Is loneliness a choice?

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 unpleasant emotional 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!

Someone WILL reach back!