When I speak with students, one of the things I tell them is that when they try and break free of loneliness, there are times they will fail. In fact, they may try many times to make connections with others, only to strike out the majority of the time.
But there is importance in itself in trying. It shows that we care and we still have an interest in making an effort. We haven’t given up and believe change can happen—that we will find a sense of belonging.
In making attempts to connect to others, it also teaches us what does—and doesn’t—work.
For years I thought the best way to meet people was to volunteer at non-profit organizations. I believed that I would find connections at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. And while that may have been possible, I was ignoring the fact that there were likelier ways for me to find friends. I should’ve looked for those who had similar interests as me.
I didn’t have a guide to help me out of my loneliness, so I was making stabs in the dark. I was searching for anything that might work.
If I had been reflective, I would’ve seen that these failures were saying to me, “Kurt, you’re not going to find your connections through this avenue. Try something else.” And I’ve learned over the years that there are certain groups with whom I connect better than others.
It would be easy to see the inability to make friends as a sign that no one likes me. Instead, what I learned was narrowing down the areas in which I could find belonging. I didn't realize that at the time and I didn’t make an attempt to sit down and analyze what my interests are. Some might look at those times as failures. But now I look back and see them as part of the process by which I can find the communities with whom I have a connection.
For me, those include speakers, writers, and individuals who want to help people. I’m still open to other groups, but this is my starting point: those who are going through a similar journey as me, even if it’s not the exact same thing. It’s the best place to start. It’s the collective that I’m seeking.
What about you? Where have you looked and not found connections? Are there other groups you might seek out to develop community?
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“Just get out there.”
If you’re a depressed or lonely person, I’m sure you’ve heard these kinds of statements. It sounds simple enough. But for those in the depths of loneliness or suffering from mental illness, acting on such statements seems like an insurmountable challenge.
On the face of it, socializing with others sounds like a good suggestion. It can (and most often does) make us feel better to interact with others. If we are feeling down, socialization can help us take our minds off of whatever is bothering us at the time.
Yet, with the depressed person, it seems as though the feeling of escape from one’s problems doesn’t come with much relief afterward. When the conversation ends and both parties go their own way, thoughts of worthlessness and self-doubt can return.
A study by the University of Michigan revealed that people with depression don’t get as much long-term comfort from social interactions as those who aren’t depressed.
So, socialization is important! It’s part of who we are as human beings. And it’s something we should include in our lives for better mental health.
But if it’s so hard for depressed people to get together with others, how can one make it easier for one’s self?
What’s key to feeling comfortable with socialization and having it create joy in your life is receiving treatment. This can take many different forms including medication, therapy, or positive psychology techniques.
Treatment is critical when one is handling mental health issues. As one would seek physical therapy for back issues, mental health treatment can lead to improvements in mood. By taking medication and going to therapy, I’ve learned to learn to be more comfortable with social settings. It’s not easy in large group settings, but it has gotten better over the years.
Thanks to the time and work I’ve put in, I am now in a place where socialization is more meaningful and appreciated. And in that way, my times of socialization have helped me with the times that depression affected me. Those connections get me in tune with that part of me that needs to be around my peers and to feel accepted by part of a group. It’s a lot of effort but one that has helped me greatly in dealing with my depression.
Recently I visited family and friends in the small city in Indiana where I grew up. As a teen I felt, for the first and last time in my life, real community. Sure, I’ve had friends here and there over the yeas, including a few very good ones. But I’ve never felt those tight friendships that I did in my teens.
There’s a tendency to wax nostalgic about times that seemed particularly good, but that’s not the case for me. During my high school years I was often quite depressed and anxious. I wasn’t in as good of a place with my mental health as I am now. And yet I knew people who stood by me during those times. They accepted me for all my faults.
Our ability to grow up and survive in the same environment and overcome some of the same mental health issues, as well as a boring, small city, bonded us. It’s something that caused a connection for me with others, even twenty years later. It’s these feelings of love and appreciation that cause me to wonder what it is I’m missing now which prevents me from finding those deeper connections.
I realize that a great part of developing that intimacy was because I saw people on a frequent basis—daily and sometimes on the weekends, too. I don’t have that luxury with many people beyond those with whom I work. Even then, I haven’t developed any connection like the one I felt with my high school peers. Due to hectic schedules, driving distances, and people having children, it’s more difficult to find the time to see one another.
My hometown has come a long way from when I was in high school. There used to be little to nothing to do. Now my peers from high school (and many people I don’t even know) have brought into town a great brewing company, lots of bars, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant, an Indian restaurant, a record store, and an excellent coffee shop. I often tell people it’s the kind of place I’d want to live if it wasn’t in Indiana.
As I get older I see the importance of community as a way to develop connections that make us feel wanted and cared for. They also are a way to combat the loneliness that I often feel in a big city.
After my recent visit I began thinking more about moving back. I don’t think I’d do it, because there’s a part of me that loves the hustle and bustle of a big city, and I appreciate the many opportunities of things to do in Boston. But I have no idea what I’d do for work in my hometown. And the politics in Indiana aren't always to my liking and that makes me frustrated. Besides, I love New England’s natural beauty and being near the ocean and hills.
Yet I can’t help but wonder at what point that desire for community and a closeness with friends will override all other things. That sense of belonging may end up drawing me back to a city to which I never thought I’d return.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.