Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alone vs. Lonely

This topic has been on my mind a lot over the past several days. For the purpose of explaining my post, I'm going to give you my current working definitions for each word.

Alone: by oneself. no one else is around.

Lonely: feelings of being isolated or like no one is really around whether people are actually present or not.

Being alone is not necessarily a bad thing for us. In fact, because there are so many of us internally, we need 'alone' time from other external people to recouperate, relax, work through things we're not comfortable working on with others present, and to just be us whatever that may look like.

On the other hand, we're learning we don't handle lonely very well at all, and for us, lonely has nothing to do with how many people are around. Lonely does typically start with too much alone time, but for us, can and has persisted even into time periods when we're surrounded by many people we know. Looking back over the past several years, we can see where lonliness has been a contributing factor to some of our mental/emotional declines. It seems the feelings accompanying the lonliness (the depression and anxiety) tend to weaken the effectiveness of our coping skills, thus making it harder for us to cope with and bounce back from life challenges.

This topic has been on my mind a lot the past several days because we have become aware that we are lonely in our new city. We know several people at work and in classes, but we have no friends to do stuff with outside of work or class. This has been compounded by the fact that we have had very little time to work on developing friendships because most freetime is taken up by homework and writing papers. Typically we survive this okay during the week because free time is very limited. Bedtime and the weekends are when we struggle most. This past weekend was a prime example of this. We had no real weekend plans other than working on homework, studying for a test, and cheering on our favorite football team on TV. We ended up going to visit a cousin and spending the night with her family Saturday night. At first, it was decided just because we had some freetime and we wanted to hang out with her. By the time, it was actually time to make the trip to her house, it was a needed visit. We actually started feeling so depressed and anxious Saturday afternoon (even though we were preparing to go to cousin's house for the night and the next day) that we text therapist to see if she was busy. She did text us back but said she wasn't in a place to talk. Since we weren't in crisis at that moment, we told her it was okay. We'd just catch her up on the situation either by e-mail or at our next session.

Once we actually got to cousin's house (a place where we are known as a "we" and have only been show support and unconditional love) all of the bad feelings disappeared and we had an enjoyable evening and and enjoyable Sunday. On the car ride back to our place Sunday night, all of those awful feelings began to creep back in. Heading back to our apt (while it feels safe) meant starting another week of lonliness. We realized we are living for the weekends right now and now want to make plans to be somewhere other than here every weekend from now until December. Fiance' will be home in December. He is great at taking away our lonliness, plus he knows tons of people here that he can introduce me to and help me begin to build my own friendships with people he's already deemed safe and trustworthy.

On one hand, this is great insight for us. To learn something that is a major trigger for our emotional health is a great way for us to figure out ways to compensate, avoid for the moment, and work on overcoming so it may not always be a major issue. On the other hand, this reality scares us. We are very aware that we are going to have to take proactive steps over the next several weeks to make sure things don't get worse than they are now. Right now they are NOT FUN, but they are manageable. We are not feeling urges to self harm or do anything drastic. We are not struggling with work or classes. Our depressive feelings are not consistent. They fluctuate - which is good for us. As long as we know we can continue to come out of the low periods, then fighting through them is not near as challenging.

It feels good being aware of this struggle we have right now soon enough that we can do things to help before it's too late, but at the same time, it really sucks that we're having to choose to take proactive measures again to avoid a really bad place. Praise God, we are not doing this alone. We talked about all of this with therapist today, and she is willing to step things up with us and be available as we may need her to. This alone has helped to ease fears of what the next few weeks may bring, and my hope is that a couple of months from now I will be writing a blog entry stating how long and inconsequential this post ended up being.... that my fears of what may happen were WAY bigger than what actually occurred. I will be okay with admitting I was off on this one though. ;)

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