What to do when you feel lonely?

My Mask

© Briana M

My smile hides my tears.
My laugh hides my screams.
It’s been this way for years.
Things aren’t as they seem.

I always seem so happy.
With not a care in the world.
But you should know, sadly
Many things go untold.

Nobody really knows me.
They only know my cover.
But I wish I could let it free.
Let them know what’s under.

But instead, I practice
My smiles in the mirror.
Then the next thing I do is
Make my fake laugh clearer.

What is wrong? You need help?
Is all they will ask.
So I have decided
To live behind a mask.

Published: March 2015

I have wanted to write a blog about loneliness for a long time. But I find that it’s not easy. For years I felt lonely but was too proud to admit it. I couldn’t understand how I felt that way. As a child and as a teenager I always had enough friends. And of course, as a teenager, I felt insecure about just about everything. And I certainly had moments when I felt left out. But lonely? No, I never really was.

How is it possible that as a grown woman I suddenly felt this way? What was wrong with me? Why did everyone seem to have plenty of friends and not me? Why was everyone doing fun things together and always forgetting to ask if I wanted to come along? These questions, these doubts only made the feeling bigger.

Yet I was not unhappy. I had my sweet, wonderful husband, two wonderful children. And when we were together as a family, everything just clicked for me. Then I felt complete. But as soon as they got back to school and work, the quiet hours arrived. My husband always got restless when school started again after the summer holidays. Because there was always a moment in those first weeks when I broke. That loneliness seized me again and all I could do was cry and he wanted to fix it but didn’t know how.

In the meantime, I have learned a lot about loneliness, and I feel that it is important that I share those lessons. Because there are so many people who also feel lonely. Behind many friendly faces, so much suffering is hidden. And so, I get over the feeling of shame and write this blog anyway. Even if it helps only one person, I’m happy.

The most important thing I have learned is that loneliness comes from within myself and has nothing to do with the other people. It has everything to do with a fear of showing myself, of being vulnerable. It felt safer to keep people at a distance. Sharing my thoughts, feelings, and emotions wasn’t something that I felt comfortable with. I told myself that it was safer to not speak my mind, that people would like me more if I was just friendly and not too outspoken.


Are you struggling with loneliness?

Maybe you recognize my story. What I want you to know is that you are not alone. There are so many people out there who feel the same way. You’re not crazy, there’s nothing wrong with you. You are in this world and so you belong, you matter. We, as humans, can feel so intimidated by the looks and behavior of others. It can make us feel small and insignificant. But the truth is, this presentation can well be just another mask, covering loneliness.

I also want you to know that there are plenty of people around you who see you. People who enjoy talking to you. People wondering how you are. But because your self-protective mask works so well, they don’t realize how nice it would be if they would check in with you. Another thing is that your insecurity can blur your judgement. For example, when someone gives you a well-meant compliment, you don’t believe it is genuine.

I would like to invite you to try to find out how your mask works. What do you do to keep people at a distance? And why are you doing that? You probably must go back to the time when you were a small child for the answer. A brother, a sister, a teacher, a boyfriend, your father, or your mother; someone probably hurt you, made you feel small or wrong. The purpose of your mask is to prevent you from experiencing that pain again. What pain are you trying to avoid? To be rejected? Laughed at? Left out?

As important as it is to understand why you have that mask and how it works, to me it was even more important to regain some confidence in myself. And the only way was to do exactly what felt so unsafe, that is to meet people. Call people. Have a chat with someone at the supermarket, at the gym or in the parc. Enjoy the conversations with other women and feel heard. It doesn’t matter when you start small, as long as you start reaching out.

Another thing was to start expressing myself clearer. Not in the last place, become clearer to myself; get a clearer picture of who I am, what I want to be and what I want to do. With that came the responsibility to start doing it. Start believing that I could do it, do the thing that felt so true to me. How does that sound to you? How would it make you feel if you are enough, just the way you are right now? How would you feel if you were doing the thing that really matters to you, that you feel passionate about?

It is not something you can change overnight. It can take time and there will be days, even weeks when you fall back. That’s ok. It’s just how it works. It can be helpful to get some help from a coach or therapist. Often, we know exactly what you’re going through and can help you to stay on track.

If you start believing that you are perfect in your own unique way, important shifts will happen. You will feel less vulnerable to criticism. And therefor will feel more comfortable to open to the world. And by opening, by feeling curious and exited to meet others, things will be different. Be a good mother to yourself and give yourself the love and attention you need. It will be fun once you start doing it. You deserve it.

Let’s try to have the conversation about loneliness. Because we don’t talk about it, it’s so much harder to get out of that circle of doubt, uncertainty, and avoidance. Why don’t we ask someone “Do you ever feel lonely”? It could well be the start of a heartwarming conversation.

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