One of my biggest goals for 2018 is to go back to writing more personal, from the heart stories, like I did when I first started travelling and blogging in 2006. Not worry about adding keywords, the ‘pinterest factor’ and ‘shareability’ of the post and what anyone will think about it.
Well, then why not start by sharing something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, but just hadn’t found the courage for to say?
In recent conversations with some new blogger friends I made this year (which is kind or ironic on its own, as the topic of this blog is about being lonely, but anyways), I realized we’ve seemed to reach a new phase in blogging where it’s getting more and more about authenticity, rather than putting up a fake image of what life of a ‘digital nomad’ or freelancer is.
Luckily (for a better choice of words), I’m seeing more honest stories about what it is really like to work from home or a cafe, finding and losing clients all the time, living abroad away from family, being on the road a lot, producing content non-stop, having lots of high highs, but also having many low lows…
2017 was a year with many lows for me personally: at the start of the year I was in really bad health due to back problems and had to take fysio, somewhere around April I was completely unsure what the direction of this blog should take and suddenly felt really overwhelmed and insecure by other bloggers seeming to have their shit together where I didn’t (not even after over 10 years of blogging!), around September I found out that a big client I’d been doing blogger outreach for for the past two years (and who provided me with most of my income) changed focus and couldn’t offer me anything for the moment being…
Then In October, we finally went on a trip to Fiji that we’d won in a competition a year ago and took us so much time, effort and stress to organise that we didn’t even enjoy leaving for it at all anymore, meanwhile we heard that we were being kicked out of our flat and had to suddenly move, which made us think about the future in general and if we should move back to Holland. This is something we want to do eventually and especially since my parents are caring for my grandma there is a whole massive guilt part of not being able to help out at all for the past 5 years… but it would also mean leaving everything we’ve built from scratch behind AGAIN and having to make hard adult decisions such as when are we having children and what is the name of our pet cockatoo going to be? You know, that typical 30-er dilemma.
And then it was time for the World Travel Market in London, which is usually something I look out for the entire year, yet this year I wasn’t feeling it at all. In fact, the last night I was standing with people I’ve known and liked to hang out with for years and after a failed attempt at going from one bar to another, I just felt a random and sudden rush of anger almost and a feeling of ‘why am I here?’, ‘these people are not my real friends!’… that seemed to come out of nowhere and made me leave in tears without even saying goodbye to any of them, just leaving me feeling embarrassed and upset for quite a few days. Wow!
After a long think I believe I finally realized what the real problem was and probably has been for much longer: even when being surrounded with so many blogger buddies and even Nick at the event earlier that night… I was actually feeling alone.
This might come as a shock, it did especially to myself, because I don’t think that in 34 years I’ve EVER felt alone. You see, I DON’T DO ALONE. I’ve always been very much to myself, able to play, study, work for hours and hours by myself, I love working from home and don’t mind not go outside for days at all, I am perfectly comfortable to travel on my own and have done so extensively over the years without blinking twice, I am so incredibly good at keeping myself busy and never understand people saying they’re bored or don’t have hobbies (I have ALL the hobbies, take some of mine!).
Sure, I never had any really close friends (apart from Nick, who is my best friend EVER), or stayed in touch with pretty much anyone I’ve ever met, but then I also never really ‘needed’ them. I’m just not good in keeping in touch with people and they never bothered doing the same. Heck, I don’t even like people that much, right? RIGHT?
Then I (don’t laugh) Googled ‘Am I Lonely?’. And this is what I found:
Signs You’re Lonely / Lost
When you’re feeling a bit lost, you probably know something is wrong, but after a bit of research I found that a lot of the ‘symptoms’ I had should have made it more clear to me that I was actually really quite lonely. I hope this list helps you a bit to have a good look at your own feelings, so you can take action to improve your life right away. (personal stories from other bloggers + action steps further down below!)
- No Matter How Long You Sleep… You Feel Tired
- Apparently, when you’re feeling lonely, you’re way more likely to suffer from fragmented sleep. You can’t stop thinking about something, you toss and turn, you wake up at night, you dream heavily and you just don’t get enough deep sleep. This has my name all over it. When I wake up in the morning, I can tell you up to 3-4 dreams I had every single day, and they’re never happy ones, ugh! I lie awake for hours at night, don’t even want to go to bed, because I know I never wake up rested. While my sleep is still not good as I also have a shitty going-to-bed-routine, I try more and more things to make sure I prioritize better sleep, it’s hard, but we’re getting there. Might write a separate post on that later.
- You Health is Off
- I’ve always had mild back problems, but last year after a stressful and emotional press trip to India, it flared up so badly that I could hardly move. Pain would shoot up and down my spine at every wrong turn, it would take me a few minutes to get up after having sat down for a bit and I walked down the stairs like a 80-years old. An MRI-scan showed not much was wrong, so there was definitely another issue here. Turns out physical changes seem to often be caused by the way your stress levels increase when you’re lonely. While it might not be as heavy with you as what I had, if you’re getting ill more quickly than normal, if you’re generally feeling under the weather, any other physical symptoms, think about the causes of it!
- You Fill Your Life With …Stuff
- In a conversation with another blogger friend, talking about loneliness the other day, we came to the conclusion that we both were NEVER EVER bored, as we are always filling our lives with stuff. She filled it with activities (classes/volunteering, all that), I fill it with creative hobbies (Did I not just mention I literally have every single hobby there is. Ok, maybe not collecting bugs. Although I appreciate a good bug every now and then). I can see other people around me fill the void with physical products, clothing and/or food as well. What do you fill your life with?
- Little Things Get You Down
- This is one that especially applies to me, and I think it’s my most annoying ‘symptom’. Because I am an introvert, I don’t usually like speaking my mind in public (on things that really matter to me, that is -on trivial things I’m VERY good at this, don’t get me wrong)… but when something doesn’t go the way I want it or frustrates me, I make it really big in my head and either get down by it or explode and get out-of-proportion angry. I my head I’ve thought about something a thousand times, yet when in the spur of the moment, it’s more a feeling than something that I can put into words and so I just get upset and walk away. This is apparently a very common symptoms as your levels of resilience are so low when you’re feeling lonely. Starting to see these reactions is already a huge step forward.
- You Care Less About Personal Maintenance
- If there is something I’m really bad at, it’s taking care of myself in a way of personal maintenance, aka getting showered/hair done/make-up/pampering and all that. Who knew? But yeah, I really feel sometimes that the effort it takes to do these things, just aren’t worth it. Like I’m not really worth it I guess? But when I do do them, I do feel better right away, so yeah, work in progress. The other day I bought face masks, which I never have done before. You might laugh, but that was a huge thing for me, haha. It also made me look awesomely green. win/win.
- Your Friends Are Lonely
- This was surprising, but I read that loneliness is actually socially contagious. And this just happens to be something I’ve been hearing A LOT around me… if that’s not a sign, then I don’t know what is… Keep reading for examples!
Guess What. You’re Not Alone
As I just said, apparently loneliness is contagious, but I also think that in the freelance world, we have such a higher risk of feeling alone as in most other professions. We often work from home, we have hours and hours of writing to do (where you can’t really have any distractions from others) and because our work is also often our passion and park of our entire lifestyle, it’s never, ever done.
The following people that I’m quoting are all wonderful strong women that I’ve met in person and I feel that we all live very similar lives -even if we don’t always realize that.
It seems we’re all doing our best trying to make things work as a 30-something freelancer, living in a place that’s (often) not our home and while loving what we do (and even being pretty damn successful in what we manage to do)… feel that there is something missing.
That somehow, we are a bit embarrassed to talk about these issues, because… well… isn’t this exactly the life we chose for ourselves? Are we really complaining about all this freedom we have? Hashtag FirstWorldProblems?
The following words resonated so much with me for different reasons and I recognize myself totally in all of the quotes. I think these woman are super brave to share these personal stories and in a wonderful personal talk with one of them, I realized that sharing that part of our lives can actually help other people as well. So here you are:
Clare from Need Another Holiday
Ten years ago I had four months off work because of severe back pain caused by bulging discs and muscle spasms. Today, when caught by a fit of coughing, I felt the familiar pain I’ve tried so hard to forget. I dropped to my knees, and now I am terrified and in complete spasm. My recent efforts to finally shake off the fear of exercise that has followed me through ten years of chronic pain feel like they have been in vain. (…) It feels like fate is somewhere laughing at me. “You with the little kid? You think you can be a full-time working, bread winning mum who cooks from scratch every night and goes the gym to try and “better yourself”? Have it all, eh? Let’s take you down.” I’m left thinking maybe I’ve brought this on myself by trying too hard to do everything. Is that possible? I don’t know.
I know exactly how these spasms feel and I recognize the voice in your head saying that quite possibly you deserve not to have it all…
Elizabeth of Rosalilium
I have a husband, a family, and Facebook friend list that runs into the hundreds. I even have follower lists on social media that run into the thousands. How can I possibly be lonely when I am surrounded by people? How can I be lonely when I have the technology and connectedness to speak to people every day? (…) What I don’t have is any enduring or close friendships. That is where I am struggling. (…) I want to fight the loneliness. I want to fight that disease. I want to figure out a way to forge and sustain adult friendships. I want to seek out all of those things I yearn for in friendships.
I always thought that I was the only one who really didn’t have any close enough friends to call when there is something wrong (or going well) or to invite to my wedding… While I don’t feel the loneliness all the time, I so recognize that craving for closer friendships…
Eileen from Crooked Flight:
The worst part about having mild anxiety and depression is you think it will never change. Unlike everything else in this word that ebbs and flows, you get stuck often thinking well, this is it. I’ll be this underlying sad, listless and useless forever. I’ll be scared from now on. I’ll constantly be lost in some existential spiral and worried and nervous and what does it all mean?! Alright. None of that is true. Yes, it doesn’t get better in a big upwards curve – you will still crash a few times. But the highs do come back and the OK days too.
Yes! I definitely try and step away from labeling myself in such ways as well and trying to realize there is a different between feeling lonely and being lonely. It’s a slow process. Talking is the first step for sure…
Beverly from Pack Your Passport
Working alone has never been a problem for me. In fact, in some ways I prefer it. Especially because I was always the child in school who groaned when I had to take part in a group project. But there’s a difference between working alone and being alone all the time. (…) Admitting this to myself was hard, because look at the way we talk about female entrepreneurs, about being a ‘girlboss’ and not stopping until you’re a success and quitting your mindless 9-5 to go and do something you *actually* love. None of it takes into account the everyday logistics of working for yourself and often seems to come from a place of privilege. (…) I don’t want to be a high-flyer, I don’t want to be a girlboss. What I want is more important than that: stability and community. And, above all, I’m happy, which is more important than anything if you ask me.
All of this. I hate the world girlboss personally and think it sets a certain expectation of a lifestyle that is impossible for anyone to maintain on the long-term. Freelancing is HARD people!
I’m kind of fed up with living in a world where everybody pretends like their life is perfect. (…) Social Media is my job, but at the moment it’s having a really negative impact on my life. (…) I don’t want to pretend that everything is perfect anymore. I love my life, but there is another side to it that I’ve never spoken about before. (…) I know that everybody has another side to their life. It’s OK to talk about that side, actually, I’t GOOD to talk about that side because first of all, you can get it off your chest and also, maybe you can help someone else who’s maybe dealing with problems in their life.
Yes. Yes. YES.
ps. keep watching this video to the end and listen to the full notebook story, because it’s great. It will also make you cry really hard. But in a good way.
Monica from The Travel Hack:
I knew it didn’t make sense but, for the times I was home, having a four-legged friend there with me would make all the difference. (…) Getting Louie was the best decision ever and he helped me during what could have been a difficult time. (…) I eventually felt part of a local community and met people who also worked from home. It turned out there are a lot of people who live nearby and work from home but how else do you meet them? You can’t just sit down and chat to anyone who looks like they’re working in a café. There’s a woman with a laptop, but she might just be online shopping! But if you sit outside a café with a dog then everyone comes and chats to you.
Getting out of the house is SO important, yet SO hard sometimes. Thanks for reminding me that it really is the only way forward… with or without dog :)
Amanda from Maroc Mama in her newsletter:
I also recently made a decision to start doing more social things. You see, it’s really easy to just stay home when you work from home. There’s always an excuse and for someone who is a bit of an introverted extrovert – basically I’d rather be by myself but when I am with other people I do enjoy it – saying no to going out gets easier and easier. So every day I am trying to do one thing; maybe it’s meeting someone in person for a chat or it could just be making a phone call that I’ve put off. My mission is to interact with another person not online every day. (…) every day going forward I’ll try a little harder to communicate better and become a larger part of the world around me instead of just fitting in like a misshaped jigsaw puzzle piece where I can.
Communication is definitely one of my weak points and needs work done. These are great, practical tips. Let’s share a bit more below, if you’re still hanging in there:
How to Get Out of a Funk
The girls above already shared some great insights, but I wanted to end with a few things I’ve already implemented / worked on to improve which I think could really help you as well. I love to hear any additions to this list in the comments, thanks for sharing.
- Admitting You’re Lost/Lonely – And Talk About It
- Realizing you’re lonely and talking about it really is the first step. Don’t underestimate this! You can talk to other bloggers, your other half, family, a professional. Just do it!
- Spending Time With Family
- Recently both Nick and my parents visited and we’re going home (home home) for two weeks at Christmas. After living abroad for over 6 years all together, I really feel that missing so much out of the lives of my family is starting to get to me. Sure, it’s easy to fall into certain old (negative) communication/behaviour patterns when going from almost no contact to being together for a few days straight, and some things make you annoy the shit out of each other, or there are a lot of unspoken things from the past, but then they leave and you miss them right away and you realize that this is really important to work on. Small steps.
- Attending (Blogger) Events & Group (Press) Trips
- I don’t usually go on press trips (they are unpaid work, basically, not a holiday), but in secret, I really enjoy them because of the energy I get from spending time with different types of people in a small group and learning about their work/blog/life for a short period of time. They are exhausting (especially as an introvert), but it’s a great way to be around like minded people and get some quality human interaction! Recently, I went to Ghent and it really give me new energy when I returned.
- Disconnect from Social Media
- I can be short about this. I know it’s our job, but seriously. Get off that shit as soon as you can.
- Declutter EVERYTHING
- For me personally, this works like magic. When I clean up my closet, my office, even the documents on my computer, I feel organised, I feel there is all this space for new ideas and it can really lift my mood! Do you have the same?
- Practice More Self-Care: Sleep, Exercise, Food, Fresh Air & Wellness
- There is a reason they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first on the plane, before helping others. When you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t help others either. Any little thing to treat yourself (in a good way) will make so much of a difference!
- Stop Doing What Doesn’t Make You Happy
- I’m taking a big step next year and are rolling down a big project I’ve been working on, because it simply doesn’t bring me joy anymore. It’s scary, but I just know I have to do it. Earlier this year I lost another big job and while I was a bit devastated at first… it gave space (literally) for an amazing new project (Space Nation) that I’m currently spending a lot of time and passion on. When one door closes… you know it’s true!
Alright. Almost 4000 words later and I think I said what I wanted to share with you.
I really, really hope that when you read this post because you have similar feelings, it helped you realize you’re not alone and there is nothing wrong with you. Find someone to talk to, take small steps towards improving parts of your life that currently don’t make you happy and realize that whatever happens… This Too Shall Pass (I think I stole this sentence from Oprah? Can’t remember. But, it’s such a good mantra, work it!)
This post is also available in: Dutch