I want to share a secret with you. Like many women my age, I struggle with feelings of loneliness. Some days I just feel a little isolated from the world. Other days -- well, I don't like to talk about those. Let's just say that there are times when the quiet corridors of my mind are a dangerous place to wander. As I walk, I see doors to little dusty rooms, holding sharp memories. Worse are the big brass doors that hold my fondest memories. These barriers stop me from spending too much time in the past, when every day was filled with my family, friends and laughter.
As the founder of the Sixty and Me community, I am luckier than most. I am surrounded by 50,000 women that I respect and love. But, as many women know all too well, contact is not the same as companionship and interaction is not the same as intimacy.
In this respect, I imagine that I am not so different from other boomer women. In many ways, we are more "connected" than ever. We have hundreds of Facebook friends. We are connected to the world through our computers, phones and tablets. In other ways, we have never been so isolated or alone. Our families have moved to the four corners of the earth, our careers are ending and our friendships are changing along with our roles in society. We are the most connected generation of women in the history of the planet. We are also the loneliest.
As someone who has struggled with loneliness for 15 years, I know how hard it is to find help. Even admitting that you feel lonely is a challenge. So, I hope that you accept this advice in the spirit that it was offered -- with love and a genuine desire for you to find the companionship that you deserve.
Addressing the Stigma of Loneliness
Loneliness is like debt -- almost everyone has it, but, we would rather confess to having an affair or stealing than admit it. Acknowledging that we are lonely forces us to face our darkest fears. It asks us to turn a mirror on our own lives at a time when we feel our most vulnerable. For older people, the sting of loneliness is twice as sharp. Every day, the media bombards us with images of the "lonely senior." By admitting that we feel lonely, we feel like we are becoming a ghost, in the eyes of others and ourselves. It is easier to hide than to disappear.
There is no shame in feeling lonely. In fact, the first step to reconnecting with the world is to reconnect with yourself, honestly and without reservation. You are a wonderful person, filled with dreams, passions and experiences. But, before you shine to the world, you must light a candle in your heart. You must believe that you have something unique to share with others. I know that you do, because, in talking to thousands of women in my community, I haven't met one that didn't teach me something. The world needs you.
Don't let the stigma of loneliness hold you back. You have been strong your whole life. Now, it's time to accept your vulnerability. Tell yourself that feeling lonely is not normal. It is not acceptable. It is not a "normal" part of the aging process. Loneliness thrives in the dark and silent corners of our minds. Isn't it time that you lit a candle in your heart? Isn't it time to hope and dream again?
Are You Lonely or Alone?
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. Unfortunately, the way that we spend our time when we are by ourselves often makes it harder to engage with the world. Feeling isolated, many of us turn to comfort foods, television programs, cigarettes and alcohol to fill the gap in our hearts. We borrow happiness from tomorrow to dull the pain today. In doing so, we isolate ourselves further. We enter a loneliness loop that takes us further away from happiness with every silent turn.
The good news is that this loop can turn in both directions. Ironically, the first step to addressing loneliness is to love ourselves, not just in our thoughts, but, also in our actions. Every walk in the park, glass of water, trip to the gym and passion explored spins the wheel away from loneliness and towards intimacy.
Even if your life is already free of destructive habits, there is always more that you can do to love yourself. Don't settle for "just ok." Embrace life. The more you explore, the less lonely you will feel, even when you are alone.
Find People Who Share Your Passions
Fighting loneliness is not about having more people in your life - it is about having the right people in your life. The first step is to explore your passions and love yourself, but, this is not enough. You need to be willing to share your passions with the world.
It doesn't matter how big or small your passions are. I collect polished stones, knit multi-colored scarves, tell crazy stories and travel to cities on seven hills. The world is waiting for you, but, it won't come to get you.
Be proud of your passions and reach out to others who share your dreams. Join groups, start a blog, write letters and tell stories. As you do so, be gentle with yourself and others. Like loneliness, friendship is a loop and it often takes many turns for us to find true companionship. Every time we share our passions, the wheel spins away from surface level connections and towards true intimacy.
Fight Loneliness with Gratitude
When we feel the cold chill of loneliness approaching, it is tempting to cover ourselves in a blanket of self-pity and indignation. "How did it come to this?" we may think to ourselves. "How, through the many twists and turns of my life, did I end up feeling so alone?" Let me tell you another secret. It just doesn't matter.
Negative emotions are like chains that we choose to wear. Whether we admit it or not, we enjoy the limitations that they impose. But, they will never bring us happiness. They will only prevent us from moving forward.
Gratitude is a harder emotion to spark, but, its fire burns more brightly. My dad once reminded me of the saying "I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet." Every time I feel sorry for myself, I remember this quote.
People want to be around others who love life and respect themselves. As you share your passions with the world, do so with a peaceful heart. Your life may be the sum of your decisions, but, you are so much more!
Refuse to be Lonely
According to AARP, more than 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic loneliness. Many of these people choose to remain silent. I want to break the stigma of loneliness. I want everyone to know that feeling lonely is not "normal." It goes against our social nature. As a society, we must do more to help people who are suffering with loneliness. As individuals, we owe it ourselves not to wait for help. Let's light a candle in our hearts. Let's choose to live well. Let's embrace our passions. Let's put ourselves out there. Let's refuse to be lonely!
How often do you feel lonely? Please tell us about your experience with loneliness in the comments section below and join Boomerly, our new initiative to end loneliness after 50.