I’ll admit something: I love being alone, I hate being lonely.
How can two synonyms mean something so different, though?
The way I see it, solitude (the state of being alone) is a choice, while loneliness comes from mismanaged solitude.
I’m a pretty obvious introvert, have been for as long as I can remember. For me, being around people (even my own family members) for too long can leave me feeling exhausted and stressed. I need some time to myself each day to decompress from all the noise and tedium of the day. Some days caring for my mom are more stressful than others, and just ten or fifteen minutes by myself in the evening right after my dad gets up and before he gets ready to go to work are enough for me to get my brain back into a more relaxed state of mind and I can proceed with our usual nighttime routine. Days when I actually have the house to myself are rarer and rarer now, but when it does happen, I actually treasure the solitude that comes with it. When I’m alone, and the noise around me goes silent, I feel at peace. For those brief moments or days when I don’t have to answer to someone else, I feel comfortable in my own skin. When I’m out around others, that comfort goes away, and I start to feel awkward. It’s not as bad around family members, but I’ve always hated that feeling of awkwardness that seems to follow me wherever I go. So, many times when there’s an opportunity for me to spend a little time to myself, I take it. I like those mornings when all I have to do is wake up, feed the dog, put on some coffee, and then drink it while watching some morning programming and/or reading my emails or checking out the morning news online. I like those mornings when my parents decide to go for a ride around the Florida backroads in the Jeep and they let me sleep in. I like being able to experience things alone: opportunities to read while both the dog and I are sitting in the front yard, her enjoying the sun on her fur and me near some shade, preferably in a chair, reading a few pages from whatever book I’m reading; or being able to cook a dish just for myself (not as often these days, but when my parents would vacation and I’d have the house to myself, I’d get adventurous with what I’d cook and try out new recipes or indulge in things that were a little too expensive otherwise for more than one person, like some fish or a cut of steak).
Sometimes I dread the prospect of someday living alone; not so much for the fear of having to defend myself from intruders or people with bad intentions, but more because I fear that I’d be a terrible housekeeper on my own or that my habit of sometimes hoarding things would rear its ugly head. (Thankfully, I have managed to deal with some of my hoarding issues on my own and my own clutter is much smaller now than it was when I was younger.) But I also wonder if living alone would eventually turn into loneliness? Would I eventually crave to have the company of another person in my life (either a roommate or a significant other), at the cost of being able to set my own rules and routines without having to answer to anyone else? And that gives me a little bit of anxiety, too.
Solitude is something that can be managed, nurtured. Even the loneliest of hermits, I think, sometimes have to leave the hermitage and get a sniff of the outside world. Otherwise, that solitude turns into cabin fever, and not a lot of us can handle that without going crazy every once in a while. I like solitude, but I also like going to restaurants on occasion and reveling in the camaraderie with my family (because I’m usually dining out with family) over good food and a friendly atmosphere. I also like to visit my brother and sister-in-law and getting to see my niece as she’s grown from a newborn baby to a very active toddler, and I look forward to seeing her grow even more. I like going on walks with my dog and seeing the trees that fill the area in all their greenery, or even just joining her on the front lawn and reading a good book in the sun.
Loneliness is one of the darkest emotions a human being can feel. We are by nature very social creatures (even if introverts and extroverts choose to socialize in different ways). There was a period of time, about five years ago, where I had cut myself off from the outside world for the most part, where I didn’t use the Internet for about three years or so, beginning in the middle of 2012 (which had been precipitated by some virus hitting our home computer, and it left me very stressed out and anxious, like it was my fault). During that time, which was basically a sabbatical, I missed out on my best friend finding the love of her life, their wedding, and the birth of their son. I missed out on finding out how many of my old friends were doing. I missed out on the Yarn Harlot and her adventures. I missed out on a few Eurovisions, too. During that period where I was cut off, I remember feeling incredibly lonely and sad. I was content to stay away from technology during that time, and it felt nice not being addicted to a screen the whole time. But it also left me feeling incredibly, utterly alone and not in a good way. I felt like I was out of the loop and disconnected from the world and the people in it. And that feeling of disconnection was what was getting to me.
I slowly started coming out of it, when my dad got his laptop and decided to give me his tablet in 2015 (which was an Android that originally belonged to my brother…long story; and yes, that was the tablet that crapped out on me and forced me into a temporary hiatus last year, and oh boy did that feeling of disconnect come back, and quickly). I was very wary about where I went online and was content just lurking and finding out what was going on. I didn’t get my own email address again until January 2017 (many months after talking to my best friend for the first time in about five years), and not long after that was when I joined Ravelry. It took a few days before I made my first posts there, but there I found a community of crafters like me and I started opening up again. Two months later came this blog, which has come to serve as much of a platform for self-expression just as much as it has for tracking my knitting projects. My Tumblr came about in June that year as a way to keep more in touch with my best friend, who is very active on there, and has also become a platform for self-expression. Last October I took a dive into Facebook, although I have opted to keep that particular part of my social media very private and just for people I’ve known personally throughout the years, people who I’ve been longing to reconnect with. And then Instagram the following month, where we chronicle our lives and interests through our camera lenses. It has been a great way to connect with other knitters and crocheters outside of Ravelry, and when I see a project I like, it’s a great way to offer instant feedback to those who create. Or when I see a book pictured that I’ve read or am reading, I can give my input on that particular book. I don’t get many opportunities to go out into the world in person, but technology has allowed the world to come to me. Blogging has introduced me to a very interesting array of people who all share a common passion of letting others into their own little corners of the planet, talking about life or the things they love. For me, knowing that people are genuinely interested in what I have to say makes me feel a little less lonely. So, while I physically spend a lot of my time alone, these days I’m not feeling particularly lonely, whether it’s commenting on a fellow crafter’s handiwork or a fellow blogger’s latest post, or having a dialogue of political discourse or venting with a friend over messenger, or allowing my silly, nerdy side to come out over Tumblr. (In case you are wondering, I am not active on Twitter, for a myriad of reasons that I’ll keep private, but I do lurk on there, reading friends’ Tweets on occasion.) Especially in my last post here, which was admittedly quite a bit of doom and gloom (but doom and gloom that needed release), it felt nice knowing that you all cared about what I was feeling and willing to offer your own thoughts and advice on caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, and that I truly wasn’t alone in my experience. Technology used in the wrong ways can dumb us down and rob us of our humanity like in Fahrenheit 451, but used wisely, it can connect us in amazing ways that wouldn’t have been possible even thirty, much less a hundred, years ago…and that makes the world a little less lonely.
So, yeah: I love being alone, but I hate being lonely. It takes a lot of work to balance the two, but I feel like I’ve managed to manage my desire for solitude to the point where I am content that it won’t turn into loneliness. Not as long as I find ways to make connections and maintain them.