In elementary, I was often the target of mean comments from classmates about my weight. I often felt alone and different from the other kids at school, but Luckily I had a strong support system at home and often found comfort in my mother's wisdom that, “sometimes it is better to have no friends, than to have bad friends." However, it still did not ease the anxiousness I felt when the bell rang for lunch, leaving me to agonize whether or not someone would allow me to sit by them. Not knowing where I "belonged" among my peers made for some challenging moments growing up, but in turn I strongly believe it played a role in who I am today. As Shulevitz points out in her article, feelings of rejection signal the part of the brain (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) that inflicts pain. Over time increased isolation can negatively impact the brain and even decrease life expectancy. This is why bullying is such a serious issue and the lasting effects can be far more devastating in the long run.
Writing this, I am reminded of the scene from "Cast Away," where Tom Hanks loses his best buddy "Wilson" (the volleyball) to a tidal wave. Through the years scientists have been able to connect the role loneliness plays on our mental and physical health. The need to be connected to others is in our DNA, ever wonder why Facebook and other social outlets are so popular worldwide? Yet, reports show that while we may feel "connected" there is often an increase in feelings of loneliness, as we are forced to compare our lives to that of our "friends." On this issue, I would like to kindly remind folks that social media only lets us see what people want us to see and while you may not be "checking-in" at the gym as much as you'd like or jet setting across the planet to fill your "Map Places" with tiny red balloons, it does not make our lives any less important or interesting.
Feelings of loneliness affect people of all backgrounds. Help is available and the negative effects can be reversed when we are able to connect and/or take part in group activities like an athletic team or even caring for a pet. Everyone gets lonely, but it is important to remember that we are NEVER alone. If you experience constant feelings of loneliness and isolation, it is important to tell a trusted friend, family member, and seek professional help. Think about the role of spirituality in your life (whatever that may be) and find opportunities to volunteer and meet others who may also need someone to connect with. Your life has meaning and purpose. We all have so much good to contribute to this world and whatever sadness and pain we are experiencing now, is only temporary. None of us can get through life alone. We are in this together and together is how we move forward. Please know that, although we may have never met your life matters to me and I am grateful for the technology that allows us to be connected today. No matter where you may find yourself in life, always remember you are never, ever, ever alone.
If you or someone you know would like to talk to a mental health professional, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) any time and any hour of the day or night.