There was a time where the idea of going to the cinema on my own scared me. Not only the cinema, I perceived doing anything alone as a synonym of loneliness.
I could not understand why I felt that way and the idea of being seen in public by myself made me feel so anxious. Would people think I was a loser? That I couldn’t call on anyone who’d want to spend the time with me for a cup of tea? Would they think I was that boring that no one would willingly want to share my company?
These were the thoughts that would go through my head whenever I contemplated the idea of going out by myself, wich ultimately prevented me from doing so.
Mind you, running errands, paying a bill, going to the post office, those activities all seemed right to perform alone so why sitting at a cafe with a book felt so wrong?
I began to realise that from an early age I had been conditioned, not only through media (the stereotype of the kid in school who is always alone and by default a loser played a strong part in my idea of what was socially acceptable) but also because I come from a large family where being alone was something I had never really experienced.
For me happiness meant having a large group of friend, having someone to share activities with, someone to call on when need be.
It took me a while to understand that being alone does not equal loneliness or unhappiness. I learned the hard way that loneliness is a feeling one carries with oneself while being alone is just a state of being in space. The former can be painful and destructive while the later can give you room for reflection and growth.
At one point in my life, not long ago, I was in a failing relationship which lasted 8 years. A relationship in which, despite being together, I felt lonely for the most part.
Physically, I was surrounded at all time, I was never alone, I had someone to go to the cinema with, to go for a meal with or out for a cup of tea. People looking at us would assume we had it, you know…Happiness, but it was a facade. Deep down we both were unhappy, both dealing with our own issues and unable to reach one another. Loneliness had become an armor under wich we hid our pain and sorrow, unable to connect.
It had gotten so bad that I could not ask for help. I could not reach out to my best friends and tell them “Hey, things are not good. I need a break. I want out” I could not reach out to them because being alone was more shameful than being lonely. From the outside looking in I had it all, and I could not bring myself to break that perfect image and let them see what was really going on. I could not admit to them, and let alone to myself that worse than being alone was to be with someone and yet being lonely and miserable anyway.
When I finally got the courage to get out of that relationship, I promised myself that I would rather be alone than in “false company” and I use the term false rather than bad because making mistakes is not a bad thing while I consider not being honest with yourself is.
Meeting my partner Tom was rather unexpected and I had planned on being single for a while before seeking anyone new, but certain things just happen without your control, things like falling in love, especially when it then all fall into place.
Nowadays I work from home as a freelancer Illustrator and Game Artist. In a way, I am forced to be alone now. I often miss the social aspect of working in an office, the excitement of coffee breaks and meeting new people in a safe environment.
However, this life and work style have helped me tremendously with coping and differentiating being alone and being lonely. I will admit I still have to force myself to go out and do things by myself and not think that someone might judge my lack of company. I find carrying a book or a sketchpad with me at all time helps with the anxiety.
I often spend my entire week with barely seeing anyone and yet I’m comfortable with it. I don’t feel lonely at all. The more I am alone the more I get to know myself, and I think I get to be a better person for when I am surrounded by other. I still have shortcomings and things I say wrong, but when you spend an entire day in a room drawing with only silence and the sound of pen on paper you began to appreciate silence and become a better listener for it.
I don’t feel like I always need or have to talk when I’m with Tom or my friends for example. I am ok with silence now.
In a society where you gain status by the amount of things you possess and the number of likes you get, I find being comfortable in your own body and space, thus meaning enjoying your very own company in solo mode to be one of the most precious gifts we can make to ourselves.