What school taught me about loneliness – and how I am un-learning isolation
I learned about it by accident.
The girls looked at me from accross the room. They suddenly went silent.
"We need another boy for the party," one girl had said to the other.
The looks on their faces, paired with the sudden silence made no room for mistake.
There was a party.
Growing up on the countryside, I attended a small primary school. We were only 12 children in the class – six girls and six boys. Out of those six girls, two of the them were best friends. And they were really really (really really) cool.
The other two girls were pretty decent too. They were occasionally hanging out all four of them. Or so I overheard.
Because I ... wasn't invited.
So I spent my days at school wandering in the schoolyard. Alone.
I wanted so badly to be part of the group, but I was so afraid if them. The girls had made it clear on more than one occasion how loser they think I were.
But how could they know? They barely knew me! It was so unfair!
For this particular party, though, I decided to give it a try.
And I did what any 10-year old would do.
I mustered up all my courage.
AndI made a card.
Decorated with hearts and pink colours, I wrote:
"Dear cool girls*, can I please come to the party? Too? Love, Marthe"
(*I didn't actually write that, thank you. I used their names, but I have too much decency to share their names online.)
I left it on one of the girls' desk.
And hoped for the best.
Aaaaand of course it didn't work out.
I can still feel the shame burning when I think about it. Their reaction to the card, and my feelings to the reaction is still too raw to describe fully. My heart still ache for this young version of me.
And to this day, it makes me uncomfortable to approach people I label in my mind as cool.
To this day, I get nervous whenever I hear talk about a party.
To this day, whenever I don't have plans on a Saturday night, I feel all those hurtful feelings over again.
Uninvited. Lonely. Not good enough.
I was a smart student growing up, but school didn't just teach me how to ace a math test.
School also taught me:
:: that there are people who are good enough ... and there are people who just don't fit in. Like me.
:: to always have an answer ready to the question "what did you do this weekend?"
:: to always look over my shoulder.
:: the importance of having the right clothes, brands, things.
:: that pretending to be less intelligent would earn me more credit than straight A's.
:: there is something fundamentally wrong with me.
:: if you keep your gaze down and your back hunched, you can walk down any hall almost invisible.
:: the only class that matters is sports or gymnastics.
:: don't let anyone see you cry. Ever.
And let's say it this way. I was a good student. I learned my lessons. And for years and years and years – I thought I had to change myself in order to fit in.
I thought I was lonely because there was something wrong with me, and that I had to work really hard to fix it.
And then something changed.
I realized that you don't have to live your whole life in the shadow of your painful history.
I realized that you don't have to change who you are, but who you spend your time with.
I realized that you don't have to be lonely anymore.
And as soon as my mindset changed, my reality changed too.
I started looking at the world from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. I stopped caring about being cool. I stopped caring about the coolness of my friends. And I stopped caring about the coolness of my life.
And instead of looking for proof of my loneliness, I started to look for proof of my connection.
I litterally wrote a list of all the names of the people in my life, to convince my mind that I wasn't as lonely as my mind wanted me to believe.
And I started to invite interesting people out to grab a coffee – even if it was the first time I was meeting them.
And they said YES!
Slowly, but surely, I am building real friendships instead of walls.
The universe must sense the difference, because I keep being approached by people who want to get to know me too.
And they found me.
Loneliness isn't always being alone – it can also be existential.
Anyone who has ever been lonely knows that there is nothing like the kind of hell that you experience if you feel lonely – even when you are surrounded by friends.
I know, because I have been there too.
It took me 25 years, but I learned that the only way to make this feeling go away is to befriend yourself. You have to learn how to be okay – screw that, thrive – in your own company- Sadly, the only way I know how to do that is by spending lots of time alone. And make the decision to be okay with it.
Stop abusing yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Get to know yourself, like you would want to get to know a really interesting person (because you are!) and treat yourself. Learn to know what kind of company you want to be for yourself.
For me, I learned that I really enjoy hanging out with myself if there's music. And I really enjoy to go to coffee shops by myself. I learned that I enjoy solo exercise better than I like running with others. And I learned that there are no limitations to what you can do if you are doing it alone. Cooking weird (but oh so tasty) recipes? Check. Listening to really goofy tunes? Oh yes. Getting home at 4 in the morning? No one will care, but you.
This is how I am unlearning loneliness.
I stopped trying to be cool. I spent a lot of time alone (and learned how to enjoy it too). I became my own best friend.
They say it's a school of life.
They say you live, you learn.
Well, I would like to add –
It's time you un-school yourself.
It's time you un-learn all the faulty lessons you picked up along the way.
It's time you learn,
how sweet life can be.
Although I may be perpetually uncool, I post daily inspiration and encouragement over at The Freedom Experiment's Facebook Page.
And we're a group of 3400 awesome human beings interacting, sharing inspiration and getting to know each other over there.