When You're Told 'You're Not Alone' With Mental Illness, but You Feel Like You Are
I read on The Mighty that “you are not alone.” I see the same message on other mental health websites and publications. And I know this sentence means we are not the only ones with mental illnesses and there are others who face the same struggles. In that sense, neither you nor I are alone.
I also read about how important it is to reach out to friends and family during trying times and how valuable it is to have a dependable support network. I read success stories and tales from the struggle of how friends and family have helped people through the worst of times.
That’s when I feel utterly alone.
You see, I live a very solitary existence and not by choice. My closest friends live 300 or more miles away, and so I rarely see them. And since my wife died a little more than two years ago, I have been alone in my daily life.
When you take care of someone with a terminal illness for three years, you tend to become isolated from even your casual friends and acquaintances. You get to know a lot of doctors, nurses, techs, and social workers. All of these people disappear from your life fairly quickly when your loved one dies. And since my wife died, I have lost my employment, our home, and our cats – everything that gave stability to our lives. When my wife was alive, her presence helped me in my struggle with depression. Since she’s been gone, I have missed not only her love, friendship, and support but also the comfort of having someone with me who knew of my struggle.
Now I go through life without much contact with people. Certainly depression causes people to isolate themselves. But there’s really very little opportunity for conversation or making friends at my no-skill jobs (I have cobbled together some employment). I live alone, so if I am not careful I might stay in bed all the time, except for the hours I have to be at work. And getting out of the house doesn’t decrease my loneliness any more than it decreases my depression. Going out to be among people — say, by going to a coffee house to read for an hour — is still extremely lonely when you don’t know anyone. I never met anyone new in a bar, back years ago when I went to bars, and I stay away from bars now because, well, I already have more than enough problems. And even if I were not still in mourning, I can assure you I would not be a candidate for online dating sites (really, I am not much of a catch these days). Don’t talk to me about church. I’ve been there plenty, and there are few kinds of feeling alone quite like feeling alone in church. Gyms? Oh please…
It is difficult to live your life in public when you don’t know any of the public.
And most weeks the longest conversation I have is with my therapist, but that conversation is limited strictly to certain topics and 50 minutes.
It is well-known that men in our society tend not to make new friends as they get older, and I and many others are reproducing that pattern, no matter how hard we try not to. So we can be very alone. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t many women who feel utterly alone also.
So I’d like to ask you: Do you know people who struggle with mental illness or who are grieving a loss, who may be alone? Mental illness is always lonely, and grieving a loss can leave one isolated for a very long time. Why not try checking in on those friends who might be having a very hard time with their losses, their illnesses, or their everyday trials? It might mean a lot to them.
Make the saying “you are not alone” into something real for them.
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Thinkstock photo by lekcej