“Over the past year as I’ve investigated the human impact of loneliness, the stories I’ve uncovered have stopped me cold. In part because I never expected to hear them from the people in front of me, people with no outward hint of a problem. But mostly because the descriptions of their sense of isolation were so heartbreaking.” – Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Loneliness isn’t something we talk about much. Feeling alone is a thing that many experience, but few openly discuss. In our society, it’s become less stigmatized to say “I’m depressed” than to say “I’m lonely”.
People seem to think that if you’re lonely, there’s something wrong with you. You don’t have friends, or you don’t see your family frequently, or something like that. But sometimes, being lonely has absolutely nothing to do with the people around you. Sometimes being lonely is something stuck in your head, and even though you know there are people around you who love and support you, you feel disconnected and empty.
I am one of those people.
I know that I have friends and co-workers and professors who care. I know there are people that love me and that worry about me…but there are still days I feel like I’m walking around in a bubble.
People avoid eye contact, they avoid socializing, and they avoid small talk with strangers. When I lived at home, I never thought there was any problem being friendly or social with absolutely everyone. Growing up, I absolutely adored being with other people. When I was three or four, people thought it was adorable. But as I grew up, when I tried to make eye contact or chat with someone, they’d glare or ignore me…and eventually I gave up. I thought it was something I was doing wrong; I was awkward and weird and no one wanted to talk to me.
When I moved to Hartford, I realized it wasn’t just me. No one talked to anyone. But after so many years of being shut down, it was ingrained in me that there was something wrong with trying to socialize as actively as I wanted to.
Many people that I have since befriended told me that they had similar stories. They wanted to be social, they wanted to chat and laugh and have conversations with random people in the street…but that’s not socially acceptable anymore.
I want to say why. Why is there an issue being social? What is wrong with being the first to say hello? WHY are we making ourselves suffer under the weight of loneliness?
Many different studies have shown that loneliness affects us physically – lowering our immune systems and making it harder for us to fight off infections. And it’s easy to solve – just acknowledge someone! A recent study from Purdue University found that people who just made eye contact with strangers reported feeling less disconnected than those who felt as if people looked right through them.
I’m going to go back to saying hello. And if you see me on campus, I encourage you to do the same.