The Loneliness of Mental Illness
You are at an intimate party of 30+ friends, having engaging conversations with people you have known forever. Despite being surrounded by friends who seem to enjoy your company, you feel utterly alone. If this is a familiar feeling to you, you may benefit from this read.
Anyone who has dealt with mental illness has experienced some form of loneliness. Loneliness can be physical as well as emotional. Physical loneliness is typically what one feels when they have no friends or company, or feels isolated. Emotional loneliness is when you feel alone even when people surround you. Feeling lonely emotionally can be more challenging because it can’t be fixed with simply being around people, just like in the above example. Those who experience mental illness may experience loneliness for a number of different reasons. They may feel uncomfortable with the idea of talking about their feelings due to fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed. They may worry people will invalidate their experience or misunderstand them. They may even feel “abnormal” for having a mental illness, and afraid that others may think they are “crazy.”
A client once said to me that while walking around the mall one day she felt sadness as she watched how “normal” everyone around her was. She shared that everyone looked happy and this contributed to an overwhelming feeling of being lonely over the thought that she was the only one there suffering. Did you know that Statistics Canada found that 1 in every 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life? That means that even those people you see walking around the mall or sitting beside you on the C-Train could be struggling as well.
You are not alone.
Sometimes when people feel ashamed or afraid of judgment, they can inadvertently push loved ones away to avoid feeling worse. Pushing them away only perpetuates their feelings of loneliness. The solution, then, is doing the opposite. Talk. Talk to your family members, your friends, or anyone you trust. If you can’t think of someone to talk to, consider the following:
– call the Distress Centre at 403-266-4357
– find a support group
– talk to a counsellor in Calgary
I have often heard from clients that they shy away from talking to their friends or family because they typically receive comments like “Snap out of it!” or “You should just get up and go to work, it’s as simple as that” or “What’s wrong with you? Shouldn’t you be better by now?” Comments like these can be hurtful and unhelpful when what you need is support. Perhaps, then, it may be helpful to coach your trustee through what you need from them. You could say, “I have been struggling lately and would like to talk to you about it. I would like you to listen to my experience without you offering advice. This is what I need to feel supported. Is that OK?” You may even direct them to this article that walks caretakers through how to support a loved one with a mental illness
Having social supports often plays an important role in coping with mental health struggles. If you resonate with the experiences described in this article, consider seeking support, whether it be from loved ones around you or from a professional.
Shezlina Haji, MA, has extensive experience in the area of emotional regulation, personal growth, plus many more. For more information on Shezlina and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.