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When Being Alone Gets Lonely

05 Oct 16
Heidi Kumm
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16 comments
feeling-lonely

whenbeing-alonegets-lonely

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.

img_20160904_114220Sometimes 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.

img_20160822_090004A 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.

img_20160802_091204I 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.

img_20160608_115457A 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!

img_20160823_120244Another 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.

16 Comments

  1. 100peaks October 5, 2016 at 3:43 pm Reply

    You always have a friend and a place to stay in San Diego. 🙂 I like being alone, but I have a very large extended village. This village is why I enjoy being alone. My wife even tells me not to come with her to places, because she knows me well enough and she needs me to have some outdoor alone time. However, if I didn’t have this tapestry of support, I am sure I would suffer the soul-crushing weight of loneliness, as I used to, a long time ago. It affects us all. Emotions shouldn’t be off limits. Thanks for talking about this and over-sharing. 🙂

    • Heidi Kumm October 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm Reply

      I really need to get down to that chunk of California + see what it’s all about! I’m not exactly running from the loneliness — I’ve gotten to a point where I can embrace it [to a certain extent] + really let it show me how awesome it is to be around people.

      And, yes, we should all be a little more open + willing to talk about emotions. I think it’d make it a lot easier to learn how to cope with them as responsible, adjusted humans. But hey…emotions are scary sometimes!

  2. Roland October 6, 2016 at 12:22 pm Reply

    Hi Heidi. I loved your writing and story telling skill … as always and I loved the fact that you were writing about feelings. I just came back to my office in NYC and took the elevator up to the 19th floor. 9 people entered, 7 faces fixed on their iPhones doing something. Not one person looked up, not one person said “Hi”. I really felt sorry for them and thought they are lonely. I mean really lonely. You experience it the positive way. You see the beauty of the world, you see the flowers, the birds. You feel the sun, the wind, the raindrops.
    I was for a while in a similar situation and travelled alone. The toughest part for me was not being able to share with somebody else what was right now in front of my eyes. How beautiful it is. Once back home all my “friends” were busy doing other things, were never where I just came from and I couldn’t share it with them as well. They were listening but you could see their eyes were sort of empty.

    Life is unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow. Just think about it again how I met Cindy. I lived in Switzerland for years. Had a house, a car, friends, was divorced without children. I was on my way home from a 3-week South-American business trip when Cindy sat next to me on a plane from Mexico to New York. You know the end of the story. In December it will be 20 years since that flight. Now I do have a wonderful person I can share those things you were talking about.

    How many people admire you of what you do? I am sure a lot!!

    I wish that you find someday somebody you can share many wonderful moments but I also know that you always like a certain freedom. You can have both. I know it.

    And btw your pictures are just wonderful. Including your great self timer + rock.

    • Heidi Kumm October 10, 2016 at 9:30 am Reply

      You’re 100% accurate when you say “The toughest part for me was not being able to share with somebody else what was right now in front of my eyes.” — that is definitely when I feel the most lonely when I’m out in the wilderness on my own. I want someone to share the beauty with.

      And I think you should take another flight from Mexico to New York this December…as a celebration of all the incredible things you two have done together! <3

  3. 3Up Beth October 7, 2016 at 10:36 am Reply

    Lonely is A Thing, for real. Sometimes it’s hard to tease apart lonely from self-doubt: without someone to give you immediate “you’re doing the right thing” feedback I find that sometimes lonely spirals to “I’m a shitty person.” The more time I spend alone, however, the less that seems to happen? Or I spend less time curled on a trail sobbing (because you can bet I’ve been there too).

    Like you mentioned, sometimes those who are partnered are also lonely. In fact, the moments I probably felt most alone and most isolated, I was two feet from another person but just had no idea what to do to reach that person and also felt like it wasn’t okay for me to share what was really happening in my life with anyone else through a digital lifeline.

    • Heidi Kumm October 10, 2016 at 9:32 am Reply

      You’re right — that loneliness you feel when you’re right next to someone but can’t figure out how to truly communicate is a very real thing. I think that kind of loneliness is probably the most soul crushing because there should be an answer, a solution, but it’s so hard to find + it requires two+ people to mend that fence.

      I think a lot of people let loneliness meld right into self doubt + forget to back up to the core of the problem, loneliness. Loneliness is so much easier to combat than self doubt. Self doubt is straight up mean!

  4. Paulina October 7, 2016 at 12:16 pm Reply

    Heidi! I love this! And you! I think social media helps to portray that people have these happy perfect lives and so many friends that do cool things. I get hit with that lonely feeling a lot, mostly cause I feel like a really awkward human being 95% of the time. Still struggling to come to terms and accept that it’s ok. Come visit anytime! Or I’ll come to you!!! Would love to have more time doing cool stuff with you 🙂

    • Heidi Kumm October 10, 2016 at 9:33 am Reply

      Thank you! Also, being a really awkward human being is a huge part of who you are…please don’t change that as I mean that as a huge compliment! We shall do cool things soonly-ish, we must!

  5. Heidi @bananabuzzbomb October 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm Reply

    I can’t put into words how I feel right now after reading this but you are spot on and I appreciate your honesty. It reminds me of a video I’ve seen of Louis CK. If you’ve never seen it google it. Worth the watch. xo

    • Heidi Kumm October 10, 2016 at 9:34 am Reply

      Thank you! The positive feedback makes oversharing feelings so much easier! I’m off to Google now!

  6. info@katiewanders.com October 10, 2016 at 10:11 am Reply

    What a great article Heidi! I think its always important to see both sides and you did a great job with that. We see so many “Solo traveling is amazing” posts pictures and articles, often forgetting the struggles with it.

    Lovely article
    Katie @ Katie Wanders
    http://www.KatieWanders.com

    • Heidi Kumm October 11, 2016 at 3:26 pm Reply

      Thank you so much! I was worried it would come off a little too “whoa is me”, which isn’t my intent at all. I really did want to share the less exciting, real side of solo travel + life. So, thank you!

  7. lynne October 10, 2016 at 8:22 pm Reply

    xoxo!

  8. Amiee October 11, 2016 at 9:26 am Reply

    Loved this! I’ve found that traveling alone intensifies the normal ups and downs of daily life. Without all the distractions of “regular life” you’re forced to really sit with the loneliness and figure out what it is all about and then all of a sudden it vanishes and you’re having the time of your life 🙂 I always have a spare room in Salt Lake and I love house guests especially ones with great stories!

    • Heidi Kumm October 11, 2016 at 3:28 pm Reply

      Oh, wow…you hit it right on the head with “traveling intensifies the normal ups + downs”. This comment, combined with other feedback I’ve been getting, is exactly why I wanted to share this! So many people have their own way of expressing exactly the same thing!

      And the next time I make it out to SLC, I’ll let you know. I’m sure I’ll even create a few good stories on the way! 😉

  9. Travel Guilt – Heidi Kumm // Oversharing Life June 8, 2017 at 5:48 am Reply

    […] times heavier. At least for me. When the travel guilt finally kicks in [usually a solid 2-3 weeks after lonely arrives + is wrangled into submission] I struggle to find the motivation to explore or a reason to do more. […]

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