How to Emerge From the Loneliness of Depression

Depression is a solitary illness.  It makes you want to isolate and cocoon.  It crushes you with feelings of loneliness.  It’s not so much the isolation that makes you feel lonely.  The loneliness comes from feeling like no one can relate to what you’re going through.

In addition to isolating yourself, you may notice other people seem to be avoiding you.  Maybe they’re uncomfortable.  Maybe they only want to be with you in the good times.  Whatever – don’t make their behaviour your problem.  It will already be adding to your feelings of loneliness.

depression lonelinessPhoto Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Why do we isolate ourselves when we’re depressed?

  • We feel worthless – we think no one wants us around.  We expect rejection.
  • We don’t have the energy to put on a happy face or even have a conversation.
  • We’re embarrassed by having depression.
  • We’re trying to hide that we have depression.
  • We want to be alone with our thoughts even though they depress the daylight out of us.
  • We can’t stand to hear the inevitable misguided advice.

Should you fight the isolation tendency?  Well yes and no.

No, you don’t need to fake it. 

You don’t need to act like your old self.  You don’t need to say yes every time you’re invited out, especially to new situations or large intense gatherings.

Yes, you MAY want to challenge the misguided advice. 

Here are the facts.  1. You are going to need social support.  2. Most people think that giving advice is supportive.  (Oh I realize I’m giving advice right now as I write this.  That’s different.)

You need to decide who is worth ‘working with’ to get support.  That means taking a risk.  You may pick someone only to find out that they aren’t interested in being there for you.  That rejection can sting.

What you’re after is empathy not advice, which is a big ask for some people. For them to empathize with you, they’ll have to imagine feeling what you’re feeling.  And you know how wretched you feel, right?

You can try, “I know you mean well but the advice doesn’t really help me.  It makes me feel like you don’t really know what I’m going through.  You could really help me though just by listening and not trying to solve anything.  Or just be with me even if I’m not talking much.  That would mean a lot to me.”

Yes, you MUST fight the social withdrawal. 

I don’t mean to sound bossy but here’s why you have to push yourself out the door:

  • No one recovers alone.
  • If you only listen to yourself, you will only hear negative ideas.
  • It will remind you what a non-depressed life looks like.
  • It can get you out of your head for awhile.
  • It will give you a sense of belonging.
  • You might just score some valuable support.

Choose to engage in social settings that won’t tap your limited energy.  Avoid high energy, big or loud settings, conversations with conflict, and needy people.

Even when you manage to put on pants and get out the door, you may still feel alone.

That’s OK.  You may feel alone with what you’re going through but you won’t feel alone as a member of the human race.

It’s ideal if you can find someone who understands what you’re going through.  Lots of people find value in support groups.  I never had the energy to go to one.  Lately I’ve been thinking of starting an online face-to-face peer support group – like a group conference call.  I like the idea of bringing people together but not requiring they get out of their pyjamas.  If you have any feedback on my idea, drop me an email.  I could use help sorting out what to do.

Not up to talking in person?  How about typing?  There are private Facebook groups that bring strangers with depression together to share experiences.  There’s also online forums and chat rooms.

Not up to any interaction?  How about writing to yourself?  Just unload into a journal.  The journal will listen.

How have you tried to fight off loneliness?  What’s been helpful?

Me July 2013

About the Author
Michele Longo
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan with this blog is to build a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.

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