The best way to define loneliness is “the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person’s network of social relations is deficient in some important way”. Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasantemotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people and one who feels lonely, is lonely. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional, and physical factors.
In today’s world, when technology means were are just a few short keystrokes to finding other people, it isn’t very difficult to find a way to connect to others to ease the loneliness. I suspect there are very few people who don’t have a lifeline to and/or support from other people who care about them. Therefore, do we somehow choose to be lonely?
For me, and probably for others, when I’m in a swirl of negative energy – for whatever reason – I become timid about reaching out to my support system. Somewhere in my brain are thoughts that prevent me from doing so, ranging from “They are too busy with their own lives to have to add me to their plate” to “I don’t want how I feel to put them in the same mood” to “What if I reach out and they reject me?”
Irrational? Most likely. Those who have proven their love for me would never reject me in that way. Perhaps, because I largely live my life as a strong and capable person, I don’t want to expose a weakness. (Oddly enough, when those same people show their ‘humanness’ to me, it allows me to feel even closer to them.)
With the rush of the holidays upon us, it’s almost impossible to feel lonely, because the excitement and preparation keep us buoyed emotionally. However, once those holidays are over, and (for me) the cold, dark weariness of winter settles in, it’s a different story. Isolation sets in because the weather makes it easier to just stay indoors. Early darkness at night also makes it easier to isolate yourself.
Having suffered alone through a major depressive episode for two months after the holidays last year, I’ve been determined to look for some ways to combat that, should it happen again this year. I’ve strengthened my bonds with my family and loved ones, told them about that experience after the fact, and this will make it easier to reach out to them if I need to. I’ve also joined some online communities of caring people with positive attitudes, where I can go when I need to be supported and surrounded by that kind of energy.
The biggest change though, is that I’ve stopped expecting them to read my mind. That’s a habit learned in childhood (fodder for another blog post perhaps). I can’t expect people to know what I’m feeling without being told.
And, I’ve admitted to myself that, in some fashion, I sometimes choose loneliness. I’m learning to replace that with escaping to choices of solitude. I’m definitely someone who needs my “me” space and time, and that’s okay. I’ve got people I can be around when I choose to be, and the fact that I have choices means, I hope, that I’m a step up on defeating depressive bouts.
My bestie, to whom I’ve tried to explain what depression feels like, says she’s never experienced that emotion herself (lucky her!). But for those of you who have, I hope you will take pre-emptive steps towards combating the feeling of loneliness that accompanies it with a support system you can rely on and a place – or places – you can CHOOSE to go to keep from drowning in those feelings.
Do not choose to be lonely! Learn the distinction between loneliness and solitude; dwell in solitude as needed but don’t EVER choose loneliness!
For many, many years, I had a poster of the words I’m going to share with you in a (cheap) frame and always hung it where I’d see it often. I’d had it long enough that it was getting yellowed, and I suspect that, during a move, the frame did not survive so I tossed it out.
These words always spoke deeply to me. They brought me a lot of calm and comfort when I was fighting against the voices in my head. I’ve been thinking of them a lot lately, and I finally researched to find them.
So, enjoy “I Am Me” by Virginia Satir:
“I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it — I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know — but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me. However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.”
It may be difficult for some of my readers to believe, but I’m an introvert. Unless I am around someone I know with whom I can say anything without worry of lack-of-filter, it takes a great deal of focus and energy to don my extrovert mask. Maybe not to don it so much, but certainly to maintain it in its place.
Whether the group of people I am amid counts 12 or 120, I don’t tend to be comfortable with most of them. Again, I can don the mask and be “Chatty Cathy” but it comes as a cost to me mentally and physically.
I’ve never liked being the center of attention. I remember a surprise birthday party thrown for me some years ago by a group of my gal pals. I remember requesting that the 4 of us just get together for lunch and to go see a movie. And I remember walking into the party, hearing shouts of “surprise” and turning right back around and walking back out the door as tears ran down my cheeks. I did manage to pull myself together enough to re-enter, but I was SO GLAD when it was over! It was a decade birthday, and I love my gal pals for diligently pulling off the event, but I was so uncomfortable being there that I went home afterwards and cried myself to sleep.
Lately, as I’ve started spending time in the streams of my Mixer family, I’ve discovered just how difficult it is for me to be the center of attention. I mean, I enjoy chatting with others, but when the chat becomes focused on me, I feel totally inept and awkward. The focus is always positive – don’t get me wrong there – but I don’t see myself as more special than anyone else who is there!
I had a ‘light bulb’ moment of self-discovery and realized that this thing that I do is done in internet chat rooms but also in real life. When I’m ready to leave, I tend to want to just fade into the background and disappear, and I realize I do that because I also don’t want all of the attention as people rush to say “good-bye”. When you announce you’re leaving, people want that opportunity and, once again, that makes me feel like I’m the center of attention.
Now, I have two choices to make. The first is to actually publish this post. Generations back in my family tree, there was this idea that, if you didn’t say something aloud, you could pretend that it doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t true. I remember my grandfather having cancer – in his throat and in his stomach – and, if cancer was even mentioned, it was whispered as “the big C”. My mother was also good at pretending things she didn’t want to handle didn’t exist. In my head, I’d often labeled her as “the queen of denial”. The information in this post is something that makes me feel very vulnerable, and perhaps if I don’t say it aloud, I can pretend that it doesn’t exist. I mean, I know it’s there, but does everyone else have to know, too?
My second choice is to process this truth and decide if it is something that needs changing in me. Being a wallflower fits perfectly in my comfort zone, and do I really need to climb out of my comfort zone for this? Part of me wants to fight changing, telling me that I have every right to be just who I am. Another part of me wonders if I’m doing a disservice to others by just “fading into the sunset” without saying anything.
That decision is going to be more difficult and will be a process of some deeper internal introspection.
In the meantime, if I seem to “fade into the sunset” around you, please know that it has NOTHING to do with YOU and EVERYTHING to do with ME! The only promise I can make is the promise that it is something to which I will give great thought. Meanwhile, thanks for not holding my need to fade against me!
Though it’s not a world holiday, here, in America, Thanksgiving is a federal holiday and is considered to be one of the major holidays in the calendar year. There are different ideas of how and why this federal holiday exists. The most common belief is that Thanksgiving originated with the Pilgrims. Most Americans have this idea that when the Pilgrims landed in America and settled themselves they wanted to give thanks and appreciation for making it through the long journey. Also, they ended up sharing their feast with the Native Americans. Or did they?
The fact is that the first Thanksgiving was shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. The celebration was more of a harvest festival with sports, games, food, dancing, singing, and revelry. When it comes to the food they ate the menu wasnt much like todays. Instead, it consisted of venison, fowl, and other foods prepared by the pilgrims.
Interestingly enough the first Thanksgiving as we know it did not create a yearly tradition among the pilgrims. Partly because the following year was a poor one and because many new settlers had arrived, Thanksgiving became a celebration that was only observed occasionally over the following centuries. However, thanks to the Revolutionary War all of America celebrated Thanksgiving together in 1777. But, that still didnt get the tradition going like it is today. It wasnt until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November Thanksgiving that the tradition really became part of Americas culture. The only other change was when Franklin Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in 1939.
As it evolved, it became a day when we gathered to celebrate family with a feast. Over the years, it then became all about “family, food and football”. And for the football widows and avid shoppers now enjoy a “Black Friday” on the day after. Errr, well, once upon a time it was the day after. Now, greedy corporations have pushed their greed onto the public so hard that many stores open around 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day. But, what is the first meaning behind “Black Friday”?
The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.
The most commonly repeated story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.
The true story behind Black Friday, however, is not as sunny as retailers might have you believe. Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.
By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept of the holiday mentioned earlier, and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit.
The Black Friday story stuck, and pretty soon the term’s darker roots in Philadelphia were largely forgotten. Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event, and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal. According to a pre-holiday survey by the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million Americans definitely plan to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend (58.7 percent of those surveyed), though even more (183.8 million, or 79.6 percent) said they would or might take advantage of the online deals offered on Cyber Monday.
So, over the years, this is what has happened:
Personally, shopping is not something I enjoy doing any day of the year, so you can be certain that I will never participate in “Black Friday” and the crowded rush of people. I support the concept of “Small Business Saturday” if you plan to shop at a small, independent place of business. As far as I’m concerned, “Cyber Monday” means nothing to me either! I shop for gifts throughout the year – when I see something I know someone would like, I buy it right away. I used to start that as early as January of the new year, but this year I waited until June to start and still managed to have 99% of my shopping done by Halloween! And yes, much of it was done online so I could avoid stores at all costs!
Meanwhile, for my fellow Americans who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you will make time together with family your number one priority. Gifts are nice, but families – even the dysfunctional ones – can’t be replaced! Please, spend time with loved ones and remember how lucky you are to have them in your life!
I have to start this blog with a big shout-out to Mr. Peanut Belly, one of my Mixer family. We got into a conversation in a chat recently about the difficult role of managing employees and that spurned the thought for this post.
In past generations (and I suppose some still today), people tended to measure their worth by the value of their career. It was as though each rung of the ladder you climbed became a signal of your worth; the higher you climbed, the more valuable you became. And that may have been true to the corporation for whom you worked.
But who suffered when you made climbing the corporate ladder your first priority? Did it mean having to spend more time away from your family? Did it mean not having the time or energy to spend with friends? And what about you? Did it mean you never had time to “stop and smell the roses”? Was there a voice in your head telling you “if I just do this much more, then I’ll be a better person”?
I was raised in a family of two parents with strong work ethics. My dad traveled during the week and spend many weekend teaching flying. Yes, it allowed us to have a nicer house – certainly not an extravagant one – and buy clothes at name-brand stores. My mother would be sick and go to work, saying “Why stay home when I feel bad when I can go to work and make everybody miserable?” Add to that the fact that she was a self-made martyr (I learned that trait from her as well), and you can pretty much surmise that sick days were for wimps.
My brothers and I all developed strong work ethics. Initially, we were all initiated into the “live to work” lifestyle. Eventually, my younger brother and I started to break a bit away from that. Both of us realized that working at a job we hated was as far from being happy as it could be. We both still stayed true to the strong work ethic, but eventually moved on to jobs we got some joy out of doing. I bounced around for a bit, finally sticking my toes into the waters of the lodging industry. I entered the water planning to stay for just a year, wanting to have a better sense of what goes on behind a hotel’s front desk. At the end of the year, I’d secured a different job and gave my notice. My supervisor, and those further up the chain, decided they didn’t want to lose me. The wonder of feeling needed by an employer was something I’d never experienced before and ended up putting me in that industry for over 20 years.
I moved around from hotel to hotel during that time, finding that the position I enjoyed the most was sales and marketing. But a bit of a slump in the country’s economy also meant that we were one of the most expendable employees. And that happened to me.
After some time helping out a friend part-time with the accounting for her business, I finally found another sales job with a hotel organization I knew and trusted. I really enjoyed that job, until they brought a new manager in. We butted heads from day one. About a year later, as I was hanging onto the last knot in my rope, a colleague offered me a position in managing a bed and breakfast (just down the street from the hotel where I was working). I took it! I spent the next five years working crazy hours (on salary, of course), sometimes not getting a day off for many weeks in a row – – even thinking about time off on a weekend was taboo!
In none of my 20+ years in this industry did I live to work. I enjoyed much of the time I spent engaged in it, and got some opportunities for both professional and personal growth, but I never saw myself as increasing in value by how much I gave to my employer. My joy always came from growing the business, helping it reach its potential, and giving the ultimate in guest services experiences to everyone who came through the doors. I earned the B&B several awards for customer service, enjoyed reading the reviews of guest experiences, and patted myself on the back for increasing occupancy and revenue. I didn’t get much in the way of acknowledgement from the supervisor nor the owner, but I knew I was doing the very best that I could!
But, in all that time, I didn’t really work to live, either. Sure, I earned enough salary to pay bills, have an occasional splurge, save a little. I didn’t spend on vacations because I never had the time off to go anywhere! I didn’t spend on experiences because I had neither the time nor the energy.
In all of that history about myself, my point is this: We all need to find a balance between living to work and working to live. We need some of that “living to work” drive so that we become valuable employees and always strive to do our best. But we need to get past the mindset that our value is measured in our careers and the money we make from them. Our value lies in the person we are and how we present ourselves to others. This presentation needs to come from our minds, hearts and soul. If you can’t find that, what do you have to say after your dissertation about your job is finished??
But we cannot forget that we need to work to live. Living has financial costs associated with it, and we need to make sure we are responsible enough to cover those costs. Once you’ve covered the necessary expenditures, it’s okay – possibly even necessary – to treat yourself now and then. Maybe it’s a dinner out, or a vacation, a little trinket, whatever. I’m NOT suggesting you spend whatever is left on some vast indulgence! But I learned the very hard way that we all need a little indulgence now and then in our self-care program. Learn a lesson I learned the hard way: Find a balance between work and life so that both get your best!