Utterly and completely alone
January 10, 2014 1:32 PM   Subscribe

My life isn't perfect, but it's certainly isn't very bad at all, especially in comparison to other peoples troubles. Still, every so often, things get really really bad. The problem is that I can't afford paid therapy, and my support network is... Not really helpful.

Basically the problem is this: in my moments of despair and crisis, reaching out to the people closest to me only compounds my problems.

With my spouse letting on how bad I feel is very likely to start them into their own tailspin of this despair. I'm not close to anyone who I think would be sympathetic or would want to hear it and a few others who I can think of who are close enough to me would just and have told me to toughen up and bite the bullet.

This is causing me a problem mainly because for some reason I think that when I am feeling despair, there should be someone that I can turn to who will be my rock while I weather the storm. I feel like I have been and I've had to be that person for other people, but there's nobody like that for me. Looking at it logically after I typed it all out like that I guess there's no reason why there should be someone like that for me.

These are my questions:
1) how do I truly and deeply let go of the idea that there should be somebody I can turn to who will be strong for me? How do I come to terms with my fundamental aloneness?
2) Until I have a completed number one how do I stop myself from reaching out and in my moments my of worst crisis? And that making my situation worse every time I reach out because then I have to deal with the problems that reaching out causes.

I realize reading this now that a lot of people are just going to say see a shrink and get therapy and medication for depression so I just want to reiterate that, I am really not depressed for most of my life I just go through bad times sometimes. Also I cannot afford to going to credit card debt, free and low-cost options are not available to me, and on top of that neither does my work schedule allow for appointments.

If anybody wants to take a crack at answering my questions I'll be very grateful thank you so much.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I have similar issues. One thing I have found beyond helpful, and I refused to do it until I finally gave up my pride, was support groups. I don't have any pressing problems, but like all of us I find myself in shitty places sometimes. I go to Al Anon (the Alcoholics Anonymous family groups) and although I don't have any direct relatives that are alcoholics, and even most of my problems have NOTHING to do with their alcoholism.....and honestly....not many others' issues are to do with it either (and I've been to ones in SF, Boston, and Southern California). Oh, and they're free.

What's so amazing about the group is that:

A. You have the kindness of strangers. Don't ever underestimate that.
B. There is something very therapeutic in listening to other's issues. You realize sometimes your stuff isn't as bad, or at least that others are going through it too. Just having that similarity and joint struggling is immensely helpful.
C. They mostly just listen. They don't advise, tell you how to solve it. So you don't really have the issue in that others are preaching.
D. You tell yourself the answer. Most of the time we know already what it is, but we can't admit it. Because you are listening to only yourself, you figure it out....from yourself.

I hope this helps. And DON'T let yourself talk yourself out of it, as in you don't belong in one, you are crazy, you "shouldn't try it out," etc.

I only went when I hit rock bottom. And I mean, ROCK BOTTOM. And I lost my pride, and I went on a cold night in Boston. And I cried. And I came back. Again. And a gentle soul told me afterwards a line I will never forget: "You have the gift of desperation."

I still think about those people in Boston. They saved my life.
posted by pando11 at 1:43 PM on January 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

there should be someone that I can turn to who will be my rock while I weather the storm. I feel like I have been and I've had to be that person for other people, but there's nobody like that for me. Looking at it logically after I typed it all out like that I guess there's no reason why there should be someone like that for me.

I don't know what to say to answer the questions you're actually asking, but I'd like to address this in particular because it's something that I personally have thought about a lot.

I just want you to know that it is not strange or unusual or a flaw in your character that you have that expectation. I think that expectation is something that's fundamentally human. It's why we created societies and god and religion--because it is a normal reaction to want to have something or someone that is strong and supportive during difficult times.

A good therapist would help you develop coping skills so that it is easier to deal with your struggles without as much external support. You don't have to be depressed to benefit from therapy. I went to a therapist for a short time to help get through exactly that--a period of despair--and I am not nor have I ever been depressed. I found it tremendously worthwhile.

I know that cost is an issue for you, but in the past mefites have been really good at finding affordable therapy options for other posters. Hopefully folks more educated in that area than me will chime in.

Mostly, though, please just know that wanting someone to turn to during these times is not a failure on your part. It is normal and human.
posted by phunniemee at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is a conflict between:

1) how do I truly and deeply let go of the idea that there should be somebody I can turn to who will be strong for me? How do I come to terms with my fundamental aloneness?
2) Until I have a completed number one how do I stop myself from reaching out and in my moments my of worst crisis? And that making my situation worse every time I reach out because then I have to deal with the problems that reaching out causes.


I just want to reiterate that, I am really not depressed for most of my life I just go through bad times sometimes.

That piece I bolded is one of the core pieces of depression.
posted by PMdixon at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

First, just let me say that reading this question made me want to give you a big hug.

I have been there.

Not much time to type now, but a few things:

Spouses are supposed to support each other. It is not out of line for you to expect your spouse to do this to at least some degree.

If the other people you're referencing who would tell you to just buck up are your family, then it's not surprising you ended up with a spouse who abandons you too.

Things can change. Hang in there.

Have to go now. MeMail me if you'd like.
posted by Sublimity at 1:52 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know that the premise of your question is that there's nobody you can reach out to, but I really think that the internet provides you with alot of options. This question here on ask metafilter is evidence that thoughtful strangers can provide a listening ear and good advice.

If you're looking for something that is more of a community and less like strangers, there are many different message boards/chat groups to join. It's not professional therapy, but if you're looking for a listening ear, you can also try 7 cups of tea.
posted by tinymegalo at 2:03 PM on January 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would recommend joining a religious community -- you would know best whether this is something you would be comfortable with, but there are plenty out there that are not going to try to convert you/evangelize. For instance, I go to a United Church of Christ church where there are plenty of agnostics/athiests in the congregation. And a Unitarian Universalist church would be even less Christian-y. (Of course, plenty of other options out there as well, these are just the ones I am familiar with.) This will let you build a community where there ARE people you can reach out to. It is literally the ministers job to listen to people who need it, and on top of that you may very well find a weekly or monthly group that meets in the evenings on any of a variety of topics that you may find supportive. (Our church has a few different groups that are all about letting people discuss various personal topics and lift each other up/support each other.) It might take some trying to find a church you like and feel comfortable with, but I would at least give it a shot if you think it's something you could be comfortable with/connect with.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:51 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Part of being married is supporting each other in times of need without making then other person's problems about you. Maybe now is the time for you and your spouse to make therapy a mandatory budget item so that you both can benefit from it and create a more stable support system as a team.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:59 PM on January 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

One small thing I'll do for myself in moments like those is be that person for myself. I imagine myself 20 years in the future or something. That person is kind and empathetic and can take anything I want to tell them. They have a nice garden or cozy library with a fire and a cat or Whatever comforting setting I want to imagine, and they listen to my despair. Every once in awhile I ask them for advice, but mostly they just tell me I'll be ok, and having gone through the whole mental exercise, I believe it.

It's no replacement for therapy - therapy helped me So Much. But that exercise helps me in moments of acute emotional pain.
posted by ldthomps at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

How do I come to terms with my fundamental aloneness?

This is one of the things that I constantly think about from the other end. How do I reach the people in trouble who think that they are all alone and nobody cares about them or would help them? How can I identify them? How can I make it known that I am someone who is ready to help? We might pass by each other on the street and neither of us would ever know. That's such a waste.

I promise you that there are people out there who want to help you. I can tell you that when I was in the biggest crisis of my life I was absolutely shocked by who turned their back on me and who went far above and beyond to help. Seriously, I would have never believed you. There may be people in your life who you would never expect help from, but have never actually asked. If so, I think it would be worth it to try.
posted by cairdeas at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

for some reason I think that when I am feeling despair, there should be someone that I can turn to who will be my rock while I weather the storm.

There is. It's you.
I'm not being trite, I really mean it.

I'm not close to anyone who I think would be sympathetic or would want to hear it

Writing a letter to myself during those deepest most darkest times has been very successful therapy. I write out all my troubles, all my tears, my fears and disappointments; I just write and write and cry and write, and read back and reflect on what I've written, what I'm feeling, and then I write some more and finally after hours and pages and pages something seems to shift and I finally feel like I've been truly heard and a warm strength descends upon me.

That old adage, we come into the world alone and we go out alone, is not meant to be fearful. It actually details the one solid life-long consistent relationship we have during our time alive: that with ourself. If you can learn ways to be your own best listener, your own best comforter, you will find all these feelings of abandonment and loss will dissipate and you will be flush with strength and compassion for yourself.
posted by Kerasia at 3:19 PM on January 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

Attachment theory states that all humans have a normal, healthy psychological urge to seek out a safe haven in times of stress or danger, which takes the form of a specific, important person in our lives. As children, this safe haven or "attachment figure" is usually a parent or other caretaker. In adulthood, this safe haven tends to be our spouse or SO, one or more close friends, or sometimes a therapist. When we are successful in getting comfort from an attachment figure, our anxiety subsides and we resume going about our routine lives.

According to the theory, this is a normal, healthy, protective impulse, which ALL humans experience in times of distress. However, not all people are lucky enough to have an accepting attachment figure in their lives, and some of them suppress their urge to reach out, as you're trying to do now. Those of us lucky enough to have good experiences reaching out for comfort are likely to have a "secure" relationship with their attachment figure(s), like so (adapted from the Wikipedia article):

Sign of threat --> Provokes anxiety --> Seeking closeness to partner/attachment figure --> Partner responds positively --> Security/relief/reduction of anxiety --> Return to everyday activities

Some people, who meet with rejection or failure when they reach out, attempt to cope by adopting an an "avoidant" relationship strategy with their attachment figure(s), like so:

Sign of threat --> Provokes anxiety --> Seeking closeness to partner/attachment figure --> Partner responds negatively --> Increased insecurity/anxiety --> Giving up on getting positive response --> Anxiety suppression and distancing --> Return to everyday activities

The avoidant strategy relies on using self-talk to cope with distress instead of seeking out other people. I think it's a very sad situation to consciously decide you want to do this, and I recommend that you NOT give up on your desire to seek comfort. However, to actually answer your two questions, I would suggest any or all of the following (I don't think you should do these things, these are just what I think would actually work):

1) Become cynical about people and relationships. Decide that you can't trust people-- they're selfish, unreliable, flaky, will let you down when you need them most, etc.
2) Cut off the people who've let you down-- stop being there for them in their time of need.
3) Decide that reaching out is for wimps and cry-babies. Beat yourself up for wanting to seek comfort.
4) Decide that feeling scared in the first place is weak. Tell yourself to toughen up (just like other people have told you to do).
5) Come up with any and every possible rationale to persuade yourself that a difficult situation isn't really that bad.

I consider doing these things to be a solution of last resort. I think you should instead let yourself feel sad that you don't have anybody right now that you feel you can turn to. And I think you should stay open to the possibility of finding someone who can give you that comfort. Another idea from attachment theory is that some people can get comfort from the internalized MEMORY of an important person from their past-- someone who may not be here for you now, but who comforted you in the past, and who you can imagine comforting you now if they were here. And one final thing that has helped me is to discover authors whose writings make me feel that someone out there is capable of understanding me, is capable of soothing me. For me, it's people like Bertrand Russell, Abraham Maslow, and Irvin Yalom-- just holding one of their books in my hand is like having a security blanket. The mere idea of these people's existence comforts me.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 4:45 PM on January 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

Back and able to write a bit more.

First: there are always, *always* people who will be there for you and help you. You are not alone, you have never been alone, and you never will be alone. I am completely serious. If you are in serious pain and need to talk to someone, you can call your community crisis line. They can probably direct you to resources that will help you within your limitations. The suggestions about faith communities and Al-Anon are also great. If you're a guy, check out the near you. The world has people in it who will listen to you and care about you even if they've never met you at all and wouldn't recognize you on the street.... just because you're a human being and you're inherently worth that care. Like the people answering this question.

You are worth it. Inherently. Just because you are a human being.

Dixon Ticonderoga is on to something about the attachment theory stuff. That's kind of behind what I mentioned earlier. If it's your family who are the ones who will tell you to suck it up, then you've probably developed enough self-sufficiency to survive that, so when you picked a partner you didn't particularly "pressure test" for the feature of emotional support. But even strong, self-sufficient adults need support, need someone who will be a "rock" for them.

I don't think you should settle for always being unsupported in your marriage. It's very difficult to change this dynamic but it's necessary. Bring it up when you and your spouse are not in a crisis situation and start to take it from there.

The book I wish I had when I started trying to dig out of the situation you're in is this one and others by the same author. It'll help you grow your own emotional resiliency, while also helping you figure out how to compassionately press for change--as your partner is almost certainly failing in this because of his/her fears, hurts, weaknesses too.

Best of luck.
posted by Sublimity at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

While it's obviously not a substitute for professional help, I've personally found the MetaFilter chat room to be a good source of company when I'm feeling lonely and isolated. Come chat with us.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:15 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is what therapy is for. The cheap version of therapy is counselling. And the cheapest form of therapy is art and/or religion.
posted by heyjude at 5:41 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Therapy can be found cheap in most places. Please don't give up looking.

I have felt like you, right down to the spouse issues (not his fault; he had his own demons at the time. But it hurt anyway, because, like you, I wanted someone to be a rock and a protector and there wasn't anyone).

So I went to therapy. Just going, even before the therapist said a word, made me feel better. Because I was seeking help and there was hope that I might get rid of this godawful black cloud of fear and despair and loneliness. So I went for a while, it helped a bit, then I stopped. Then the husband and I started working on our mutual demons, made some decisions. Then I still felt depressed so I went again and got on some meds for a while, and that cleared it out. To stay clear, I sought out communities..in my case, a UU church and just making more time to reconnect with old friends, or treat myself to something, or whatever I could manage. I learned that my needs belonged in the budget, as much as anyone else's.

It's so much better now. It really is. I still get sad but it's not the world-ending blackness I had before. I have less loneliness, not just because we're both in better places, but because I have the strength to make connections outside my marriage. Marriages can only do so much. You need emotional support in other places too.

Your needs are not bad ones, they're normal and nothing to be ashamed of. But you have to take some action to get them met.
posted by emjaybee at 5:53 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Looking at it logically after I typed it all out like that I guess there's no reason why there should be someone like that for me." and "How do I come to terms with my fundamental aloneness?" do not support "I realize reading this now that a lot of people are just going to say see a shrink and get therapy and medication for depression so I just want to reiterate that, I am really not depressed for most of my life I just go through bad times sometimes," which you also describe as "things get really really bad."

One, why shouldn't there be someone like that for you? You deserve someone--actually, a lot of people--like that for you. Two, as has been said, "fundamental aloneness" is a sign of depression. You don't deserve to be alone/lonely, and you "come to terms" with your feeling of aloneness by realizing/understanding/being shown that loneliness is not a fundamental part of you. Three, therapy/counseling isn't only for people who are "depressed most of [their] life." You can and should seek therapy/counseling, even/especially if you "just go through bad times sometimes." Therapy/counseling is there for the bad times, just like every other medical professional is there for the sometimes bad times with other parts of the body.

Look, I'm someone who looks at most answers of "go see a therapist" with an "ugh, that's not an answer to the question, because the OP clearly said not to recommend therapy." This? This is one of the times when therapy is the only way to go, based on what you've said. Please don't try to bootstrap this. My heart aches for you right now, because clearly a part of your brain is telling you "therapy is the thing to do here!" but the other part is saying "you deserve this, and other people have it way worse, so just suck it up and deal with it." You don't deserve this; it doesn't matter if other people have it worse; and you don't have to suck it up and just deal with it. You desperately want to talk to someone who will listen to you and support you and guide you; that's what a therapist/counselor is there to help do. There's no shame there.
posted by coast99 at 6:20 PM on January 10, 2014

Therapy can be useful but there is much to be said for having true friends who are there for you in the manner the OP is needing.

I found my friends in church.

If you have any religious leanings at all, a pastor or other religious figure might be a good place to start. Ask around. Not all of them are good at this sort of thing, but the ones who are are awesome. Also, yes, support groups are good.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:53 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are the person who you can turn to to be strong for you.

You are alone in a jail cell. It's solitary confinement. You're falsely accused or you're imprisoned for a righteous crime against a terrible, inhumane government. You have zero chance of escape and you are imprisoned indefinitely with no trial.

Where do you turn to? Who do you talk to? How do you survive without insanity?

You can find peace and comfort alone through meditation, self-reflection and self-love. You can accept your solitude, process your struggles and be at peace with your situation.

Luckily, your circumstances are not so extreme at the present. It sounds like you need friends -- good friends -- and now is the time to start establishing those friendships so that people are there in a time of need. I started going to a book club casually once upon a time; I felt like the women there were acquaintances and friends but I wasn't super close to any of them and didn't socialize much outside of the book club. Then, in a time of crisis, I had no where else to turn so I called them up and told them what happened. Four or five of them showed up, took me to dinner, comforted me and let me sob all over the place, then we went back to the same level of interaction as before.

Find hobby groups, meetups, or something like that to start cultivating friendships so that when or if you hit a crisis, you might be able to think more creatively about who to call. Or, if you already know some people, but you think maybe not that well, or they won't care, or they'll think you're weird, don't be afraid to reach out anyway. No one else's life is perfect; everyone else feels alone at times too. You might be surprised.
posted by mibo at 7:35 PM on January 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why not try looking online for support? I haven't used it, but I think Reddit's Make Me Feel Better subreddit might be worth looking at. Perhaps you can connect with someone there to help support you.

Another idea is to get outside of yourself by doing good things for other people. Perhaps you can spend some free time volunteering at a nearby senior living rec center or home. You cheer up an elder, and if you find the right person, perhaps they lay some comforting wisdom down on you in return, or tell a story about their life/hard times that helps provide a new perspective. A variant to this is to think of who, in your friend circle, really needs/craves YOUR support and go give it. Even if you feel like you have nothing left, I find in my experience that my friends have very different issues than my own, so we can each be strong for one another without "taking" from one another.

I am sorry that your SO is not up for the task this time. If it is a trend, I would recommend revisiting the issue when this moment of crisis has passed. Being able to lean on and trust one another to be leaned on is vital, IMHO. I think there's a saying, "Needing someone is like needing a parachute, if they aren't there -- you probably won't be needing them again." Get on top of the issue a few months down the road when your head is above water. It's worth examining what's triggering your SO, and how you can better communicate when in times of strife.

I am not religious, but I agree with St. Alia of the Bunnies on this one. If you are? Go. If you are "sorta" then maybe try out a Unitarian-Universalist congregation.

In the meantime, this a huge reminder that even now, even in your dark period, you do have the power to sooth yourself. What makes you feel calm and contemplative? Make yourself tea. Buy a new pair of really warm socks. Go to bed early, it's okay! Buy or borrow a few new books (maybe even a self-help one?). Shop for one of your favorite, comforting meals and make it. Turn on a song that cheers you up, or make a whole playlist of audible antidepressants. Listen to a few episodes of This American Life, and I'm sure there are several that deal with the same topics/feelings you are going through -- the series is very diverse. If you have a craft, pick it up again. Personally, I like to knit and find it helps sort out my thoughts when I start a new project, even a simple one.

Best of luck.
posted by cior at 7:40 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, I don't want to make this personal, but perhaps change the *way* in which you reach out to others and your expectations of their responses. It might be helpful to follow this process:

First, ask the friend/source of possible support if they have time to meet, soon, as you are going through a rough time (it's okay to be vague).

Then, say what you need from them. Do you need them to help problem solve? Do you want them simply to listen without judgment? Do you need cheering up, or someone to simply reassure you? Put it in words, like, "I am feeling really low at the moment, and could really use a friend who will listen to my feelings without judgment. You don't have to fix anything, I just need to feel less alone." OR "I am struggling with a problem and I need someone else to help me figure out all the possible solutions that aren't 'buck up and deal with it'. If you're free, I could really use your brain. You don't have to solve the problem, I just want help with ideas." OR "Life is hard at the moment. Can you meet for coffee, hear me out about what's going on in my life and simply reassure me that everything is going to be okay? I need someone to comfort me."

The point here is... everyone has a different reaction when faced with another person's "personal issue". I, for one, am an instant problem solver. I come up with idea after idea (as evidenced here) as my pat reaction to another person's problem. For some, this is awesome and they feel support in the teamwork of generating ideas and brainstorming solutions. Other people get Really Pissed when I do this, as they really wanted a hug, or reassurance, or someone to help get their mind off the problem by doing something cheerful together. It's always hard to know exactly what someone needs, so why not state your expectations up front? It will be a lot easier for the source of support to opt-in and help in a way that feels right for you, or beg off as they might not be the right person for that sort of assistance.
posted by cior at 7:48 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

AND, people like to be useful. You might be surprised at who will opt-in to providing you support if you give them an offer they can understand, such as the above -- ask if they have time, make sure they know you need their time soon, and let them know what sort of support you need.

ALSO-ALSO, I think it's bullshit to believe that you are truly alone and need to somehow figure out how to do this alone. Your #1 and #2 points above are a problematic way to frame what you are going through. You deserve support from others, and you shouldn't train yourself to be an island. It's okay to have reduced expectations of others, but this view that you should "let go of the idea that there should be somebody" and "stop myself from reaching out" will not serve you in the long run.

#1. It may not be one "somebody" and it really shouldn't be. Your community, friends, family, strangers on the internet and even your SO can at times be that person for you, depending on the issue, depending on your specific need and which phase of life you're in.

#2. When you stop reaching out to others, you've lost the game. Being able to reach out appropriately is an adult life skill, and I don't think it's a winning strategy to train yourself out of needing simple human connection.

I will stop now.. I'm very sorry that you're going through a rough time, and if no one has told you yet, let me start:

You are going to be okay. It hurts now, but now is temporary. Life is always changing, and you are changing with it -- even for the better. What doesn't kill you doesn't make you stronger, it often makes you weaker, and I am sad that you're going through this. Don't let anyone tell you to buck up -- you are, by definition, bucking up right now! You are in the process of bucking up and it is difficult. That said, there are good things ahead and you will look back on this time, much later, and know that you did the best that you could with all that you had. That's all we're ever doing, and that's all anyone can expect of you right now. You deserve care, friendship, support, love and good things. Go find them.
posted by cior at 7:59 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am always going to say that yes, you can afford therapy, somehow. Churches, meetings, colleges, very very sliding scale therapists, online, hotlines... someone. Professional therapists very often have several free sessions a week. Even on weekends. Can you afford to NOT get help?

Meds, when they work right, smooth out the jagged edges a bit. The lows will be less emergency crashy, the highs will be less maniac (if applicable) and the good times will be better. Depression is like a weight on your back and legs, and a film over your eyes and brain. The effects of depressing build up slowly till it seems normal, and you look around and wonder what the hell happened. Then, when you work through depression and start to heal, you will be astounded by how much better everything seems.

You've taken the first two steps: Admitting the problem, and started reaching out for help. Keep making steps forward, even if they are baby steps. If you fall or backslide, get back up and keep going forward. Cause a dozen + internet strangers believe in you and will help as best we can.

(If you happen to live in Houston, Dallas, or Atlanta, I know of some options you can try. )
posted by Jacen at 8:08 PM on January 10, 2014

Oh, man. I've been there, and it's awful.

Leaving my marriage, losing my best friend, and finding my church were all in the same month for me (December 2011). I really felt like I had no one. I tried the "stoically going it alone" thing and after many, many nights of crying myself ragged, I knew I had to do SOMETHING.

So I found a church, happened to sit next to a guy named Michael, and went to the after-service lunch with him and another guy, Adam, and Adam's six year old daughter. It was weird and awkward, but suddenly I had two people willing to invest in me - even if that meant simple conversation over lunch. Two (and a bit) years later, and both Michael and Adam (and Adam's family) are my close friends, and I have a whole congregation of people who would be here in ten minutes flat if I needed them.

As I was meeting all of them, I joined Twitter (because what says "lonely" like a Twitter account amirite?) and found people in my profession (I teach high school) to connect with. After a few months, I met a guy who wanted to do the same weird project I was starting, and we ended up as best friends, co-teaching our classes from across the country. The two of us have a small group of teachers who are now my constant companions on a messaging app...I'll leave it for a day and find 300 messages, some silly, some serious, and all about supporting and loving each other. Sometimes with rage faces.

I couldn't have been more lonely before all of that changed. But using the two networks I had at hand, Twitter and my community of faith (even though they didn't seem like options until I was desperate) have changed my life. For the first time in my life, I'm spoilt for choice on people who love me and who will be there for me, no matter what.

I could have never seen this from where I stood a few years ago...a place pretty similar to where you're standing now. I think at some level I believed I deserved to be unhappy because I just couldn't live up to the standard I'd internalised from other people's expectations of me. I stayed in a marriage where I was unloved, with someone I didn't love, mostly because I was afraid...of dying alone, of failure, of having missed out on Great Love, so instead I settled for Meh (at best). Your question really struck me because it's something I could have written a few years ago.

I wanted to be self-sufficient. And I've learned that self-sufficiency is really fucking overrated.

Oh, and here's the other thing about my church: I was able to go to counseling for about a year and a half for free. The two men who sat with me through it all are two of the dearest people in my life. They are the first people I have ever felt unconditional love from, even when they saw how fucked up I was/am. And after a year and a half, I'm a completely different person.

I'm not saying every church is my church (honestly, I'm really fucking blessed in that account), nor that every best friend made on the internet is as kick-ass as mine is (and again, he has changed my life in more ways than I could even list right now), but I do think that you can find those communities for yourself in the way you feel most comfortable. For me, church and social media were natural outlets when I needed help. Others have posted the ones that have helped them. Frankly, none of us knows what community might already be pulling you, and the hope is that something one of us says will spark your desire to explore or dig back in somewhere neglected.

So I know I'm rejecting your primary question. But it's because I think there is NO WAY you can just be a rock of self-sufficiency, always weathering the storm on your own. The only way to get through what you're describing, at least in my experience, is community. Whatever that community may be.

If you happen to be in the SF Bay Area, send me an email (my mefi name at gmail). Even if you're not in the SF Bay Area, feel free to email me if you want someone to talk to. I can't promise a quick response all of the time (I'm a teacher with a 3 hour commute) but I have been there and I know how it feels to be so utterly alone you feel like you're going crazy.

Much love. Hang in there.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:20 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Like several people here already say, the person you can turn to is yourself. There is a calm, strong inner core that you can learn to tap. It's hard, for sure, but sometimes you can reach a point where you are starving for support and no outside person can give you enough to fill the hole. Whatever they can do to help will not match what you were hoping or wishing to get, always leaving you disappointed and them vaguely frustrated that they couldn't be your superhero. It's nobody's fault, really, but you have to learn to turn to your inner core to sustain yourself. Sometimes I would imagine that inner core of myself as a separate person, and when I was really low I would give myself a mental hug or a pat on the back, and it really did help.

Therapy didn't do much for me - I suspect if one is lucky enough to pick the right therapist then it's completely worth it, but I didn't. Reading books and metafilter did a lot more for me. Heck, I had my chart read by an astrologer and it was way more insightful and helpful. I'm not advocating astrology - I'm just saying it's possible to find insight outside of a therapists' office.

This book really helped me feel less alone. I keep a stash of copies to give out to friends who are going through hard times. It is a small book, but there is always a poem or two that really hits the spot.

I think it's one of the steps of adulthood to come to the realization that there is no kind parental avatar who will intervene when things get truly rough. As children we get used to having a benevolent authority figure there to tell us the next step to take when we are confused, or rescue us when they see us struggling with a burden that is beyond our means (even if we didn't have a benevolent authority figure we are ingrained with the concept that we are supposed to have one). We reach adulthood and go out into the world and when life slaps us hard we instinctively crave that reassurance and comfort. We feel entitled to it. We may reach out to friends or a SO as a substitute, expecting someone will manifest those qualities for us. Surely someone will offer us a hug or take a break from their life to give us some focused attention. Maybe it seems like other people effortlessly get that support and we are denied. And then we get the cold shock of realizing that we are truly orphaned. People discover religion under such circumstances (this is not a bad thing).

What you crave is pure kindness. You can give it to yourself by mindfully doing nice things for yourself. Read good, nourishing books - like the poetry book - Pema Chodron would be a good author to look up. So many people have felt the same ache and they have written wonderful things to help! Give yourself breaks. Tell people "no" when they want things from you that cost too much for you to give. Give yourself permission to change old habits that were once okay but are now too much for you to maintain. Set boundaries that protect yourself. Find a form of exercise that works for you. Be your own friend and advocate. If you can do these things for yourself, you will instinctively guide yourself to a better place where you don't feel so isolated and lonely. You will guide yourself to make new, better friendships. You will seek help until you find something that works. Your path will come into focus and you will think to yourself, "I am unhappy doing Y all the time, and I am tired of being unhappy, and I think if I did X instead of Y, things might be better." And then you will do X, and the change will be scary. Maybe it will work and maybe it won't, but if it doesn't you will try something else. And things get better. Change gets easier. You learn to listen to yourself. You meet new people. You make more changes. It stops being as scary. Things get better.

That's how it went for me, anyway.
posted by griselda at 5:11 AM on January 11, 2014

I've been in a dark place and assumed that I had no one to turn to, that people in my life would turn away or judge me when I told them my struggles. I was embarrassed and lonely. My counselor encouraged me to turn to those people anyway. And you know what happened? They did not judge me, or walk away. They listened. They helped. They told me they loved me. One friend, who didn't know how else to help, simply invited me out for coffee every single Saturday for about two months. Somehow that was a huge help to me.

In other words: part of my depression was assuming that others didn't care about me. I was flat-out wrong about that. Others have given great and practical advice above, but I wanted to also say: you probably have more people in your life that care about you than you know.
posted by pril at 9:38 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Can this printer be saved   |   Boyfriend has garnished wages, can they garnish my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.