A man once came to see me. He was very depressed indeed. He then told me his story. He had suddenly been made redundant from a very good and well paid job in a famous publishing house he had been working in for many years. At the same time his relationship was not functioning well. Between him and his partner they had four small children. They were not married but lived in a beautiful country house he had bought from the earnings in his job. His partner did not work, so he was sole earner. One day she had enough of him and ended their twelve year relationship and told him to leave his house. According to the law he had to as she had the children and they had to have a roof over their heads. She thread him out. He now had no job, no home and had been forced to move into the cheapest accommodation he could find. It was a bedroom in a house. From a four bed country home, family and highly esteemed and paid job, he was reduced to no job, no money, no family around him and no home, all within one year. Their friends sided with her, his family were not close to him and he had no job to go to. That's just how the dice of life fell for him.
When he came to see me he said he could not understand how he had arrived at the place he found himself in after years of building career, family and home of which he had lost all. He described his loneliness to me which sums it all up very well and it was this: He told me he felt totally alone in the world now with no-one and now to turn to. He had no one to talk to, cry to about all the loss he had experienced and no one with who he could express his feelings of utter destruction. He said when he walked in the streets he felt furiously alone. He would see everyone else going about their life, getting on with the usual daily stuff, work, going out, children, friends, going to the pub with friends, going and going home to their families. These were all the normal things he was so unfortunately missing. He said there was an empty hole inside him now. He said he had no way of sharing all he was experiencing and had to deal with every bit of it alone. He said it was the loneliest place in the world anyone could be in wandering this planet alone and becoming more isolated and excluded from the world with every passing day. Each day's experience confirming more and more how alone in this world he was. This, in turn made him feel even more alone and more depressed and so the cycle continued until he did not want to go out and face a world that was too painful to see. At home in his little room he felt safe and in different pain, but that pain was better than the pain of feeling so alone when he was out. He was grieving badly for all the loss and grieving alone, with no one to share it with and no one to comfort him. He wanted his old life back, but it was gone. He said he felt he had been deserted by the world in a cruel way and was left to cope alone with all his terrible feelings of pain, loss, humiliation, shame, depression and his utter loneliness. He said to me he did not have one person in the world to talk to. He described how, during the day he went through the motions of looking for work, but was feeling so alone and so depressed that it was very difficult to get motivated. He felt no one cared in the world and he could not cope with it all alone.
He described wondering the streets during the day obsessively people watching, which caused him immense pain. He described going back to his small room, alone where he felt no one knew or cared about his terrible situation. He told me his loneliness at this low point was so unbearable he got a referral from his doctor to see me. He then came into therapy. Slowly he deal with coming to terms with his experience. He started to build a life again and eventually trained as a teacher. Occasionally he met a woman he related to, and slowly began a new life. He saw his children and learned to live with the situation of not living with them. All of this only after his depression was better and he was able to start functioning again. Life is far from perfect. He had learned a great deal from his experience, a great deal, It was a heavy price to pay, but mainly he learned he had courage and strength to take the steps to help himself. He overcame a huge and traumatic experience and used it always as a humbling learning curve of life, because there was a great deal to learn from the experience. One thing to learn is that it is not the experience itself that matters as much as the way that experience is handled. I think that is true of any experience.
I have told this story because it represents much that generally surrounds loneliness and depression. It is a good example of what we will address here. I am certain there are many variations on this story, but this touched my heart at the time and seems to be quite appropriate now.
There is no doubt that for many people, the experience of loneliness is an intensely painful experience that they live with and also feel out of control of. There may be many reasons for loneliness, but the emotions that go hand in hand with it are often very similar. Also, there is little doubt that there are many people in the world who are feeling intension loneliness and isolation. If you are reading this article because you are feeling extremely lonely or because the loneliness has triggered off feelings of depression, you will understand very well what I am about to write in this series of articles.
Two questions I have are these: Firstly, is depression the result of loneliness? And the second question is whether loneliness is a result of depression? I will of course address these questions a little later.
As far as I have seen from my own work, both work together and each contributes to a worsening of symptoms in the other. If depression is due to isolating oneself when depressed, will the feelings of loneliness become more acute? Yes. If loneliness is due to severe symptoms of depression and the inability to be social, then the depression could become more acute and unfortunately may become chronic because of spending so much time alone.
In my experience all of the above is true. Many people became depressed as a result of their on going experience of loneliness and the painful feelings that surface as a result. In the same way a person who isolates themselves from the world due to severe symptoms of depression will also be feeling acutely alone and detached from the world around them.
One of the problems I have seen is that when a person is depressed they do not want to socialize. They want to be alone as it becomes difficult to be amongst people, it's easier and more comfortable to be alone. Perhaps you can refer to what I am describing here. Unfortunately the situation can spiral out of control only too easily, where the loneliness becomes so unbearable that it affects the symptoms of depression which in turn make it even more difficult to socialize and more difficult to be positive.
The very nature of loneliness means a person feels outside of society in some way, not connected, not familiar, not loved, not cherished, no one cares about them, that they stand in this world alone, that there is no one to turn to , no one to share life experiences with, pain and joy. Perhaps, no friends, no family, no one to listen or hear them and no one to validate them. The list could go on forever, but what is common is the feeling of pure aloneness, isolation and loneliness in the world.
The problem is that if loneliness is triggering a depressive episode then it is difficult to socialize. So what comes first the chicken or the egg?
In this particular series of articles I am going to attempt to dissect the whole problem of loneliness and see whenever it is possible to come up with solutions and alleviate the pain often associated with loneliness, including depression.
What does it mean when a person says they feel such utter loneliness it can sometimes feel unbearable? And how do those feelings that go hand in hand with the experience manifest themselves? What has loneliness to do with depression? Everything!
Can we feel lonely when we are not alone? Yes, many people say they do. Many people will say that even when they live with someone they can feel very alone when the relationship is having problems and people stop communicating. This is very interesting I think because many people who are alone and lonely assume those people who are not alone, do not feel loneliness. Unfortunately this is not true. I have worked with men and women in a relationship, with children who feel completely and utterly alone in this world.
Why would that be?
Most of us need to feel needed, loved, cherished, wanted, understood, validated and feel as though we matter in this world. We want to know that we share our world with others who care and understand everything about us. When these things are absent in our life and we often start to feel very alone in the world. It would also seem that the lack of the above can become contributing factors towards serious feelings of loneliness and isolation which can then develop into depression.
Feeling alone in a relationship is also very common. When two people do not share their world but crave understanding and validation from the other, it can be a very lonely place indeed leaving a person feeling very isolated. Whether alone or not, people often describe loneliness as a feeling of being on a desert island and no matter where they look, there is no one to turn to.
So, is it a feeling of connection that is needed? Is it a feeling of validation or honor that makes the difference between loneliness and belonging? Is it feeling loved by another or sharing a good relationship with another? Is belonging to a group, whether that group is family, work, a social group or something else?
Many people say that at work and amongst colleagues, they feel alone. The same can be said for being with a group of friends. A person can feel removed and separate from the rest of the group and so, feel alone. I have heard all of these explanations in my work over the years where people describe feeling on the outside looking in, and in that place feeling butly alone.
There are many thousands or even millions of people who live alone, have few friends, have little or no family, work alone, exist alone, or exist in a lonely environment. For example a single mother with a young baby who sees no one during the day could find the experience of motherhood difficult and lonely if she has no one to turn to, no one to support, help or love her. It is very easy in this situation to become depressed and sink into a place where she feels so bad and so depressed, she does not even want to speak to anyone. She then feels even more alone, because of course, she is. Of course when we isolate ourselves, we automatically put ourselves in the very place we actually hate most. Despite depression often feet so bad because of the insolvency which seems impossible to avoid, or is it?
When life is like I have graphically described above, feelings may slide into not being able to face the world and it is only too easy to slip into a state of depression that is difficult to cope with. It is not a happy state I am writing about, but unfortunately it is a state that exists for many thousands of people. Ignoring it does not make it go away. Here, I do not want to ignore it, I want to attempt at least to answer my own questions as best I can and better still, to find some possible solutions.
I do have some explanations and some solutions that exist in unusual places, so please stay with me. These solutions are not to be found in anything external (like other people), the external does come in to play after courses of course, but what I am referring to are internal solutions that come directly from you and that will open the way for you to start engaging with the world around you in a happier way.