right balance of being around people and being in my room.
As my recovery progressed, I got tired of being alone. I began to want friends and a lover. And that’s when I became very lonely. All my old friends had gone off to college or were married during the time I had been bouncing in and out of hospitals. That left me feeling isolated even while living in the community. I felt like an outsider always looking in. Every time I would see a group of young people having fun or a couple in love, I would feel the sting of my loneliness. I would say to myself “I am not like them. I don’t have friends. I am not normal. I will never be normal. Nobody loves me. When will somebody ever love me?”
Eventually, I learned that when I am lonely, I am being very self-absorbed and centered on myself. When I was caught up in my loneliness I was so focused on the fact that “Nobody loves me”, that it never dawned on me that the reverse was also true: I didn’t love anybody. I wasn’t giving love to anybody. I was not being generous with my compassion for others.
Slowly I learned to flip my lonely script around. Instead of saying “Nobody loves me” I learned to say “I am not loving anybody”. Instead of saying, “Nobody visits me”, I learned to say “I don’t visit anybody”. Once I turned my lonely script around, I could take action.
Loneliness is different than the solitude of being alone. Loneliness is sad and can be depressing. Studies have shown that loneliness increases stress and makes us more vulnerable to illness and disease. Becoming generous is the pathway out of loneliness. Loneliness is a call to become more generous with our compassion toward others. Instead of asking, “Who will love me”, we can turn loneliness around by asking, “Who, in my immediate neighborhood, needs my love, my caring, my attention, my smile, my comfort, my conversation, my humor, my wisdom and my skills?”
Try it. It just might work.