Adapting to a lonely world
It’s quiet here.
The walls are bleak. The air is damp. And the sunlight peeking through the curtains reminds me of how harsh the outside world is. But it’s not the hot weather that makes me anxious. It’s the people.
Every morning, before I go to work, I deal with mixed physical reactions: my heart beating fast, my stomach tied in knots, and my mind filling with fog.
I never understood how my body has remained hyper-vigilant despite my life being different from what it used to be. Even stranger, I don’t remember much about my past. So when people ask me what the problem is, I don’t know how to point it out. I just shrug it off and reassure people I’m okay.
But years of staying silent didn’t erase anything like I thought it would. It merely made the spawn of loneliness grow more ominous in my mind, creeping inside like a malignant tumor, and becoming a being of its own.
Despite how much it consumed me, I couldn’t appease it. Trying to connect with somebody has always been a gamble for me, because there is no person out there who will genuinely match your highs and lows, and the nature of language is you never know what to say. You just guess based on your experience.
But what do you do when most of your experience with people is negative? You become paralyzed, stiff — as if you’ve entered a lion’s den. Say something to me and the most I’ll give is a nervous chuckle.
Some people know how to play their cards right. Even when they raise the stakes high, they place their bet and score a fortune, becoming more confident the next time. As for me, I incurred so much debt that I found it difficult to try again.
That’s why I’ve spent the last few years hiding from myself, from my emotions. It just seemed better not to feel anything, like a machine, where you’re not obliged to connect with anybody but could still contribute to the greater good.
Comically, with today’s gifts from technology and society’s obsession with capitalistic paradise, we can choose to disconnect from reality without feeling too much pain. It has already become our habit to pull up our phones or to work too hard when things start to feel off. But everything hidden will eventually begin to come out.
At the mere sight of a couple or a group of friends, I’d feel a grieving sense of loneliness. I’d wonder what it was like to have long conversations, memorable nights, or even intimate moments. Call me crazy, but sometimes I pretend to talk to someone just to feel adequate and needed.
I’ve blamed myself for being incompetent with people. I’ve also blamed society for how it’s becoming more isolating. But I knew neither of these choices would do anything. Unfortunately, reaching out from loneliness — the decision that could save me — was an opportunity I never had.
Admitting you’re lonely is like telling people you have a contagious disease. Suddenly, nobody knows who you are. You’re just someone who needs to be discarded. After all, there has to be something wrong with you if you’ve been alone for the majority of your life, right?
Even if I were to break through the stigma, still, nobody would listen. People would still talk over one another.
I guess it’s hard for people to see loneliness as a valid concern. It’s not considered a pathology like depression or anxiety, which are things you can somehow learn to live with through therapy and medications. With loneliness, the most that people can do is suggest dating apps and wish you the best.
But the best that happens is people adapt by putting on a persona. After all, people want a fantasy. They want what’s not there. And that’s what we celebrate today in mass media — the people who can fake smarter and more consistently than everyone else.
But what do you do when you’re not extraordinary? You become mentally ill trying to. Otherwise, you’ll internalize a miasma of messages that tell you you’re not good enough to be loved.
Still, it’s silly that I tried to become physically acceptable because I knew there were things far more important than beauty. But loneliness made me so desperate for meaningful connections that I couldn’t see straight. I saw beauty as a ticket to enticing people’s curiosity. And when my appearance did change, it made me feel great to be seen, to be acknowledged. I felt like I existed in the world.
The problem was that I only changed the exterior. I still didn’t know how to be with people. I was still alone.
It’s depressing to be in a state where you yearn for people from a distance but become avoidant when they come close. It’s not that I’m afraid of being hurt. I’ve just become too comfortable pretending to be someone else.
How couldn’t I? This someone else has friends, job opportunities, and the right attitude. He’s everything I’m not, and he’s the only one people get to know. They never get to me. But despite my longing for love, I can never seem to convince myself that befriending someone is what I need.
I always see people go from one relationship to another, hoping they’ll find the right person to fix them. But I don’t want to be someone who will take advantage of someone else’s love to conceal how messed up I am. Instead, I want to be someone who adapts by accepting difficult feelings such as anger, sadness, or loneliness as valid responses to living in an unjust world.
We’ve been fed the notion that happiness and contentment are always within reach, and that we should live every moment in pursuit of positivity. But if I had never experienced loneliness, I wouldn’t care about people. I wouldn’t even think of them. What you can’t yearn for, you can’t value.
Loneliness is painful. And if you’re a shy, passive and depressed person, it’s even harder to live with it knowing you’re not well-equipped to make things better.
But no matter how miserable it can be, it taught me how to see its beauty through the art, music, stories and inventions of people who have longed for something. How can I feel ashamed about wanting, about failing to achieve something, when there’s a whole community out there built upon shared sorrow? If I start being honest, I’d be welcomed, too.
Adapting to a lonely world may seem like a cruel joke, but it can be a special place where melodies of longing are sung, where the sun shines with warm empathy, and where your past isn’t shunned. Here I can speak. Here are my people. Here I am.
Alex Jasper Gonzales Tan, or Japy, is from Pasay City. He works as an administration assistant. He likes to read and write.
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