When I googled “what is loneliness?”, the internet responded with: “sadness because one has no friends or company”.
For some reason, I didn’t entirely agree.
I do not think loneliness is just sadness caused by isolation. I think loneliness today can feel pervasive even if one has many friends; in fact, we can feel lonely in a room full of people. In addition, social media has a way of making you feel even more lonely despite your hundreds of followers. Why do we spend time by ourselves on a ‘social’ media application designed for connection? Perhaps this is a symptom of the lack of connection many of us feel?
To me, loneliness is a longing to be seen and heard mixed with feeling deeply undervalued.
Sometimes we can end up feeling like our needs don’t matter to others. Like no one would notice our absence. Like no one would hold the door open for you when you’re right behind them. Like someone wouldn’t help you if your plastic shopping bags burst open on your way home.
Why is this starting to sound like a montage of Kevin Mcallister from Home Alone? Probably because Kevin’s loneliness was one that felt relatable - not the whole save your home from burglars while your family was in Paris part - but, the someone was too busy to notice you weren’t there part. That (for me) is lonely.
We are living in a disconnection epidemic, and Vancouver certainly has a bad reputation for fostering it. We also know that the forces and layers of oppression can contribute to deeper more intense feelings of loneliness.
Consider this greater social context with the current time of year when we are inundated with messages about family time, loved ones, and ‘being home’. No wonder you might feel, well, lonely.
So what can we do to challenge a feeling of loneliness?
Focus on your chosen family.
Not everyone has a picture perfect family. Not everyone has a family. Family goes beyond blood relationships.
Your chosen family are the people in your life who lift you up. Who offer you safety, warmth, and unconditional support. Your pronouns, political views, and dietary preferences are safe with them. Host a holiday potluck, or bundle up on the seawall and play holiday music from your phone.
There are so many places in Vancouver (and most cities!) that need volunteers this time of year. Serve warm meals, stock the shelves of a food bank, or collect coats for people in need. Check out this website for opportunities near you.
Ditch Social Media
Log out of the gram. Give yourself a chance to connect with something bigger than yourself. Your community, the mountains, the older woman on the bus. While using social media lets us see what our friends abroad had for dinner, don’t let it detract from the special moments that are right in front of you.
Reflect on the boundaries you have set. Boundaries are important and healthy; they are also extremely confusing and difficult. Sometimes in an effort to protect ourselves from being hurt, we set rigid boundaries. While this may protect us from disappointment and pain, it also prevents us from receiving love and care. Check in, is there anyone you can safely practice opening up to? It’s vulnerable yet that’s where connection is born.
Lisa Bay is the Peak Resilience community engagement coordinator extraordinaire. She’s passionate about the intersection between mental health and social media, and how to find ways to engage with your community (online and IRL).