a girl’s guide to loneliness
Stop letting ‘like’ culture exploit you, celebrate your vulnerable side, and spend some time alone. Here’s how.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
Feeling lonely isn't something many of us readily admit to. Even just being on your own can actually feel quite uncomfortable. It definitely isn't cool. From the outside, it seems like a lot of people are absolutely never alone. If they're sleeping, someone is taking photographs of them sleeping. As they shop, it's live streamed from the supermarket aisle. Individuality is more prized than ever, but weirdly we haven't learned to celebrate our time alone as part of it. Instead, others capturing our lives and in some way confirming they are valuable has become routine. Intrusive has become inclusive. But whether we admit it or not, we really are alone a lot of the time. We wake up alone, no matter how many people might be waking up nearby. We read alone, think alone, and choose how to express ourselves alone. We look obsessively at our phones, alone. Behind the online performative irony and projected image is someone else. And when we're forced to switch off and confront that quieter, more vulnerable side of ourselves, it can often seem pretty miserable.
Loneliness is a painful, humiliating feeling and one which has become increasingly unfashionable. Community is rightly revered, but within community we shouldn't undermine the strength in our own autonomy. Periods of loneliness are certain to appear throughout your life, like love or frustration or pieces of sleep in your eyes in the morning. The more people surrounding you, the more painfully it might take hold. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, our culture doesn't accept loneliness. It exploits it. Insecurity pushes people towards frenetic capitalism in a remarkably efficient way: to share, connect, and like in the hope that those feelings somehow transfer over into real life. When they don't, you can feel suddenly alienated from your entire social community.
Sadness and frustration are not fun, they're overwhelming, but they also demonstrate the complexities of human nature and the importance of fostering a close relationship with yourself. Feelings of loneliness are simply another filter over the world, but this one takes time and care to shift. Here are some ways you might try to do that.
Look in a mirror for ages
Instead of feeling as though nobody wants to be around you, life hack: just decide to spend some time alone. Voilà, you're in control. Once you stop placing the power of your enjoyment and fulfilment in other people's hands, you can stop trusting anyone to help you and begin to rebuild your relationship with yourself. That sounds cheesy and abstract, but you can physically demonstrate self-care really easily. Set aside time to update yourself with your body. We do this often as children and teenagers, scrutinizing the flesh which both carries and defines our identity — drawing connections between our physical, emotional, and spiritual existence. Then we stop, because we're watching every episode of Veep or making another cup of tea or furiously wondering why we weren't invited to our best friend from primary school's engagement party. You don't have to be in love with your body, but when you don't accept yourself as an actual living human person, it's easy to feel like you might suddenly vanish.
Know who you feel safe around and be honest with them
Remember, you are no less surrounded by friends than you were last week. You're just hyper aware of their constant absence at the moment. If you feel like nobody texts you except your parents, text your parents. But rely on the people you've chosen to surround yourself with too. Isolation runs both ways and your friends will almost certainly have gone through what you're feeling, sitting furiously in bed waiting for you to message them and ask how they are. Reach out to the people you feel safest around. Tell them you're down. Send them a meme so you don't have to use words. Tag them in a meme so you don't even have to text them. If they suck and can't support you, at least you know not to hold them in such high esteem when you feel better. Chances are they'll come through, most people don't suck. Honestly. I hope.
Sleep, and don't feel bad about it
I know, maybe not a good idea to tell mildly depressed people to climb in bed and stay there. But to be honest, sometimes when you're feeling alienated and lost, the best solution really is to sleep it out. Feel like going to bed at 8pm every night for two weeks? Fucking do it. Want to sleep in with the curtains closed the entire Sunday? Go ahead. Life is long, and missing a bit of sunshine when you're emotionally exhausted is not something you're going to regret on your deathbed. Be unconscious for a while, go for a really long walk in the middle of the night, sit on a bus the whole way round the route. Let your mind slip and give yourself a much-needed break.
Cook lovely things just for you
Accepting the idea of doing things for yourself can actually be really difficult. When faced with the prospect of feeding and entertaining little old you, the overriding feeling is often, "It's only me, so what's the point cooking a vegetable from scratch?" Everybody else is apparently out at a fashion party eating moon-risen focaccia and mini Diptyque souffles and here I am crying over the hard, dusty reality of a raw and possibly very old sweet potato. And I can't even dance well. Now is the time to channel your inner Nigel Slater — or just read some Nigel Slater. What would Nigel say? He would say, "I absolutely do not want to take these Evisu jeans to a boring venue full of people I only know off the internet. I want to go and buy the ingredients for a lemon polenta loaf cake, cook it at 11pm, eat a big slice of it at 11:45pm and go to bed with terrible indigestion." This also goes for reading, walking, going to the movies, and having sex. All kind of better when done alone.
Pulling yourself out of a downward spiral-cum-existential crisis takes time. Like, an annoying amount of time. Possibly even years. We can pretend I didn't say that. Focus on the immediate for as long as you need to. You'll figure out what's really getting you down when you're able to confront it. Life is weird and hard and really intense for everyone. You're wicked and you'll still be wicked in a month. Turn your phone off. OFF.
Text Bertie Brandes
Screenshot from Welcome to the Dollhouse