Are you feeling lonely?
“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” (Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper, because I love Jodi Picoult quotes.)
Loneliness is one of the hardest parts of living with mental illness. Sometimes, it is self-imposed. You just can’t bear the shame of living with your disease, and you fear the effects it might have on others. Or maybe it’s involuntary, and your loved ones have virtually abandoned you in the wake of your illness.
Whatever the case, loneliness is not something I would wish on anyone. And I don’t mean alone time. I think we all need time alone to reflect and heal. I’m talking about craving genuine closeness with other people and being left wanting.
It affects millions with anxiety, and with other mental illnesses as well.
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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.
My story of anxiety and loneliness
I’ve had social anxiety for as long as I can remember. It started in middle school. Which was strange, because in grade school and middle school, I had a ton of meaningful friendships. I am still in contact with many of them, despite 20 years having past. My social anxiety stems more in larger groups, like classrooms. Being surrounded by all that energy and emotions was hard for my developing brain to deal with.
I’m still that way today, although my anxiety has expanded to a more general sort. It’s hard to be around people because I tend to absorb whatever they are feeling and it can be a lot to process.
For that reason, I find myself imposing loneliness upon myself, even though my depression makes me crave validation and togetherness.
I’m at a sort of turning point in my adult life where I am re-evaluating a lot of friendships. As a stay at home mom of two little ones (they’re currently about 4.5 and 3), it’s necessary to have a social circle. But my time is precious. I want to spend time with people who are adding to my life, and who don’t make it seem like a chore to maintain our friendship. I’m finally ditching energy vampires!
How anxiety causes loneliness
Anxiety can make you terrible at togetherness. Anais Nin said, “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.”
I’m sure there are some people living with anxiety who rock at friendships and don’t find them difficult at all, but the reality for millions of people is that love is HARD. Family dynamics, friendships, romantic attachments, parenting… It is unbelievably hard.
Sometimes, the loneliness is intentional, and sometimes it’s not, so I will talk about both.
It can be really common for people with anxiety to isolate themselves. Sometimes, like me, they are too drained by the energy of other people. If that is true for you, you are likely an empath like myself, and I highly recommend the following book for dealing with those emotions.
Or maybe, you are just afraid that people will “be able to tell.” Before I started speaking openly about my mental illness, I felt this way. What about you? Do you hold back from meaningful attachments because you are afraid people will discover your vulnerabilities? That they will judge you, or worse, abandon you?
If you feel that way, you are not alone. Speaking up to friends and family about anxiety and other illnesses can be really scary, initially.
This is really sad, but it also happens, and is worth mentioning. Sometimes, for various reasons, people will not be able to handle your illness. They will grow weary of needing to be supportive, and they will gradually (or suddenly) remove themselves from your life.
I understand how hard this is. Your feelings of abandonment and hurt and shame are completely valid. I’ve been ghosted, and it sucks. But try to think of it this way: Those people did not deserve you. They likely suffered from some sort of emotional issue themselves. Maybe they were afraid they would somehow mess up while being supportive. Or maybe your emotions triggered some sort of painful memory.
The thing to keep in mind is: Don’t take it personally. That is one of The Four Agreements, a life changing book I read about interpersonal relationships that I highly recommend. Their actions are a THEM problem, not a YOU problem.
How to spot it in a friend
Maybe you’re not the anxious one. Maybe your friend is suffering from anxiety. As I mentioned in my previous post about anxiety, it is incredibly common. 40 million adults live in the United States live with anxiety per year, so it is likely that your friend is one of them.
Here are some simple ways you can tell if a friend is anxious and it is affecting them socially, according to BetterHelp:
- Anticipated Anxiety
- Expecting the Worst
- Fast Heart Rate
- Shortness of Breath
- Dizziness or Lightheadedness
- Mind Blanking
- Muscle Tension
- Difficulty Interacting with Strangers
- Uncomfortable Attending Parties
- Difficulty Starting Conversations
- Difficulty with Dating
- Unable to Go to Work or School
- Difficulty with Eye Contact
- Difficulty with Public Restrooms
- Hard Time Entering a Room
- Difficulty Going to a Store
If your friend has even one or more of these, they are likely living with some form of anxiety. Speaking from experience, these are awful feelings to live with, and they can be the reason that many anxious people find themselves feeling lonely.
You can have meaningful relationships.
I have certainly felt the all-encompassing loneliness that comes with anxiety, both intentional and unintentional. It hurts, and there might be lost friendships and loves you never get over. I have lost friends even recently that I grieve for.
But I have a supportive spouse who is my best friend. I have two amazing little buddies that I get to hang out with every day. I’ve made blogger friends. Mom friends on Facebook. I am very close with my sister. I have a dear friend that indulges my love of true crime.
Maybe I’m not the biggest social butterfly. But I’m doing okay.
The most important relationship you can have is with yourself. Make sure you connect with a good therapist and begin to heal from some of these negative feelings. That small ripple will lead to other ripples, and you will soon find it easier to connect with others.
Tell me about how your anxiety affects your social life in the comments. And please share the article if you found it helpful!