I feel lucky. I love being a writer and part of why I do is because it allows me to work alone, be alone. It’s not exactly that I don’t like being around other people (I do, kind of). But when I worked in corporate America, I couldn’t get away from people, couldn’t find time for myself. Maybe because I’m an introvert I love spending time alone. I am actually happiest alone and in my head.
But the flip side? Alone can lead to lonely.
It used to be that I’d get my “human fix” by having coffee with a friend once a month. That was when my kids were home and there was the predictability and clamor of the day. Once the kids were at school, I’d come home and walk the dog, then I’d write. I had several business clients who kept me busy. At the other end of the day, the kids would come home and life was a whirl.
Things changed. I live in an empty nest now—my two kids successfully (and happily) launched. There have been other life changes as well. More stressors. My husband was unemployed for a while—which was nice because he was home so I had company, but worrisome in many other ways. When he started working again he was gone all the time. Then one of my closest friendships ended abruptly. I stopped freelance writing to focus on fiction.
Then our dog died. And my world kind of bottomed out. My daily companion, my beloved soul-dog was gone.
And for the first time, I really felt like the lonely writer.
By the time I realized I was in trouble, I would often find myself at tear’s edge. I started writing in a local coffee shop many mornings, found solace (if not conversation) in “the regulars.” But it wasn’t enough. I started craving human conversation. I’m usually a very independent, self-sufficient, bounce-back kind of person, but I didn’t feel very resilient anymore.
Signs you might be lonely
In case you wonder what loneliness looks like, this is what it looked like for me.
You know that overly-chatty mailman you usually run into your house to get away from? You invite him into your mudroom when he delivers a certified letter—then you chat for five minutes. You’re sorry to see him go. When you hire a carpenter to do some work around your house, he tells you, “We need to limit our conversations to two minutes a day.” (No I didn’t make this up.) You have gone through your friend list—twice—and wonder why it’s taken half a day (okay ten minutes) for people to respond to coffee invitations. You look forward to grand re-openings of the grocery store, of the library, of the new bridge to town. You spend more and more time on social networking (which of course raises its own set of issues). Your characters become your best friends, and you talk to other people about them as though they are real. You stop random people on the beach to tell them how much their dog reminds you of yours that died the month before (except they have a Shizh Tzu and you had a black Lab)…[pullquote]By the time I realized I was in trouble, I would often find myself at tear’s edge. I started writing in a local coffee shop many mornings, found solace (if not conversation) in “the regulars.” But it wasn’t enough. I started craving human conversation. I’m usually a very independent, self-sufficient, bounce-back kind of person, but I didn’t feel very resilient anymore.[/pullquote]But the crowning glory came with this. You realize you have regular hours at the usual coffee shop when someone approaches you one morning and introduces himself. “Hi I’m Bob. I like to talk to the other regulars every morning…” I became a regular. The weird woman in the corner who everyone knows is a writer (the barista even knew about the story I was writing), with my stuff spread all over the table for several hours, the one pressed into conversations with Bob and the other regulars.
What can we do?
This is not something new. All writers go though it to some degree at some time or another. It’s a job requirement to be solitary after all. Porter Anderson wrote an interesting piece on Writer Unboxed last year in “Are You Lonesome Tonight? The Dreaded Solitude of Writing.” It affects us in different ways. Everyone’s threshold is different. Maybe you need human companionship once a month, maybe you have six kids at home and are never lonely and escape to the bathroom whenever you can. Maybe you like to be alone all the time; maybe it’s okay with you to be the coffee shop regular.
But in all seriousness, loneliness can be a real problem, and I started to wonder—was I just lonely or was I depressed? I was especially worried with the long, dark Maine winter coming on. I knew I’d be even more isolated.
I made an appointment with a therapist (no, this was not just another excuse to talk to someone because I was lonely). She confirmed my belief. Although I wasn’t depressed, I was going through serious life changes. She could help. She does help.
Here are some ideas I’ve come up with…
- Find a new interest, join a new organization
- Join or start a writing group
- Take some classes
- Reach out to friends often (but you should give them more than ten minutes to answer), don’t isolate yourself, don’t wait until you feel desperate
- Go to different coffee shops, meet new people
- Go on outings, walk in new places, join a new gym
- Leave your house at least once a day
It still feels strange to have to seek out other things. When I have free, unstructured time (which is much more these days), I always think of writing first. My story is always in the back of my mind. If I could, I think I’d like to write twenty-four hours a day (yes I like it that much). I love writing and being a writer.
But now I also recognize that I need to do other things. Writing can’t consume my every available moment like it used to. Writing requires solitude, but what started out as barely being able to carve out enough alone time from the hubbub of life became an endless expanse of time. And, although I love being alone, I’ve also found that I don’t like too much aloneness. My goal is to find balance. To embrace my aloneness without being lonely. To find other new and exciting things to pursue.
It’s not easy, and I’m still a work in progress, but I’m figuring it out.
Have you ever felt like the lonely writer? Do you have any suggestions or ideas of how to combat it?