Learning to embrace loneliness (paper)

It took a pandemic to wake me up to myself, embrace being lonely and learn from it.

A year ago, loneliness felt unnatural. I was living in a house with 10 girls, socializing in my classes, comfortable in my two-year relationship and involved in an outgoing social scene. I assumed I was supposed to be an extrovert. I was supposed to enjoy the constant human interactions and surface-level conversations because this was college, and college was the time to surround yourself with people.

But there is something shallow to this. I was a shell of a person, lacking the self-love, independence and moments of sheer loneliness that can lead a human being to self-discovery. It took a pandemic to wake me up to myself, embrace being lonely and learn from it.

I am an out-of-state student from Fort Worth, Texas, and when COVID-19 began to threaten our country in March 2020, I was unable to return to my home in Athens. I went from living in a loud house and spending most moments accompanied by other people to joining Zoom calls in the solidarity of my childhood bedroom. My parents were my only source of human interaction.

This was depressing at first. Like most people, and especially young people, I experienced selfish feelings of victimhood. I was robbed of important summer internships and spending one of my last few semesters as a college student with a boyfriend three states away and friends spread across our anxiety-shaken country.

But after a couple of months, I began to redefine this period of isolation and confusion as an opportunity for self-reflection and clarity. I presume this pandemic has brought on moments of loneliness for most people around the world. And while being lonely is generally perceived as a negative feeling, a hardship on human mental health, it is then when we can hear ourselves the loudest. You just have to be willing to listen.

Around July, despite the tragic talk of loss, fear and distress, I realized that I could finally hear myself think, and she had important things to say.

I spent the quiet, heated summer days with myself. I started meditating and manifesting, reflecting on my future without the loud buzz and input of everyone else. I was doing freelance work and noticed a new sense of vulnerability and distinctness in my writing. I reconnected with my family, recognized meaning in deep conversations and found myself fully present to life.

I no longer fed off of the empty validation I once searched for in others. When I was forced away from the noise, from the quick-paced college environment and shallow lifestyle of fleeting connections, I realized I had been hiding from who I am and who I want to be.

While being lonely can deter the soul, it can also fill it up in ways that many young people fear to explore.

This year has been hard on humanity, and I continue to grieve for the losses brought on by this virus. Yet sometimes it takes adversity to spark discovery, and it is important to reflect on the moments in life where we wake up to ourselves.

Now loneliness feels natural, for I have embraced it and continue to learn from it.