What Does It Mean to Be Lonely?

I haven’t posted in a while. And that’s because I haven’t written in a while. Instead, I have been meeting new people and spending time with old, I’ve been working and working out. I have been traveling on the weekends, settling into a new apartment, exploring Pereira’s downtown and slowly going crazy. These past several weeks my calendar has been full, which I thought would have been a good thing, until I woke up one day completely disconnected from the joy I had been so in touch with just a month ago and realized that it’s not.

At one point, in the midst of this chaotic schedule, I stopped sleeping and spent a week running on a 1:00 – 5:30 a.m. sleep schedule. At first, my students laughed at the bags under my eyes and my excessive yawning in class. By the end of the week, though, they were coming up to me asking if I was tired. And then if I was sick. And then if I was okay. I said yes, I was just having trouble sleeping, and thought nothing more of it.

One Friday night, I was sitting with a new Colombian friend in a bar. I told him I had had a good week but hadn’t slept well. He immediately jumped in and explained to me that insomnia often has emotional roots. What was really going on? “Nothing,” I explained, “I’m fine.” Fine doesn’t work for Colombians. They see through every single excuse and they aren’t afraid to tell you. Different issues I had been dealing with throughout my adventures flashed through my head. Family? No. Being out of control? No. Having my voice? No. I was lost.

“Lucy,” he said, “you are away from your family, your friends. Do you miss them?” I laughed as I translated his Spanish words in my head and scoffed at the idea that homesickness could be what was troubling me. “No. I mean yes, I miss them, but it’s normal for me to be far away. I’ve lived away from home for five years. This isn’t new. I’m not lonely. That’s not what this is about.” He assured me he was there if I needed to talk more. I thanked him for his offer and changed the subject.

I continued the evening feeling agitated. The feeling carried over into the next morning and bled into the evening and the following day. Finally, on Monday, I started the morning with a meditation focused on resistance, something I had tried earlier the previous week as I noticed my heightened agitation. Nothing had come up in previous sessions – most of the time I dozed off because I hadn’t been sleeping, but that day, something did.

Writing. I hadn’t been writing. That had been my main form of processing over the past several months and by pushing that aside I had stopped reflecting. I had been staying busy in almost an addictive way as an attempt to avoid a truth that I didn’t want to accept. Something told me the activity that I was avoiding the activity that I needed to do so I dragged myself to a coffee shop that morning and as I sat down, alone for the first time in what felt like forever, out of nowhere, I began to cry. All at once, it hit me. My friend had been right. I was lonely.

That is what I had been afraid to admit. I was surrounded by foreign teachers who always wanted to hang out and had spent the past week (or several weeks) with a schedule packed full of activities in an attempt to make Colombian friends. All of that should have equated to feeling being connected to others but guess what? It didn’t. I was still lonely.

The views in Medellín, Santa Rosa and Manizales, which were some of the only benefits that came from staying excessively busy. 

My brain spun to find answers to the situation that didn’t quite make sense. Maybe I was missing the connection that I had with my family and a couple of close friends at home? The people here were still new and so was the city. I hadn’t yet found a best friend, a ‘person’ here. I told myself I needed that. But that kind of connection doesn’t just happen right away, I reminded myself. It takes time to build up and develop a sense of understanding and a sense of trust. I hadn’t been here long enough. I wasn’t at that place with anyone. But I was trying so hard find a shortcut to make that connection happen.

So then I changed my story in my head, I was missing a true connection with others, and went down that mental tangent. And then, of course, as I was spinning that story, simultaneously listening to Apple Music on shuffle, a song popped up that I’ve never heard called You’re the Cure, by Farewell Milwaukee. A small voice appeared in the back of my mind. And I started laughing. And then I swore. And then I called my mom, Maureen, because she always knows what to say.

On the phone I purged my whole story about being agitated and feeling lonely and not having a best friend and being alone to her. She listened, with her impeccable ability to see right through 10 minutes (or more) of me talking in circles and find the main point, and responded with a statement that hit the nail on the head. “Lucy,” she said, “often times we feel lonely when we disconnect from ourselves.” So I paused as her message lined up exactly with the coincidentally accurate song from minutes before. Thanks to her wisdom, in less than a minute, everything was clear.

I had spent the several weeks 110% disconnected from myself. I traded my precious writing time for coffee meetings. I traded my decompression time after work for extended conversations in my apartment’s kitchen – afraid I would miss out on something by recharging in my room. I texted too much in an attempt to fill my calendar with plans. I didn’t read. I didn’t write. I didn’t breathe. I acted out of impulse. Out of fear. I was so afraid to be alone.

So now, I have a confession to make. It might be startling. It might go against everything you think you know about me. You might, like many people before, not believe me. But I need to be honest.

I am an introvert.

No, this does not mean I am “shy and reticent” person like the dictionary wants people to believenless you consider someone who runs around downtown Colorado Springs in a leopard print onsie shy. Instead, what it means is that I need time alone to recharge so I don’t go insane. Introverts, rather than getting their energy from outward stimulation, like large groups of people, get their energy from themselves. Even with that knowledge, instead of honoring that part of me, I kept exhausting myself in a desperate attempt to not be physically alone. I kept running the track in my head that told me if I was alone then I would miss out on something and not get the full Colombian experience. I keep comparing myself to those who live their lives doing everything they can to avoid being alone whether they are simply extroverted and enjoy it, or like me, are running scared.

I need to remind myself that the best 48 hours of my life were spent on a beach, alone. Some of the best weeks of my life were spent traveling through Spain, alone. And some of the most powerful months of my life have been spent bouncing from country to country and city to city, this year, alone.

Being alone does not mean that you are lonely. It just means you are by yourself. And these past weeks have reminded me that you can feel lonely even when you are not alone. For me, I often feel less lonely alone than I do with others, especially if there isn’t a true connection. Welcome to life as an introvert. Because really, like the song said, I am the cure, I have to be my own best friend whether or not I magically find a person here or not. And even if I am fortunate enough to find someone with whom a relationship is effortless, I still need to continue to be my own best friend.

In the meantime, I have to stop hoping that quantity of social interactions will, by process of elimination, lead to quality. Forcing friendships, forcing a full calendar, and resisting my much-cherished Lucy time is not healthy because, as an introvert, it is harder to spend countless hours being with somebody just to numb the feeling of being alone than it is to actually be alone.

I miss my family and my close friends. I miss people who I knew, without a doubt, had my back and whose back I had as well. But more than anything these past few weeks, I have missed myself.

So while my friend was right that I was lonely, the cause was exactly the opposite of what he had been thinking. My kind of lonely didn’t fit the definition, “sad because one has no friends or company,” which, in case you were curious, is how the dictionary defines loneliness. I was lonely because I was trying to do too much, meet too many people, have too many plans. The solution for my current state was the exact opposite of what the definition said I was lacking. I needed to be alone.

I need to fully accept, and embrace, my introversion because it is who I am and there is nothing I can do to change it. An extrovert’s costume will never fit me, as much as I sometimes I wish it did. I need to reconnect with myself. I need to read, because I love it. Meditate and do yoga, because it calms me down. And most importantly, write, because more than anything, it helps me process. I need to breathe and live my life and take breaks and recharge and give myself personal days every once in a while, because, really, new friends, a country filled of adventures and a full calendar just aren’t enjoyable on an empty tank.


My view upon arriving in Marsella, Colombia

With this new realization (more like a reminder of an old realization), I woke up one morning, grabbed a book, a journal and my headphones and hopped on a bus to Marsella – a little pueblo that I had heard of but knew nothing about. For the first time in two months I was adventuring alone again. A few speed bumps aside, the day was wonderful and a fantastic reminder that some days, and some adventures, are just better spent alone.