For a better life

5 steps to combat this epidemic of loneliness

In my church community I often hear women say that they don’t feel like they fit in. Younger women, older women, those who never married, career women, those who long for children and stay-at-home moms. Age or status doesn’t seem to affect this epidemic of loneliness. The crafty women say they don’t fit in because they aren’t “hip” or “cool.” The career women don’t feel like they fit in because they aren’t available during the day for play dates and meet ups. The moms feel isolated from everyone because they are tethered to home, reliant upon nap times and feeding schedules. The single women are different because they were never able to find a spouse. Everyone feels lonely and nobody seems to want to take the first step to overcome it!

In this age of “social” media, we are more lonely than ever. Online tools are great for facilitating social activities, but showing up in person is still required if you want to meet new people or continue your current friendships, at least at a minimum level.

So what do we do about this epidemic of loneliness? Depression and anxiety are sky-high. The pressures of our western culture are driving us apart– and toward mental illness!

Just like everything else I teach, it has to be up to the individual. You only have control of you. You can’t wait for someone else to invite you over– that might never happen. Not because there aren’t people out there that want to get to know you, but because they don’t know who you are! You have to overcome your fear and put yourself out there. Define who you are so that your tribe will know!

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I have lived most of my life feeling separate and different from everybody else. I would always complain to my husband late at night before we each drifted off to sleep, about how the other moms didn’t like me. Nobody seemed to reciprocate my invitations. I talked too much and was too outspoken. Eventually I got to a place where I thought I didn’t need any friends, per se, because I had long-distance friendships and it was okay that I only had a few girlfriends. I tried to cover my feelings of loneliness with an “I don’t need them anyway” attitude. But deep down, I still craved more friendship and face-to-face interaction. I wanted people to want to be around me. Essentially, I wanted to know that I mattered to someone other than my husband and my kids.

Then I realized that I wasn’t the kind of person I would want to hang out with! I was showing up in my life in a way that didn’t invite others in. When I had thoughts about how others didn’t like me, or how I said the wrong thing, it would make me feel insecure and shy. When I felt insecure and shy, I tended to clamp my mouth shut and stay in the safety of the corner at a gathering. I probably gave off that “Don’t talk to me” vibe.

Well of course few people befriended me! My actions were probably scaring them away– and these actions stemmed from those thoughts about other people not liking me. And the kicker? Most likely my thoughts were pure fiction.

I’d like to offer 5 steps that you can implement into your life to combat the loneliness you feel:

  1. Watch your thoughts. Are you making up fiction in your mind? What is fact and what is just a thought in your mind?
  2. Put yourself out there. People who love you just the way you are, wait patiently for you to reveal yourself to them. Make the first invitation. Host the party. Tell others your passions and desires.
  3. Be the kind of person you would want to spend time with. When you do this you will be a magnet for the exact people you seek.
  4. Brave rejection. It’s probably going to happen. But it doesn’t mean you don’t matter. Don’t make everything mean something about you; maybe that other person is just having a bad day, or even a bad year!
  5. If someone doesn’t like you, don’t take it personally. You are like a peach. A perfectly ripe and juicy peach. Anyone who doesn’t want to eat that would be crazy! But you know what? There might be people out there who just don’t like peaches. And that’s ok.

When we each start creating positive stories about ourselves (and others) in our minds, we will find the community and belonging we crave. How will you change your story?

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Baby-making years, Background, Germany, Homeschooling years

In Retrospect

My husband says I am never happy. Of course that’s not entirely true, but what he really means is that I am never content. I am always looking to the next thing. After we were married and still newlyweds, I really wanted a baby. Even though we were young and both finishing college, it seemed like the thing that would make my life perfect. Later, when our beautiful little girl came along, the transition to full-time motherhood was really hard. I had spent my entire life getting good grades and proving myself to others through academic performance and all of a sudden there was no one giving me that A+. That combined with my ingrained desire to be The Best was the perfect storm for a huge hit to my self-esteem. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of me feeling really lost in my life.

Of course raising a baby keeps you pretty busy, so I didn’t really think about it all that much. It’s only now in retrospect that I can see what was happening. And I do think I was a pretty good mom, but one with really low self-esteem. The things of life took over: we bought and sold a house, we moved states, bought another house, had another baby, and then a third right on the heels of the second. Those years are still a blur in my mind. My second and third children are only 21 months apart and there are days (or weeks?) that I just don’t remember at all. The status of BUSY kept me from figuring out why I didn’t ever feel content.

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When that third baby came along, my oldest was starting kindergarten and there is a huge learning curve in that whole rigamarole. When she went to first grade, it all just felt wrong. I loved the preschool years, but sending my kid off to school for 7 hours a day only for her to return home hungry, tired and grumpy left a bad taste in my mouth. So, for that reason and many others, I started down the path of homeschooling my kids.

This seemed to be an almost-thriving part of my life. I had always pretended to be a teacher as a kid, and it just came naturally to me. It was still really difficult, especially with a preschooler and a baby underfoot as well as a second grader. But I liked it! It gave me a sense of doing good and spending my time well the way nothing else since becoming a mom had.

Five years of that went by and suddenly our family was faced with an opportunity to move to Germany temporarily. What homeschooling family doesn’t take advantage of that? “It’ll be a grand adventure! We can learn another language! What a great bonding time!” we said. The pickle was that homeschooling is illegal in Germany. We are not a military family so if we took that plunge, it would shift our lifestyle tremendously. “But it is only temporary, two years max.”

And here we are, seven months into our stint in Germany. The kids, especially the oldest who was more than ready to dive back into public school already, are doing well and love their school. It keeps them busy.

But me? Well, not so much.  I get up with the kids and get them off to school, making them breakfast and lunches before they stampede out the door at 7:15 am. While my husband goes off to work all day supporting teams both here in Germany and in the U.S. eight time zones away, I am home.

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Because I am not accountable to anyone for how I spend my time, I have gotten really lazy. This makes me feel very guilty. I have a hard time not being productive with every minute of my time. And since the dust has settled on our international move, the silence of my days has been very loud. I am not busy. I don’t have friends or extended family vying for my time. We rent a house so we are not responsible for home improvement projects. I am involved in some church responsibilities, but it doesn’t take much of my time. I don’t work because I don’t speak the language. I actually thought I would spend this time getting some years-in-the-making projects done, but I don’t work on them.

Why not? I am living someone else’s dream life– seems like I should be able to write a novel or something. But instead I sleep a lot and pretty much just figure out what is for dinner and make sure all the dishes and laundry are getting done. I don’t even watch TV or movies; they make me feel like I am wasting my time- oh the irony! And I just feel…. lost. It’s like all the silence has made me realize that my soul hungers for something more. I am missing the passion and purpose in my life.

I have wondered if I am suffering from depression. It is a thought that has come up in my mind regularly over the years. I have lost my ability to feel happy for more than a fleeting moment. I am often angry. I remind myself of my mother and in many ways that scares me. I have no doubt that she was depressed.

I don’t want mental health issues to be a part of my story, but sometimes we don’t get a say in how the story of our lives unfold. And sometimes the protagonist in the story only has their own demons to overcome. I am certain there will be a time when this chapter is  behind me. Today I am trying to make it so.