I had a little tea party this afternoon at three
‘Twas very small, three guests in all, ‘Just I, myself and me.
Myself ate all the sandwiches while I drank all the tea.
‘Twas also I who at the pie and passed the cake to me.
– Jessica Nelson North
I read this poem the other day, and my first thought wasn’t ‘oh, one little girl ate all the sweet goodies’; it was ‘when does alone turn to lonely?’
That struck me as strange. I mean the little girl in the poem is ‘alone’. Sure, she might have a teddy and a doll or two at the same tea party, but she’s playing by herself. It’s fun and imaginative and nowhere does it sound like she’s lonely.
When does alone turn to lonely?
I’ve been alone many times. I like my solitude. I’m an introvert, and being alone recharges me. Being alone is also great for exploring the worlds inside my head so I can write too. But, I’ve been alone for more often than I’ve been lonely.
And I have been lonely.
When I think the word ‘lonely’ a strong image comes to my head. It’s a crowded room. Everyone is laughing, chatting and brightly coloured. But at the centre is me. In the midst of the movement of the crowd, I’m still. Stationary. I’m one tiny speck of stillness that no one else touches or comes near.
So when does alone turn to lonely? I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or whoever it is that can interpret and diagnose medically or scientifically. I only know what I’ve experienced.
Being lonely can be crippling. It’s an isolation that is far, far more than simply being away from other people. Loneliness is plagued by self-doubt and an overwhelming sense of insignificance. I am not important. I can’t make a difference. I can’t complete my dream. When these thoughts kick in, loneliness moves into my life.
Loneliness is like that non-rent-paying-all-the-food-eating tenant who just won’t move out. He sticks around and keeps reinforcing these feelings of inadequacy and insignificance. Fighting with him just doesn’t work. It just leaves you in tears wondering why you are even here in the first place.
There is only one way I know to beat him. And sometimes it is as hard as a cold turkey fix for a bad habit. Focus on something away from myself and direct my attentions on something bigger. Find a cause to champion. The first step doesn’t have to be huge. Just bigger than ‘just you’. Cook a meal for a neighbour. Walk the dog for an elderly friend. When we have a cause, we’re busy, forward-looking and excited
Strangely if I make ‘me’ goals it doesn’t work. ‘I’m going to walk every morning’ may have the same physical benefits as ‘I’m going to walk Mrs M’s dog every afternoon’, but there is one huge difference. Walking for me, still leaves me feeling lonely. Walking Mrs M’s dog makes me feel significant. I am important for her. I am doing something she is unable to do.
Alone becomes lonely when we lose purpose and significance. Steering yourself towards a purpose is not easy. Loneliness strips away confidence, and there will be stumbled steps along the way. Days when the self-doubts return to wrap their arms around you. But it is possible to return from loneliness. Look for a purpose. Find a passion. Discover your drive.
I like being alone. I do not like being lonely. And I don’t intend to go back there.