“ I feel alone in a crowd and crowded when alone”. I vividly recall these lines from a poem by our former Prime Minister V.P. Singh. I may have read these lines as a teenager but the fact that they have stuck in my mind show how deeply they have affected me. They came back to haunt me again as I saw this post from someone I love dearly. It simply said: “In the end, we only have ourselves.”
In an age where technology allows us to be so super-connected, whether it is by way of Whatsapp messaging or video calling, we are feeling more lonely than ever before. Our loved ones are just a phone call away even if we are separated by thousands of kilometres. Yet, we are feeling sadder and unhappier than ever before in the history of mankind. Humankind has always depended on social closeness and in earlier times, it was possibly what kept us safe and alive. We all crave closer friendships, deeper relationships and are ever on the look-out for that elusive soulmate who will magically wave our loneliness away.
But this is a futile search. Marriage, many people feel will drive away loneliness. In most cases that I have seen, it only exacerbates the feeling as the realization dawns that marriage cannot fill all the voids that we find in our soul. The same goes for families and friendships – we rarely feel less alone in their presence. If anything, we feel most alienated when we are surrounded by the people ostensibly closest to us.
So what really is going on here? On the surface, we appear to have it all. Just look at our social media posts – it’s all sunshine and roses with not a hint of the darkness that we hide in our deepest realm. It seems to us like we are the only ones who are alone. Everyone else has a life. Everyone is busy, no one ever calls and no one ever admits to feeling sad or alone – ever!
The truth is that each one of us is fighting this exact same demon but none of us wants to reveal it for the fear of being seen as a “loser”. In truth, the only people who can actually overcome this loneliness are the ones who have the courage to pick up the phone and call a friend and say “ You know what, I am not feeling all that great…” But it is too much to expect for we have all been brought up to never show our real feelings, to hide behind the wall of strength we pretend to have, to mock ourselves for appearing needy and clingy. In reality, all we need is to make that first move and reach out – who knows if your call may indeed be the one that saves a life?!
I read somewhere that there are three times when loneliness strikes most persistently – in the late 20s, in the mid 50s and late 80s. The late 20s are a time of great stress as major life decisions are taken and often there is a feeling on looking around that perhaps our friends have chosen better, or have gotten luckier. In the mid-50s, the realization dawns that our time on earth is not unlimited as we had believed in our younger days and this can be a huge dampener. If we survive to live till we are eighty, then the loneliness of losing loved ones, the pain of ill-health and the fear of impending death all cause one final surge of loneliness and fear of the unknown.
There are some ways in which we can alleviate this almost-universally experienced emotion. Finding meaning and purpose can certainly help. I know this sounds like a tall order but I saw during the lockdown that even merely helping out older people in the community with small chores would make me feel much less alone. I took to writing to overcome my loneliness and the result has been two published books so far. The fact that working towards a purpose also adds to one’s sense of self and improves self-esteem also cannot be ignored.
Learning something new is a way of actively engaging the brain. It takes the mind off negative thoughts and boredom. Doing anything creative – from gardening to painting to pottery will also help as you find a purpose, even if it is a short-lived one. Getting a dog is possibly the best way to dispel loneliness for those who are living alone, but this decision needs to be an informed one and a pet should never be an impulsive buy.
Life is not full of camaraderie and meaningful friendships as it is made out to be in Friends or The Big Bang Theory. In everyday living, the reality is more like Big Boss where you are surrounded by people but you have never felt more alone. So, just come to terms with it – yes, indeed we are alone and no, nobody other than ourselves can make us feel less alone. Let us value relationships while they last and let us depend only on ourselves by becoming our own best friend.
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