Loneliness and the holidays
It’s that time of year again: holiday season. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are all within six weeks of one another. While for many it’s a joyous occasion, for others it can be a very lonely time.
Here are a list of some things you can do to fight off the loneliness during this time (and especially on the actual days).
1. Reach out to family
Not everyone has a good relationship with their family. But if you do and can’t be with them in person, try and connect with them. I’ve spent a few Thanksgivings and Christmases on my own. I made sure to call family on those days and let them know I was thinking of them. I checked in to see how things were going and what they were up to—not only about that specific holidays, but generally in their lives. A phone call for half an hour or an hour is a good way to feel connected with others, even if we’re not there with them.
2. Reach out to friends
Chances are you may not be the only person amongst your friends who doesn’t have anyone to connect with on a particular holiday. For a few years I lived far away from my family on the other side of the country and couldn’t make it home for Christmas. So I spent it with friends—eating at a Chinese restaurant or a diner. Even if it was for an hour or two, it was nice to be out of my apartment and with others. Sometimes I didn’t even know the people too well. But I put myself out there and realized that I would feel better if I could be around others and out of my own head.
3. Come up with plans on your own
Chinese food and a movie. I’ve done it before and it’s always a good time. When you’re at the Chinese restaurant, take a book with you or do some journaling. Afterward, go see a fun film or some big, dumb blockbuster movie. Something to take your mind off any loneliness you may feel. Or, spend the day and binge watch a TV show while working on a project. I often feel bad if I binge watch an entire season of a show but if I’m also spending the time working on a project, it can feel useful.
4. Work on goals for the next year
If you’re alone for a holiday, spend it working on goals for the next year. What do you want to do in the first three months of the year? The first six months? Ask yourself why you want to achieve these goals and what roadblocks may come up in trying to do them. Develop steps to complete your goals. Then put these steps in your calendar for the next few months and keep yourself on track.
These are a few ideas of things to do when you’re alone (and if you're lonely) on a holiday. I’ve celebrated my fair shares of New Year’s Eves, Christmases, and Thanksgivings on my own. I’ve found these ideas to work for me. But what about you? What’s worked for you? Leave me some comments below—I’d love to hear from you!
I’ve learned a lot about depression in the past twenty years. There are many lessons it has taught me, but here are a few things that I wish someone had told me about this particular mental health issue.
1. Depression won’t ever go away but you can manage it
There was a time in high school I thought there would be a cure to my depression. Or it would, at some point, go away. Later, after college, I received a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. Yet even then I didn’t comprehend that depression would be staying with me for the rest of my life. I fought against that notion and didn’t want to think it was true, but over time came to accept it as fact. Through medication, therapy, and self-care I’ve learned that it is manageable and I can lead a healthy, productive life.
2. Depression takes many different forms
From when I first began to experience depression in my early teens I thought it meant sadness. It was a sadness that wasn’t always rational, but a sadness nonetheless. Over the years, though, my depression still exists in that form on occasion but more often than not it’s about existential depression. It’s the feeling of loss of direction that occurred because of giving up my faith in god many years ago. That aimlessness kept me frustrated and discouraged for a long time. It’s only recently that I’ve found encouragement in speaking to others about my mental health struggles.
3. There are things you can learn about yourself through your experiences with depression
I’m surprised with how well I’ve managed my depression over the years. Sure, there have been times I’ve been suicidal or been in the hospital, but those are blips on the radar. I’ve far more often had times which have found me more stable. I’ve seen and been through a lot of shit and am still here. To me that shows some great mental and emotional strength. I’ve discovered a sense of empathy for others who experience mental health issues. Finally, through writing and speaking on mental health I’ve learned that there’s a creative side of myself I didn’t always think I possessed. And it’s one of which I can be proud.
4. Because you’re depressed it doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish things
Depression doesn’t mean you can’t do great things with your life. Sure, you may have to adjust at times. But even people with some of the most severe depression—as long as they’re treating it—can lead successful lives they can be proud of. I’ve seen people in the throes of sadness create wonderful art or write beautiful stories or even be excellent parents to their children. Depression doesn’t have to relegate you to a world of nothingness. It can be hard but depression doesn’t equal not accomplishing goals.
What gives me the most anxiety
More than anything, my concern about money has driven me to extreme levels of anxiety in my life. It’s strange to write that because I come from a well-off, upper middle-class white family. I’ve never lacked for anything and my parents are still well to-do.
Anxiety was the first mental illness I recognized in my life. From early childhood I experienced the concern and worry of being away from my mom, especially. Most days in first grade I imagined leaving school and going home to her, even though I wasn’t a mamma’s boy. I wanted to be someplace I thought was secure and safe.
As I grew up my anxieties expanded as well. I worried about the apocalypse and finding myself left behind (I grew up in an evangelical Christian household). I had concerns about going to friends’ houses to spend the night. I was afraid of being away from home for what seemed like a very long time. When I got my first job at 15 I was anxious about doing good work, even after the first few days showed me I was fine.
I know a lot of this comes through genetics, as I see it in relatives. Still, there was something more. Why the specific concern with money?
This is, after all, an absurd fear. I would never be out on the street if I lost my job. I live in an affordable apartment and have a partner to help pay rent. I have savings. I’m sure my parents would support me. I have to remind myself of these things when I get scared about my financial future.
Much of this goes back to two things: 1) My parents grew up without a lot of money and 2) my dad lost his job when I was in elementary school.
When parents become successful they often remind their children how difficult life was in their own youth. Most kids believe their parents about everything, so even though mine meant no ill will, I took to heart their statements of the difficulty of a poor upbringing. I feared we were always one step away from being out on the streets, my comfortable life gone.
Thus when my dad lost his job when I was around 10 years old, it scared me. Would we lose our house? Would we have to get a small apartment and I have to share a bedroom with my sister? Might I have to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor in a roach-infested hotel room? I’d still be alive but could I get lice from staying there? My mind spiraled into worse case scenarios.
Of course things were fine: my dad found a new job, we didn’t lose our house, I didn’t get lice. But since then I’ve been cautious with my money. I rarely buy any extravagances short of traveling here and there (which I realize I am quite fortunate to do). I save and save and save for purposes I don’t even know what for. I’m a minimalist with a sparse amount of possessions I can move at a moment’s notice.
These fears make no sense to me. Still, as I get older they’ve calmed somewhat. I have a better grasp of finances and can put into context what happened in my youth.
Anxieties are so often irrational and mine is especially so given the privileges I have in this life. Yet, it’s taken me a few decades to get comfortable with this irrational thought and take on a correct perspective of it.
My fear about money will on occasion rear its head. But as I get older my past has shown me I am safe. I've learned to be smart with my money and have a great privilege—both with my financial and mental states. I’m doing my best to not take these for granted.
Over the past few months I’ve been on a journey to narrow down my focus of speaking about loneliness. It's a big topic and while there are those who speak about the subject at large, I prefer to speak to college students.
College was when I first experienced full-blown bipolar disorder as well as the first time I felt severe loneliness. Part of the reason was because I went to a college where I didn’t fit in, but also my mental health issues kept me from feeling connected with others.
Reasons for loneliness among college-aged students can vary. Some are from overseas and going to school in another country may not be easy. For others, their mental health issue may keep them from finding connections. Or it's possible the school they’re at is among people they don’t feel comfortable: they’re a city person and they’re in a school in a small town, or vice versa.
Whatever the reason for the loneliness, it exists. And it’s prevalent among college students. So what are we to do about it?
The first thing we can do is have people speak up. And I’m not only referring to professional speakers on college campuses. I’m also including students. It’s may be easy for some students to hear a tale from someone like myself who is out of the realm of college age and dismiss what I say.
But, having a fellow student come out and proclaim their difficulties can have a much more powerful impact. Whenever we know the person dealing with a problematic experience, it can make us accepting to what they’re going through.
The second thing is to have more education about the agency that we, as individuals, have to combat and defeat loneliness. I’ve often believed that early in a student’s college career (or even before it), there should be education on mental health issues at school. Students should be aware that college can be a time of great transition with their mental wellness. And they may feel emotions and undergo new experiences in their mental health.
That said, loneliness should also be a part of that conversation. This is especially important for students who spend time overseas or who, for one reason or another, are going to be away from their peers. Yet, learning about how to find belonging should be something that colleges teach students.
College can be a tremendous time of change. Even if you’re not in school, the transition from high school to the full-time working world is a jolt. Thus, more awareness, by both peers and educators, is key to letting those in their late teens and early twenties know they’re not alone. And in doing so, we also should pass along means by which those in college can know that there are ways they can find belonging.
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.