My loneliness is killing me, (and I) I must confess I still believe (still believe). When I’m not with you I lose my mind. Give me a sign. Hit me, baby, one more time. — Britney Jean Spears
These iconic lyrics take on a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 quarantine.
During this time, we are forced even more than usual to face and reckon with our thoughts, fears, and truths. We think to ourselves, “I miss being able to see my friends and family,” “Miss Rona is trifling for making me cancel my trip,” “I will never complain about having to wait for a watered-down drink in a crowded bar ever again,” and of course “When can I have sex again? I’m dying!”
And that’s the least of our concerns.
In some ways, our loneliness is killing us.
In a recent episode of the podcast, “Unlocking Us,” Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General and author of “Together,” describes loneliness in two ways — from a scientific standpoint and from the perspective of everyday people.
Loneliness is scientifically defined as
…the gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you have.
The way in everyday life we describe and experience loneliness is more descriptive, with comments such as, “I feel like I’m carrying this entire load all by myself,” “I feel like if I disappear tomorrow, nobody would even care,” and “I feel like I’m invisible”.
I live by myself, and up until two days ago, I went seven days without being able to see anyone, and not for a lack of trying. My loneliness felt like a presence in my apartment that loomed over me. My need and desire for social and physical connection is something I confront and balance every day during this quarantine. My guess is that you may, too; even if you don’t live alone.
As gay men, we are not unfamiliar with loneliness growing up. It takes a while to find your queer tribe and it can take years of suffering in silence to get there.There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them won’t know you are gay, but the one that does, and accepts you, becomes a safe haven and oasis. Because of COVID-19 and social distancing, some of us have regressed to a journey through our own desert in search of an oasis of connection.
So, how do we cope?
Acknowledge the loneliness, don’t internalize it
I have an approach to manage my loneliness. When I recognize the feeling, I message 3 to 5 people whom I care about. A simple Hi, how are you? usually opens a line of communication and connection with at least one person within minutes. These virtual connections allow me to maintain my friendships during quarantine and relieve my loneliness, even if temporarily. It also reminds me that before too long, we’ll be able to hang out together again.
Meaningful connections with other people are an essential part of the human experience and our health. However, it is not uncommon for gay men to claim and believe that they do not need anyone to be happy. Of course learning to love your alone time, whether walking, streaming a movie, or reading a book, is a very good thing. However, it could also possibly stem from leading a closeted, secluded life that made it difficult to build full and honest connections with those around us.
Coming out provides not only a sense of liberation but also opens up all kinds of social opportunities. So too can the acknowledgment of loneliness. When we name our demons, we reclaim our power and ability to change them. We are not alone. We are all doing our best to maintain connections that keep life joyous and full.
Our self-talk can be overactive during this time. It has the potential to go to a dark place where we internalize false beliefs such as No one cares about me, I can’t get through this, or even, There is no point in continuing. To counteract these false beliefs, actively remember that this is temporary, that you are loved, and that there are people in your life who care about you and want to help. We help ourselves by letting others be there for us when we need them.
If you or anyone you know reaches a point where loneliness feels like despair, hopelessness, helplessness, or thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–8255 or the TrevorLifeline 1–866–488–7386 to receive immediate help and support.
Vulnerability is the road to connection
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. — Brené Brown
Our meaningful connections with others require honesty, trust, and vulnerability. To be emotionally and openly vulnerable is not weakness; it is a necessary show of courage. Vulnerability allows us to be authentic. It creates a pathway for us to release fear and shame from our heart, mind, and spirit. When we practice vulnerability with ourselves and others, we pave roads that lead to deeper, more fulfilling, and healing connections.
These connections can lift us up and guide us from dark, lonely places.
Escape the loneliness rut
Loneliness, and the monotony of life in quarantine, can put us in a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual state of stagnation. Change up your routine and escape this rut by incorporating some of the following suggestions, or coming up with your own.
Follow physical distancing ordinances in your area.
- Rent a bike and ride on a trail
- Go on a picnic with a view
- Take a walk in nature
- Go on a mural tour around town
- Take a scenic drive
- Create a virtual takeout food tour week with friends
- Get one or multiple plants
- Rearrange your living space
- Get creative (draw, paint, craft, cook, sing, dance, etc.)
- Watch a movie or show that provides a different range of emotion — joy, suspense, fantasy, excitement, nostalgia, etc.
- Create a care package for a friend or family member
- Write messages of gratitude to others and/or yourself
- Meditate or engage in a mindfulness activity
- Journal or write in free-flow form for 5 minutes
- Pray or speak into the universe
Managing loneliness, along with all of our other emotions, may seem difficult or impossible at times. To help in this process, spend a few minutes reflecting on one or more of the following questions:
- What are some of the emotions that I am feeling right now? (It may help to write them down.)
- With whom do I feel comfortable talking to about this? Or Who would be sympathetic about what I feel if I were to share openly with them?
- What place or activity outside of my home usually helps to distract me in a positive, healthy, and safe way?
- If I were to need help from a professional, am I open to seeking that help? If not, what would help me get closer to reaching out?
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Crisis Text Line — text HELLO to 741741
- Suicide Prevention: Signs and Symptoms from The National Institute of Mental Health
Armando Sanchez is a Mexican American gay man and social worker living in Austin, TX. This post originally ran on Medium.