“A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings. Remember that the next time you feel alone.”
I have always loved being outside in nature. For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed hiking. Being in a beautiful forest or walking on the sand along the ocean always brings me a feeling of peace. I often feel small in the vastness of the beauty and it brings me to the present. It somehow reminds me just how insignificant many things are in life. It focuses me on the things that are. For a moment, my thoughts are clear and the worries that circle me are gone.
Before I became ill I hiked almost every weekend. I started a ladies’ hiking group when I lived in Colorado and it quickly grew. A group of us would meet each Saturday and explore one of the many trails that surrounded us. I loved the encouragement, friendships and comradery that evolved from our group hikes. There were also times when I chose to hike alone. A solitary trek always brought me back to the reasons that I loved hiking so much.
I would never claim to be an ultra-hiker, rather a hiker who loved to challenge myself. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest I was surrounded by so much beauty. It was during this time my hiking intensified. Despite what people think, summers in the Pacific Northwest are beautiful -- Free of rain and full of sunshine. It is a perfect combination for hiking.
During the summers the trailheads quickly filled so in order to beat the crowds you needed to start your day early. One of the most beautiful and most challenging solitary trails I hiked was Mt. Washington. It had an elevation of 4,400 feet and the entire hike took me about nine hours to complete.
Within a very short time of hiking, I questioned myself whether I had what it would take to complete it. The trail was beautiful, but entirely uphill. After hiking for about two hours I came out onto a very short flat section -- The only flat section of the entire hike. The trees opened up and I could see the progress that I had made.
Although I could still hear the freeway noise from below, the houses and cars were becoming smaller and smaller. It was just the motivation that I needed to keep going. My uphill climb continued and the topography changed. It became rockier and steeper and I could see my final destination in front of me.
Reaching the top was amazing! The freeway traffic was now gone and I was immediately drawn into the quiet and the beautiful world that was below me. I spent about an hour at the top. I was alone in a huge world and it felt amazingly peaceful. I reflected on the challenge and enjoyed a moment when everything in my world felt just as it should be.
Being alone and being lonely are two entirely different things. During my hike I was completely alone but I never had a feeling of loneliness. I can’t say that I have always enjoyed doing things alone, but over the years I have come to enjoy the time I have by myself. I am definitely not free from loneliness though. I have experienced it at different times throughout my life -- During times when I was isolated to times when I was completely surrounded by people.
Loneliness affects one third of the adult population. It can affect our mental health, our cognitive abilities and our physical well being. Although no one is exempt, loneliness is more inclined to reach people who are experiencing a difficult life event, a loss of a loved one or someone who is experiencing chronic illness.
I experienced a lot of loneliness when I became ill. The loneliness didn’t stem from being physically alone, because I wasn’t. I have a loving husband, family and many friends who were concerned about my well-being. Out of my loneliness, I became depressed and hopeless. There were many days that I never left the couch.
The loneliness came because I felt I didn’t have anyone who really knew what I was going through. I searched for support groups in my local area but came to discover there weren’t any. I wanted the human interaction that an online support group just couldn’t provide. I was able to find a six-week chronic illness class and although it wasn’t an actual support group it was extremely beneficial for me.
The loneliness that I experience because of my chronic illness is something that has just become a part of my journey. I know I will never be able to eliminate it out of my life completely, but what I have learned is when I begin to feel it, I need to refocus my thoughts and perspectives. Loneliness comes to me when my thoughts are focused too much on myself. I can find myself becoming lonely when I feel like no one else is going through what I am experiencing. In reality, there are many people suffering from loneliness. It touches us all at one point or another. I am not alone.
Feeling lonely is inevitable at times. I need to remind myself during these times that my feelings are temporary. Helping others has been the easiest way for me to stay on top of my loneliness. It is an intentional process of taking my mind off of myself and focusing it on others. It is positive and quickly changes my perspective. It brings me joy and happiness and always brings me out of the loneliness that I may be experiencing.
( A recent book signing. It was great to connect and encourage others. )
I completely understand loneliness and that is why I am here to encourage you today to step out beyond it. Reach out to others. Whether it is through a text, a phone call, meeting a friend or helping someone else -- get connected! I guarantee that you will be amazed at how quickly loneliness disappears once you refocus your mind away from it.
Reach out to someone that you haven't connected with in a while. Your connection might be exactly what is needed to brighten both of your days!