Have you ever felt lonely? Maybe you feel lonely right now. That’s something we have in common.
I had a very challenging summer. A summer that caused me to shut myself in so tightly that I haven’t been able to open the shutters until now and, honestly, this is kind of terrifying. It makes me want to cry. Mostly because I’m afraid it will reinforce the feelings of loneliness. What if no one reads it? What if no one cares? What if I really am all alone?
I’m working through this as we speak. Piecing together the puzzle. Why does someone who desperately wants to be seen and heard shut herself away from everyone?
Why does anyone do anything harmful to themselves? Fear and protection. When I was a child, I was praised for being the quiet one, the one who kept to herself, and who didn’t cause trouble. I was also raised in a setting where we didn’t talk about feelings much. We still don’t. When and if I expressed an emotion, especially if it was a “bad” one, I was shut down, told how I should feel, and, at times, even reprimanded. It’s sad to say that I generally don’t trust my feelings to others. I know I’m not alone here. I grew up in the ‘pre-let’s talk about your feelings’ generation. We were the kids ‘to be seen but not heard’.
I had a rare, very raw, and vulnerable moment, at the beginning of this summer. I had reached a breaking point in my life and crumbled in front of two people close to me when I generally held myself together and dealt with these things on my own. See above.
I broke down. Tears were flowing from me in a public place with strangers around me. I could not have been more vulnerable. One of the people I was with tried to comfort me, and the other walked away. That hurt immensely. I couldn’t imagine seeing someone I love in so much pain and just walking away. I’m sure they had their reasons. I don’t know, I never asked and probably should have. I just started to pull the shutters in. The ones that close me in. A reinforcement of my belief that it’s not safe to share your emotions with others.
As the summer progressed, I kept finding myself in situations where I was literally unseen and unheard. I co-hosted an event where my preferences, strengths, and expertise were completely overlooked. I, once again, felt unsafe so I closed myself in a little more. I had conversations where I was left talking to no one mid-sentence. At another event, it was my turn to share (which I was leery of but willing to try) but then it was suddenly time to move on. I asked, “Why does this keep happening to me?”
To bring me to this moment, I presume.
Being invisible is terribly lonely. It is painful. In an effort to protect myself, I close the shutters a little more each time I experience feeling unseen and unheard (and essentially unloved) until they close with a thud. That is what happened this summer and those shutters haven’t been opened since.
Since then, I cringe every time I think of putting myself out there. I have been unable to connect with friends, unable to send a text or pick up the phone. I have been unable to post or host anything despite trying over and over again.
I have been riding it out. Taking care of myself. Being compassionate with myself. Writing in my journal - hearing and seeing myself. Doing the things that I can to feel safe and loved. I’ve been working through the sadness in my heart.
I’ve been waiting. Waiting for the urge to return to a social life. Waiting to want to put myself out there again. Waiting and waiting until, finally I realized, it’s not going to happen on its own.
I have to deliberately put myself out there again. No one knows how I’m feeling. I have to allow myself to be seen and heard. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Yes, it’s scary. Maybe no one will acknowledge me and that has to be ok. I can’t stay stuck in this self-imposed prison, alone, any longer. I have to try to connect with people again.
We live in a world where we don’t acknowledge each other enough. We are so caught up in our own stuff that we don’t listen long enough to hear what someone else is actually saying. We jump to the part that relates us to what they are saying. We make it about ourselves. I do it. I know I do it. Oftentimes, I feel like I’m connecting more with someone when I can say, “me too,” but, is that always the case? What if I let them continue on until they feel complete and then I share? What if I give them a chance to tell their whole story without it being hijacked by a “well-meaning friend.”
It's not just about allowing them to talk. It’s also about giving them our undivided attention. Have you ever had a conversation where you know the other person is not listening to you? It’s disheartening, isn’t it? Here you are sharing, and they couldn’t care less. How do you protect yourself when that happens? Maybe you are bold and you call them out on it. Maybe it doesn’t really affect you. I shut down. I stop sharing. I stop trusting.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that my response is to be alone while my biggest fear is being alone?
Do you always feel seen and heard? Do you wish you did?
I think boundaries have a place here. Maybe if we were more protective of ourselves and better at setting and communicating our boundaries, we would be more available to others when they need us. Maybe we are all just so desperate to be seen and heard because we feel like we are always seeing and hearing everyone else and never having anyone see and hear us. The irony is that no one ever feels seen and heard.
Something needs to change. From NPR in May 2023, “There is an epidemic of loneliness in the United States and lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a new advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General. The report titled "Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation," finds that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. And it warns that the physical consequences of poor connection can be devastating, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease; a 32% increased risk of stroke; and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults.”
It’s not about fragile egos and sensitivity. It’s actually a matter of life and death.
How do we fix it? I wish I had all the answers.
Maybe it starts with us admitting that we feel lonely in the first place. Maybe we carefully select people and/or groups of people that we can trust with our fear and fragility and try to put ourselves out there, possibly again, or maybe for the first time.
I’m willing to try…
I have been feeling lonely, unseen, and unheard. It’s been painful. In an effort to protect myself, I have closed myself in. I’m not sure how to come back out but I am willing to try. If you see me, maybe you can simply say hello to start.
With love & gratitude,