Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post in 2017 but felt like it was ready for an update. Some of the feelings have remained the same and some are totally new for 2021.
People often talk about the difference between being alone and feeling alone. I love to be alone, to have time and space for myself. I think this goes back to when I lived in the countryside as a kid and spent a lot of time entertaining myself and dreaming in big ways. When I am alone, I like to read books, go for runs, visit art museums, watch easy movies, work on art projects, and just think. I like to spend time with myself and process all the things that are going through my mind. And, as a closet introvert, I need this time to rest and recover from the work and social activities I have going on around me.
This post however is not about being, physically, alone but feeling alone. Sometimes this happens when you are physically alone but it can also happen when you are in a room full of people. Have you ever felt this?
I am sure that at some time or another everyone feels alone. From my perspective, it has to do with feeling like you are the only one who has been in x situation or who has been feeling y thing in such a way. I believe that we are all unique so, in some sense, this is true. However, I also believe that what we live is not so different from what others (at least some others) experience as well but oftentimes we are in a place where we don’t see it or we are not connected to others “like us.” For me, making time and space to process my thoughts and feelings is essential to make sure that I am connecting with others in a way that supports me when I need it most.
My Issue with Filling Time
Making time just to be can be a problem for me as I like to fill the spaces with things to do. In many ways, I am a workaholic, which means that I always have something going on. I have my day job, work on this blog, volunteer, play sports, take Finnish class, have a social life, etc. and that means that days without “extracurricular” activities after work are rare. I don’t get as much down time as I would like to be alone and process what I am currently thinking and staying busy means that I am often tired enough that I don’t think about feeling alone.
When I slow down and take a break, sometimes I look around me and wonder how I got to where I am. This is when I most often feel alone. Again, I don’t mean physically but mentally and emotionally. And this feeling can happen when I am sitting down after a long week but it can also happen if I am out with a group of people and happen to go inside myself for a moment because I don’t feel like I want to talk with anyone around me.
Recently, I’ve been feeling really grateful because life in Finland has given me many opportunities to slow down, including a new way—sauna. I have now discovered that once a week we have a free, open (ladies) sauna hour in my building and I am starting to take advantage of it. Sauna is amazing because you don’t take anything with you and you just sit there, as long as time allows. It gives you space to be with yourself, process through your feelings, and when you are done it feels so good.
Living Abroad Impacts Feeling Alone
Another reason I think I sometimes feel alone is because I live abroad. As an immigrant, I have chosen a life where I am going to be different from the locals simply for the fact that I am living in their world, but they don’t necessarily know mine. It is a beautiful thing because it gives me the opportunity to learn and share with the people I care about but it can also feel difficult at times. I think this is one of the reasons that expats end up being friends with each other too—other foreigners understand what it is like to live abroad and feel disconnected from the local, every day life sometimes.
Now, that is not to say that I am not friends with locals, most of my close friends have always been natives wherever I have lived, it is just that they don’t usually feel “out of place” the same way immigrants do. Sometimes I try to explain my thoughts and feelings to those around me but if they haven’t had the experience themselves, it can be hard to empathize with. This feeling of not belonging is a big reason why I think people who live abroad feel alone.
I also don’t want you to think that I am complaining; I am grateful for my life abroad and I wouldn’t change it. It is just one of the aspects of living abroad and like I shared before, I think that this feeling of being alone is connected to feeling like no one else has lived what you have lived. As someone who has lived in a couple of countries, when I find someone with a similar trajectory, I automatically feel like we can connect, even if we don’t have much else in common (seriously, just someone who speaks the same languages I do feels like meeting a long-lost friend). These connections of immediate understanding are amazing.
Feeling Alone in Times of Covid
Although it might seem weird, right now, I can also feel more connected to people, in all places, because of covid. I don’t like watching the news or talking about the situation too much because it overwhelms me but the whole situation has also created space for me to connect with friends and family around the world. What we have lived through, together, over the past year and a half or so has been incredibly difficult and makes me feel like I have a shared life experience with more people than ever before.
Another thing that covid has given us is the mandate to spend more time alone. For me, this has translated into slowing down and spending more time with my own thoughts. Sometimes it is wonderful but this slowing down coupled with an imposed need to also spend more time alone, away from people, can also be really hard. It has become a balance for me of making sure I am doing enough social things to not feel isolated while still spending time to process by myself.
Feeling alone isn’t the same as getting sad (something we talk about in this post). Sometimes it doesn’t matter what is going on in your life, no matter how busy you are and how many friends you have, sometimes you feel alone. Overall, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have an amazing network of friends and family supporting me. However, there are still some days where I just feel alone and they can be incredibly hard.
At the end of the day, I think that it is normal to feel like I am alone every once in a while and I would guess that most people reading this post sometimes feel alone too. We all live things that are relatively unique to us and that separates us from the people around us. The important thing is that you recognize your feelings and you allow yourself to process them. Some of the things I do to support myself when feeling alone are connecting with a loved one, reading a good book, or watching a movie that makes me cry. When I feel alone, it is good to get outside of my own head and find other ways to connect with the world.
It used to feel scary when I felt so alone that I wanted to cry. Now I am trying to accept that it is part of life and figure out how I can deal with it/make my life better for me.
What about you? Have you ever felt alone in a new place or even at home? How do you deal with it?