Together In Solitude: 6 Ways Mentally Ill People Experience Loneliness

Most of my friends who struggle with depression (which is a lot of them) all confide in me the same exact thing. Even though we all know each other, and know that we all have mental illness – we all feel incredibly lonely. At the best of times, we feel like a community. At the worst – we feel like no one understands us – or cares to.

I often feel loneliest when I’m with the people I love. I’m by nature a very private person – most people who meet me don’t get to know the real me until years after we first meet. This is nothing personal – it’s just a reflex. But the hazard of this reflex is that I often even shut out the people who care about me. I’ve talked about this in another post, What I Mean When I Say “I’m Tired” so I won’t go into it in as much detail here.

What is Loneliness?

When I first started to struggle with this post, I thought I would start with a basis in fact. So I looked up the definition of loneliness.

Loneliness, adjective

“Affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone.”

That definition seemed a little simple to me – which is fine. But I ran across another definition in the course of my week while I was working on this piece. I found it in the book When Your Twenties Are Darker Than You Expected which I picked up by accident at the library, but has given me so much insight while I’ve been reading it. The definition in this book is:

“Loneliness is a state of lacking intimacy with the people around us.”

That definition really struck me – it’s not that you are alone, it’s that you feel alone because you can’t – or, in my case, won’t – be open with the people around you. This leads to self-isolation, which I am horribly guilty of in general.

My Struggle

When I’m having a bad day, I feel trapped inside my own head. I withdraw from the people around me – not physically, but emotionally and mentally. I shut them out, and they don’t know what to do with me in those circumstances – so they let me. Which leads me to hit my toughest moment – feeling like none of my friends care about me while I’m still with them.

This is, of course, incredibly perverse, considering it’s my own fault that I’m shutting them out. And my friends have proven time, and time again that if I just reach out to them when they need me, they’ll be there to help me in a flash. But despite knowing this – I still find myself trapped by crushing loneliness when my depression flares.

I knew I wasn’t alone in this – in fact, I know that all of my friends with depression experience the same thing, as well as many, many more people across the world. So, I reached out to my friends and asked them to describe to me what their loneliest moments felt like – and what triggered them. I’ve decided to keep all of these anonymous since they’re so personal.

“I feel lonely, and then isolate myself…”

Yeah. Loneliness is my biggest problem with depression. Especially because it spirals. I feel lonely and then isolate myself. Which obviously doesn’t help with the loneliness.

I have a problem with crowds too. If I’m in a large crowd and not having a meaningful connection or conversation with someone – I can start feeling really lonely. In a full room. Which is dumb.

I also get a lot of my validation from verbal reassurance and love. That’s my main form of expressing and receiving love. So if I don’t have verbal affirmations from those around me that they want me around – I’ll feel like I shouldn’t be around and then again isolate myself and lead to that.

It’s frustrating because I have a strong support system of friends and family who know I struggle with mental health. But I tend to just not see it when I need it.

To help myself – I straight up ask my friends if they still like me a lot. Like, “Hey. I need affirmation we are friends and you want me around.”

They are understanding and provide that. Which is really stellar.

I also have a set schedule for how often I see friends every week to avoid mass amounts of isolation and loneliness. And I call my mom daily. And she’s just a bundle of support.

It’s all about finding your triggers and working with your team to support you. I can’t avoid crowds. So I cope instead. I’m single. So I can’t avoid being alone and feeling lonely. But I have positive affirmations of love and affection to prevent a full blown spiral.

I have people who specifically say – have you been social three times this week? And if I haven’t they show up at my place. It prevents isolation really well for me.

“All of a sudden I disappear, and no one asks where I’ve gone…”

When people don’t love me in the way that I love them, and they make no effort to try and learn how I need to be loved. It makes me feel like I’m the only one with my eyes open and what’s the point of that? I feel most lonely when I feel like people are inviting me out of obligation. I feel lonely when people hide things from me. I feel lonely when I put in 100% of the effort in a relationship. I feel lonely when depression is suffocating me and no one notices. Because all of the sudden I disappear and no one asks where I’ve gone.

“Waiting it out seems to be the only solution…”

My loneliness creeps up on me. Often when I’ve had a tough day or haven’t had a deep connection with anyone for a while. The only remedy I have is time—waiting it out seems to be the only solution. It’s just an overwhelming feeling that not only haven’t I built deep relationships but that I may never get to. It’s like floating in the deep space of your consciousness, being only too aware of how alone that makes you.

“At night… it can sometimes feel unbearable…”

It seems to happen sometimes at random, usually after I’m depressed and angry… Even when I’m with my husband. I’m usually thinking about other people and being a disappointment. Weirdly, when I’m at home alone during the day, I’m fine. But at night – when my husband is home and asleep next to me – it can sometimes feel unbearable.

“The look…”

Yes, having depression can make me feel personally isolated, i.e. caught up in an intense fear of socializing and small talk. Yet, I feel most alone and alien when I get “the look” from an acquaintance. The conversation typically goes the same way: I share that I have clinical depression, and in response I receive a momentary wide-eyed expression of fear. I imagine that they are internally picturing me like a radioactive bomb about to explode. As if having depression equates suicidal and a lack of control over my emotions. Usually, after the pause, they reply with a surface-level response of sympathy, as if I need to be “cured” of my illness of clinical depressed before I can live a happy and fulfilled life again.

But honestly, through the counseling and introspection necessary after my mental health diagnosis, I have come the closest to self-actualization and personal understanding. Yes, it is true that I have a chemical imbalance that predisposes me toward symptoms of depression, and I will never be able to “take a break” from my pharmacological and emotional therapy. But, I also am able to understand my limitations and then take the necessary efforts to function optimally.

Maybe the next time that I get “the look,” I will be brave enough to educate that depression isn’t an illness to fear, but instead one that society needs to understand better.