This year I find myself spending an unexpected amount of time with someone new, a person I never fully knew until I was forced to be in a room with them – myself. For the first time in my life, I’m learning to embrace these moments of solitude and to be okay with being alone.
Whether spending time with the ones we love or crammed into cubicles with the ones we work with, we’re always surrounded by people. Even our smartphones prevent true isolation, with friends on social media remaining just a touch away. But what happens when you leave behind the office for a life of working at home, or your friends begin moving away to pursue their own new beginnings? As adults, we don’t always have the comforts of parents or roommates greeting us when we return home, and our days aren’t promised to be filled with the friendships that school afforded us as children.
Sometimes we’re forced to be alone, but that isolation doesn’t mean we have to shut down, hide away, or be afraid to do the things we enjoy.
It took me a while to learn that lesson. Following a series of serious life changes, I’m getting better at being alone, even when that solitude proves uncomfortable.
After years of working for others, I made the transition to self-employment. For the first time in my life, I don’t have an office to report to. Instead, I work from home as a freelance writer, where I spend my days with my dog and my laptop. Initially, this change proved freeing, and I loved it,but then the loneliness began to creep in. There was no one with whom I could dissect last night’s television or explore new spots for lunch. Instead, I was absolutely alone and had no idea how to cope.
I wanted to work from coffee shops, explore unknown places in my hometown, and enjoy the freedom of setting my own hours. Unfortunately, the first time I tried to branch out and beat the loneliness, I felt completely terrified. I tried to set up a workspace at the local coffee shop, but the initial visit made me feel like I was back in a high school cafeteria. I felt like everyone was staring at me, wondering why I was alone and what I was doing. That fear proved even more menacing when I tried to find solace in my favorite places like Target and Dunkin’ Donuts. Everywhere felt off-limits to me.
Maybe it was my generalized anxiety disorder or the perpetual looming dread of what others thought, but I started to actively avoid going places alone.
Instead, I made excuses to work from home, or I would breeze through my trips into the outside world. On more than one occasion, I cried on my way home.
Though I was desperate to change my situation, loneliness continued to linger, and I felt incapable of altering my days. I wanted to be strong and independent, to enjoy my time with myself, by myself. I thought back to when I was younger and reveled in being by myself. I once prided myself on being single and claimed Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman” as my anthem.
I had forgotten how to be alone, and I was too scared to relearn.
There wasn’t an a-ha moment, or a sudden inspiration that made me want to change. Instead, I grew tired of being afraid. I wanted to treat myself, to discover new things and to reward myself for being me – even on the days when I was anxious. Instead of shutting myself off and staying in, I realized I needed to afford myself the same kindness and love I so often show others.
At first, I started with short trips. Instead of claiming a coffee-house as my own for a full day, I went for just an hour. Rather than packing in a day of shopping, I went to one store and stayed as long as I wanted. If I only stayed a few minutes, that was okay. I took any trip as a victory.
As I looked around, I realized that I wasn’t the only person alone — and that, more than likely, no one was really paying attention to me.
There were, and still are, moments when I am fearful, and I wonder if people are staring at me, asking themselves why the curly-haired brunette is sitting all alone reading a magazine. When I start to feel uncomfortable, I take a deep breath and stay just a second longer. I try to take the pressure off myself, and let my heart and thoughts control the trip, deciding on a whim where I’ll go for the day, or what I’ll see. It’s in these difficult moments that I’ve learned more about myself than I ever did when surrounded by others. I discovered new places that have a killer iced coffee, purchased a makeup palette that has shades beyond my comfort zone, and found a quiet nook of the library where, even among others, I can be alone.
No one plans to be alone. I certainly didn’t. There are some days when I’m still lonely and I cry, but with each day that passes, I’m learning I can do things by myself. I may not always enjoy shopping for a purse alone, and some days I prefer to write from the comforts of my bedroom, not the bustle of a coffee shop. But when I do venture outside to see the world, I know that I can do it on my own.