The Epidemic of Loneliness

Last year, it was the loneliest i've ever felt. 

It was March 2020 when I had just returned from a trip, and I was feeling motivated to start my university life at Waseda University. The coronavirus had begun spreading in Japan, so uncertainty was settling in. Still, I only expected my entrance ceremony and orientation to be cancelled, with hopes that I would still be able to go to campus (I know, what was I thinking?). I was wrong.

Similar to most university students, my entire first year at Waseda was online. Zoom classes were the norm, and my room was my classroom. Zoom classes do not offer the same experience as in-person classes. There are many differences I could highlight here, but it was the lack of physical connection that contributed to my feelings of peak loneliness.  In a number of my classes, I did not know how any of my classmates looked like. A few of my classes were just lectures, with no opportunities for discussion with others. With no connections formed, university was stripped down to only one essence ---- the learning, nothing more, nothing less. 

If the isolation I felt during my online classes weren't bad enough, I also lived alone in Tokyo. Because I had just moved to Tokyo for university, I did not have friends in Japan, which resulted in me reminiscing a lot about high school. I was in close contact with my high school friends, and as much as I love my high school friends, I felt like a failure for being "caught up in the past" and not "moving on." I called and texted my friends a lot, and I knew that I had people who cared about me, but their physical absence made it hard to believe sometimes. I spent every day at home taking classes alone. Wake up, attend classes, eat, sleep, repeat. Any in-person interaction I had, would be when I went to the convenience store or the supermarket to buy groceries. After my first semester at Waseda, I decided to join a few online communities for Waseda students. I realized how alert I was during my first semester because I had only myself to rely on for getting information. I was responsible for checking all the updates concerning my school life, and I was often anxious that I was missing out on some critical information. Consequently, I joined a Facebook group for students in my school and a group for Waseda students graduating in 2024. The Waseda Class of 2024 group was filled with posts of people introducing themselves with pictures and their Instagram handles. As much as I sought connection, I didn't feel comfortable sharing my information and my Instagram handle with people who were essentially strangers to me at the time. I felt like a failure for feeling this way because my mind told me that I didn't have the right to pick and choose what I wanted or didn't want. But at the same time, my mind was also very sure that no one would be interested in me, even if I posted about myself on the page. So long story short, I joined all these groups, and that was it.

During my second semester, I joined some extracurriculars and started working part-time. The extracurriculars I joined held Zoom meetings weekly, and I got to know people from Waseda outside of my classes. I also started tutoring. It felt refreshing to leave my apartment once a week and interact face-to-face with people other than convenience store and supermarket workers. It was a step in the right direction. 

I was in a better place than where I had started, but I still had limited in-person interactions and did not have friends. Most of the time, I was still at home. Other than going on grocery runs, I now also tutored an 8-year-old. The human mind doesn't help much in situations like this either. It's easy to get stuck on one thing. I was lonely, so all my thoughts traced backed to the fact that I was lonely. I was not suicidal, but I did think about how even if I were to pass out and die in my apartment, no one would notice. My neighbours might notice because of the odour, but my parents overseas would certainly not know the news for at least a week. No one in my classes would notice that my name was missing from the list of names on Zoom. I felt like no one cared about me because I was me or because I was Ann. No one knew me personally in class. The girl I tutored didn't specifically need me to tutor her. I was only the "new girl" in my extracurricular group. I was just a customer at the supermarket. I was just a student in all my classes. Being me didn't seem to matter in everything I did. Did I really need to be here if no one cared? These were the thoughts that circled my mind often. 

I am now starting my second year at Waseda University. Not much is different, but I can now go to campus two days a week for classes, and I have also started interning. I was lonely and I still am. But I look back and realize that things are getting better. Like everything in life, nothing lasts forever. Pain is only temporary; time will do it's thing. With all that being said, I also learned how important it is to take action within the limitations. I was not at fault for what was happening. It isn't my fault that there is a global pandemic or that I live alone, but I am the only one responsible for how I feel. I can go out and take a walk instead of sulking in my room all day. I can call my friends and ask for help. 

If anyone reading this right now feels anything similar to how I felt, know that things will be okay, and there's always light at the end of the tunnel.