For as long as I can remember, I have always flourished in small, close-knit environments. I grew up in a small Midwestern town, went to small schools and have often only spent time with a very small group of friends.
Then in 2011, I ran off to college where I spent my academic career bouncing through two of the largest schools in the nation. While my high school graduating class had roughly 200 students, I was suddenly surrounded by 40,000+ other individuals and to be honest, I was feeling affected socially. I watched helplessly as many of my friends flourished in their new, massive environment, and felt envious as I stumbled.
I went from being known and knowing everybody around me to feeling alone. Connecting with others and making friends became more and more difficult, to the point where I felt insanely anxious and self-aware of every move I made. My awkwardness was no longer approached with love by the people I knew, but as an uncomfortable chuckle I could only get out when trying to socialize.
And while I made a few connections, I still constantly felt paranoid. A majority of the time our conversations consisted of me urgently trying to think of my next speaking point and dying inside when any awkward silence hit. So most of the time after classes ended, while other girls grabbed a coffee, went out and made memories, I ran straight home to lie alone in my bedroom and binge Netflix.
If you are going through the same situation, I wish I could tell you that things get better, but that isn’t always the case. It has been a few years since I graduated, and since then I have worked in environments where I flourished socially and genuinely felt complete, and environments where I have never felt more alone and out of place. Honestly, no matter how much older and more confident you get these feelings don’t 100 percent go away, but one thing I have learned how to do is cope with them.
Feeling invisible or alone can be one of the most disheartening things you can experience, but you shouldn’t let it heavily impact your life. This week I wanted to take some time to chat with you about handling feelings of being invisible, loneliness and feeling like you don’t belong.
Because you are not invisible, you are valued by so many and you very much so belong. I promise you that.
Find Your Tribe
One way to build better connections and cope with these feelings of loneliness is to find your people. Do you have a hobby you enjoy, a fandom you can’t get enough of, or an idea you want to get out in the world? Try to find a club, group or organization around it or start something of your own!
I know some of you may be thinking “easier said than done,” and sure, I get that. Living in Dallas, I am fortunate enough to have plenty of social opportunities, clubs, and organizations to join, and I have truly made some great friendships along the way because of them. But one way that I have really found my “tribe” per se, is through the internet. By starting my blog and joining groups around my interests on Facebook, I have really diminished my silently nagging feelings of loneliness. I always have a group of wonderful people to chat with and share my questions, thoughts, and ideas to any time of the day, and I genuinely appreciate that. No matter if your new connections are just down the road or across the world, finding people who share your passions will help you feel seen and valued.
Focus On The People Who Are There
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is really easy to become obsessed with wanting perfection so much that you start taking the little moments you have for granted. In the past, while I wallowed in my pity party, feeling sad that every single person I knew wasn’t knocking each other down to chat with me, I failed to notice those people who actually were putting in an effort.
As time went by, I started to recognize and chat a bit more with so many different people like my building’s custodian who never failed to go out of his way to tell me “hello” and strike up a conversation in the morning, or the girl in my group project who always took the time to compliment my outfit and ask about my weekend.
Even though these interactions may seem tiny and meaningless, there is so much potential there. A common misconception I always believed about relationships is that you HAVE to feel some kind of undeniable cosmic bond, but in reality, a wonderful friendship can (and will) consist of small talk, brief moments, and yes, even awkward silences. Human relationships are complicated, but they really don’t have to be. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on building up friendships with the people who have put in an effort to learn more about you, even if it seems small.
Another thing I can’t stress enough is to not forget about maintaining relationships with the people you already know, like your family or old friends. In college, I became obsessed with building new relationships to fit my new environment, but at the end of the day, it was my Monday night phone calls with my mom and group texts with my best friends from high school that helped lift me up when I was feeling particularly lonely. Remember that everything doesn’t always have to be shiny and new to be great. Regardless if you have known them all your life or for one night, just find people who make you feel a little more whole and stick with them.
Look In The Mirror
I am going to be honest and open with you, my biggest undeniable fault is that I am very self-entitled; it is very embarrassing to admit, but it is extremely true. I am addicted to the feeling of instant gratification and convince myself that I deserve nothing but the best, but there are so many times I do limited work to make it happen. This is something I have been actively working to become more self-aware of and diminish, but regardless, that truth still remains.
Addressing this, in comes my first “OH!” moment. Have you ever had an “OH!” moment? I see it as a moment when you were thinking back on something that didn’t make much sense in the past, but suddenly as you begin to piece the puzzle back together everything adds up.
My moment was that I have been the one sabotaging my relationships.
I have had roommates who in retrospect were nothing but kind to me, but I had become so hyper-focused and judgemental over such small faults that I isolated myself and in turn missed out on some potential lifelong friendships. I have met people at parties who I meshed well with and we exchanged information, but because I refused to set my pride aside and be the first to reach out, I let a relationship slip out of my hands. Even in classes, rather than sitting next to and complimenting the girl whose shoes I was admiring from afar, I would sit as far away from everybody else as possible and then feel internally offended when nobody went out of their way to join me.
Some lessons are tough and hit you way after they happened, but knowing what I know now, I wish I had taken some more time to be more introspective and ask myself WHY I was having such a hard time socializing. As you try to build more genuine relationships, be as self-aware as possible and look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself if your behavior could be playing a part in sabotaging your social life and if you are currently being the kind of person you would want to be friends with. Nobody is perfect, but being more cognizant of how you are treating yourself and others makes a huge difference in your relationships and even your personal growth.
Embrace The Isolation
Ok, you guys, I’m not going to lie – as an adult, I have learned to LIVE for alone time. My most productive time of the day is at night when I isolate myself away from the world, put on a good face mask, snuggle up in bed and write up a storm.
During the day, however, it can be easy to fall into the classic high school conundrum of walking around the cafeteria with your lunch tray, desperately wishing to avoid looking like a loser sitting by yourself. But in reality, there are times when hiding in my office to eat my lunch alone is my favorite part of the day.
Although at first I was self-conscious, I learned to value my alone time and stop associating it with sadness. Now I use it as an opportunity to be productive, reflect, recharge or catch up on my side projects. While I don’t always do everything alone, those days when I do get to spend time with just myself and my thoughts gives me an opportunity to sit back, put in my headphones, and work on something I am truly passionate about. By the end of my break, I feel relaxed and reenergized.
Learn to value your alone time and embrace it as a positive. Growing up, my mom always told me that I needed to be my own best friend, and while I was a really crappy friend to myself throughout my school years, I am trying my hardest to rekindle the flame as an adult. Don’t be ashamed to go to a movie by yourself, start a new hobby, sit alone in a coffee shop or go on a solo shopping spree. You are the only person you will spend 100 percent of your life with, so make sure you are always nice to yourself.
While this has been a ton of information, I just want to wrap this up by reminding you of one thing: there is absolutely not a single soul in this world who has never experienced loneliness or some sense of isolation. The most confident and popular people have felt it, every single person you know has felt it, heck, even Angelina Jolie has felt it. If you are struggling with isolation, remind yourself that you are not alone in this. Pushing past the 4th wall of this blog, I want you to know that you will always have a friend in me and that I am always willing to talk.
How do you cope when you are feeling alone? Do you have any favorite ways to spend your alone time? Share your thoughts below!