Surviving Loneliness in the Age of Corona

Self Isolation. A new world we have entered into separate but apart. I know that each one of us is handling this differently and are going through the stages of grief losing the life we had before covid-19. Please know you are not alone feeling this grief. It’s hard. It sucks. I really want a hug.

I also know that I can do this social isolation for as long as it takes, and I can do it maintaining my mental health at the same time. I believe you can do it too. However, the first thing we need to talk about and face is loneliness. Unfortunately, I know loneliness intimately well. I’m sharing my story of coping with loneliness in hopes it can help you manage your loneliness now.

Even though moving to California was a life goal for me, I lacked solid social skills and good self-esteem when I made the move. I was shy and socially awkward. I struggled with chatting up people at places I frequented. I did an abysmal job at making friends. But to make things worse, my self-esteem was so bad that at that time, I believed that people would want to be friends with me. I was too weird and socially awkward.

This low self-esteem created my world view. It not only impacted my mental health, it caused me to push people away. This mental state meant I didn’t trust those who were friendly and nice to me. So, my thoughts that people didn’t want to be friends with me, pushed potential friends away. I look back now at a few of those kind souls, and I’m grateful they tried.

I lived in California for over 10 years. Struggling with my mental health issues and not making friends, meant I struggled with extreme loneliness while I was there. But the one thing I never stopped doing was fighting. Fighting my insecurity, working on my self-esteem, going out in public, getting counseling, and learning how to manage my loneliness. I’m super proud of myself for never giving up the fight. And no matter how slow my growth was, I started change and learned new skills that help me become the person I am today. If you are lonely today and struggling with the changes covid-19 has brought us, keep fighting and keep taking care of yourself. It does pay off.

Part of my growth and overcoming my extreme social awkwardness and loneliness was helped by medicine. I know medicine isn’t for everyone, but in times of major crisis and trauma, medicine can be lifesaving to some. So, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Counselors are available virtually now help you and can recommend medicine that might help you manage the stress of social isolation now. For me, the meds were a game changer. At first, I didn’t feel any different. But six months later, I had a completely different life. The drugs allowed all the mental work I was doing to take hold in my brain. I could finally stop the negative self-thinking that had convinced me that I didn’t deserve friends.

One of the most important things I learned from going through my loneliness was learning to be comfortable on my own and being by myself. I learned I could do anything by myself and came to enjoy my own company. One of the ways I fought my loneliness was not sit and let the loneliness consume my soul. I would gather up my courage and force myself to go out and do all the things I wanted to do even though I had to do it alone. I took small steps. I would go eat dinner at a restaurant’s bar and say hi to the diners around me. I would volunteer. I would go hiking alone. I would wander the streets of San Francisco looking for street art. I would go to cafes and bars. I would get out and about and keep busy. These habits meant that when I moved back to Ogden, I was anything but a homebody.

But how does this help me now in social isolation? I’ve learned how to adapt to the new situation. Learning how to be comfortable with myself means that I’m okay at home and not going out every evening. I also keep fight and pushing for self-growth. Sitting with my loneliness and accepting it, because I didn’t have the tools to make it go away, means I learned to find comfort in solitude. Hiking was huge for me. During these solo outings, I’d explore my thoughts and doubts. It’s where I did the hard work of battling those self-esteem demons. Social isolation is an opportunity to spend time in your own head and work through any mental health issues you have as well. This is a great time to keep up the fight and get to know yourself a little better.

The loneliness I experienced in California still shapes my life. When I moved back to Utah, I decided to live with my parents rather than to live alone. This has ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. Right now, I’m so grateful that I am here with my parents and get to help them through this age of corona. I also tremble at the thought if covid-19 had stuck 6 years ago when I was still living alone in California. Ogden is now my community. The connections I’ve made in the last 5 years will help me get through this even though I can see my friends in person. But I also know that I’ve survived 10 years of extreme loneliness. I can now handle the time it takes to get through the age of corona because I’ve already made it this far. I also know that I’m not doing this alone, but we are in this together.

But to keep the loneliness manageable and take care of our mental health, we have to fight. We have to fight together even though we are separate. Here’s what I’ve learned from my loneliness that I’m using now to help me make through the age of corona.

Since moving back to Utah, I’ve been anything but a homebody. Prior to Covid-19, I had some activity scheduled every evening, and I loved my life. I was and still am grateful for all the incredible things I am involved in here in Ogden and for all the amazing people in my life. I do still feel loneliness as well. I crave my friends. I want a hug. But I know my friends are still there for me, and I for them. So immediately after social isolation was recommended, I reached out to my friends and started a virtual happy hour on Fridays. Even though it is virtual, I get to see my friends’ beautiful faces and connect with them. Seeing them helps. I cherish these virtual get-togethers.

I’ve also tried to keep my regular evening activities going but switching them to virtual meetups. PoetFlow is still meeting at 7 pm on Tuesday on Zoom. Every Sunday, I still meet for my D&D adventure from the comfort of my office. I’ve been practicing with a few improv friends to figure out how to run a virtual improv show. I’ve sang at virtual karaoke with friends. So even though these gatherings are all virtual, they are bringing a bit of normalcy to my life.

Another way I’ve kept going is by supporting others, supporting Ogden, and focusing helping my community. Supporting others helps balance the stress of isolation and makes me feel better about how I’m spending my time. I’ve been collecting covid-19 resources from entertainment to education and sharing them on Facebook so anyone can access. I’ve been providing telecommuting tips and sharing my experience with telecommuting since I’ve been doing it for almost 15 years. I’ve been posting my ideas on Facebook on how we can support each other during the age of Corona and tend to our whole community. By focusing on community and connection and supporting others, it helps me feel not alone. Separate but together.

Since I spent the time in California doing the mental work to be comfortable alone, I’m not afraid to be in my head and explore what I am feeling. There is a lot of stress and emotion that I am experiencing as I watch the news of people dying from Covid-19. So many things that are out of my control but still break my heart. But I don’t run from these feelings. Instead, I sit down and meditate and explore what I’m feeling. I acknowledge them and accept they are part of what it takes to live currently. I work towards accepting my feelings and accepting that I’m not in control. I’m not always great at this and I get overwhelmed. And when I get overwhelmed, my brain shuts down. So, I sleep. I don’t feel bad for napping. I consider it a crucial part of my self-care. Let my brain rest when it all gets to be too overwhelming. However, I do fight through letting the emotion completely overtaking me, so that it’s all I can do.

One of my best fighting tools against letting all the feels completely surround me is to focus on creativity and learning. My creativity keeps my brain active and engaged. It helps me manage processing the changes that have happened so quickly. So, I’ve been reading children’s books and sharing the recordings on Facebook. I’ve made a heart to decorate my window. I’ve started to learn how to play the mandolin. I’ve been journaling and writing. I’ve shared my experiences on Facebook in hopes people relate and feel less alone. I’m taking a drawing class from local artist Chris Bodily. I bought a glass pen and I’m learning how to write with it. And I have a ton of other projects waiting in my office. I’m using this time to explore my creativity and to learn new things. However, I’m not setting goals or using my creativity to accomplish things. The creativity and the learning are how I’m managing my stress and emotion. For me, it’s about the process and not some end goal or side-hustle. It’s how I keep going and keep fighting for my mental health.

Finally, I support our community as much as I am able to do so. I order take out or delivery from my favorite places. I still have my favorite salted caramel hemp latte from Kaffe Merc on a regular basis, but now it’s delivered at my back door. I had Lavender Vinyl deliver a surprise selection of albums based on what I’ve currently been listening too. And I’ve tried to amplify the voices of my favorite artists and musicians by sharing their posts on my socials. We are all in this together. Eating your favorite meal from your favorite restaurant even if it’s at home, does help create some normalcy to living in the age of Corona.

Separate but together. I am not alone, and even though we are socially isolated, you aren’t alone either. Reach out to your friends and connect with your community. Let’s get through this together.