Maybe it’s just me and the network for nomadic friends I have acquired over the years but my social media platforms seems to be full of articles about “being alone isn’t lonely” or “being alone makes me feel powerful” + other stories about how being alone isn’t a bad thing. All of those things are true.
However, sometimes being alone really does get lonely.
It’s true + it’s okay. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a real life thing. More importantly, it’s not something that just those of us literally on our own feel. Even people in long-term relationships, living with family + surrounded by a strong community feel lonely. Rather than try to deny or hide that let’s admit it, embrace it + let ourselves grow from it.
Sometimes being solo is fun — you get to take breathers when you want + eat donuts for dinner with no one judging. It’s okay to love being alone + love the freedom that comes with it! It’s a very rewarding life, usually.
I have been flying relatively solo for the past 2 years or so. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had the support of a massive community of awesome people or incredibly patient family + friends. It simply means I have been the sole decision maker in my life + the one taking on the majority of the consequences of my sometime illogical choices. I like this + I dare say I’ve been thriving in this environment. It’s full of ownership + responsibility + stress but I’ve been able to reap some pretty epic rewards for the risks I’ve taken. Risks I probably would not have taken if I had another person depending upon me for anything other than a healthy dose of enabling friendship from time to time.
However, it is not always full of insta-worthy mountain adventures or endless hours of working in quaint coffee shops or miles of jamming out to road trip playlists. Sometimes all of those fun things don’t seem that fun.
There are mornings when I wake up + start plotting my way into a life where there would be someone else there to make breakfast or warm up the truck or make just one plan for the day.
Or times half way through the day when something not-quite-but-sort-of noteworthy happens + I feel a crushing sadness because I have no one to share it with.
There are also afternoons when I wish I had someone waiting to be my insta-friend to happily eat a “couch dinner” + argue about the silly details of a pointless Netflix binge.
Not the mention the long days on the road when I seriously consider picking up hitchhikers just so I have someone to talk to while staring out the window at endless miles of prairie.
Those are some tiny examples of the moments when I truly feel the loneliness that comes with being alone. By no means is this a daily thing + I do not believe I’m the only one struggling to find ways to adjust to a moments of loneliness. This is not a plea for friends or me begging for internet head pats, this is me attempting to share a very real part of life that we all experience, with the hope that y’all will feel comfortable admitting the same things to yourself.
A very visual depiction of the words you’re about to read. This photo was taken with a rock + self timer. It shows exactly how I felt a mile into a run in the middle of a week of 100% solo travel in the #yourlead van. I was beating myself up for feeling lonely + hating myself for not loving the free time I had in the mountains + in life. It was not pretty.
Sometimes being alone + being the sole decision making in your own life is straight up exhausting. You are responsible for everything. When you’re on the road this includes which gas station you stop at, where you camp, what coffee shop you work from, when you grab groceries, what you eat for dinner, how you prepare your eggs for breakfast, what time you wake up, how far you hike/run, what trailhead you start at, what waterfall you hike to, what bag of candy you open first, what flavor of chips you purchase, what town you stop in for lunch…the list goes on + on. They’re all small decisions but when you’re tasked with all the choices day after day it gets tiring. Simply the idea having someone else along to share the glee of the perfect coffee shop or the anguish of a horrid coffee shop has me reaching for my phone just to get a little human contact.
That is a very literal example of when being alone gets lonely. Quite honestly, very few people are ever truly alone in this world. Even when I was living alone on the road, sans co-pilot, this summer I wasn’t truly alone. I had a network of incredible friends + a mother who would patiently listen to my stories…all easily accessible with a little help from technology. You do not need to be physically or emotionally alone in life to feel lonely.
I distinctly remember this trail run — I was alone at the moment, but traveling with my brother so not really alone. But in the moment I was so incredibly alone + afraid of what life had in store for me. Then I found this meadow + fell so deeply in love with the chaotic, uncertain life I was living it was all okay. Photo Credit: self timer + rock
In the past few weeks I’ve had a few conversations about this loneliness with friends, many that are living a very different life than I am. They have significant others, pets, engaging full-time careers + crazy awesome plans for their future…yet they still have moments of loneliness + bouts feeling completely alone in a world they know they’re happy to be a part of.
To me, this is just further evidence that feeling lonely isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing. A feeling we all experience at one time or another. Rather than look at is as a bad thing [because saying things like “being alone isn’t lonely” is basically painting “lonely” as a bad thing] we need to embrace it the feeling for what it is + help each other grow from it. How? Well, I’m not trained psychologist + I’ll never claim to have all the answers, but here are a few things I’ve done in the past that have helped me be okay with feeling lonely…
…don’t feel guilty or ashamed for being lonely. There is nothing wrong with feeling lonely. Feeling lonely does not mean people do not love your or people do not want to spend time with you. It simply means that life’s struggles are getting in everyone’s way + you’re stuck in a corner by yourself for a hot minute. Don’t be afraid of lonely, there are still people out there who want to see you happy, you just need to find them or let life give them time to find you.
…reach out to friends when you need them + let them know you need them. For one, it will help you feel less lonely but it will also have the secondary effect of letting them know how important they are to you + your life. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own routines + if a friend doesn’t reach out we may have no idea how much they need/want our friendship. Don’t be afraid to ask for their time, love + friendship. Any friend worth having will feel thankful + grateful that they can be there for you.
A rather metaphorical visual of feeling lonely, although I felt no loneliness on this trek + very little on my six week trip to Mexico. I was more alone than I’ve ever been with very few people to talk to, but it felt empowering to be able to survive + thrive in a foreign country where I could barely order food. Loneliness is weird like that.
…try to determine why you’re feeling lonely. What are you missing the most? Is it having a friend nearby to actually get some face time with? Is it just general conversation with someone who shares similar interests? Is it having someone there to discuss the big life choices you’re currently facing? Finding the source of your loneliness isn’t always easy, but it will help you figure out what you need to do to fight through the loneliness + reclaim your independence.
…know that the crushing feeling of lonely despair will pass. When a gloomy cloud of lonely feels roll into your life it can quickly become a heavy, suffocating feeling. Feeling lonely is not pleasant, but the feeling will not be there forever. Whatever is causing the loneliness will eventually pass + if you can find the patience to dig down to the root of the loneliness you just might find a quick solution that’ll have you smiling at the sun once again.
All of these things require a certain level of vulnerability. Like loneliness, vulnerability is scary + uncertain. It’s not easy to put yourself into a vulnerable position, even with people you love + trust. Asking for friendship or time or favors from friends is vulnerable. Especially when you feel the only thing you have to offer in return is some quality time with your lonely self. It doesn’t feel like you’re offering them a good trade off, but please don’t let that hold you back. As the friend who has occasionally be on the receiving end of the “I need a friend” request — it feels good to be asked, so please ask!
I am by no means an expert with any of these feelings + I still struggle to accept loneliness every time it creeps into my life. I have to remind myself this is a life I choose + a life I usually love. I also have to tell myself that there are people out there who love + support me, even as I make life choices they can’t imagine making for themselves. We are great friends because our lives are so different, it’s called balance!
Another self-timer photo taken on my last mountain trek during my 100% solo week with the #yourlead van. Mentally + emotionally I was in a completely different place than I had been a few days before. The lonely was gone + I had stopped doubting myself. Instead, I was proud of my independence + in love with where it took me.
Remember, a sunset is only beautiful because the sun itself is leaving us + we only allow ourselves enjoy its disappearance because we know it’ll be back again full of fiery life to squelch out the darkness in the morning.
Semi-obligatory Disclaimer: I have zero professional training or experience with any of this + everything I’m sharing is from my personal experience. Take it all as a grain of salt + grind it into the seasoning you need for your own life.