When things aren’t great and you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to about it, or if you aren’t sure what words to use or if talking would even make a difference, you can quite literally be your own best friend.
Try writing to yourself. Make a note on your phone, open your journal, scrawl in Sharpie up your arm– whatever does the trick. If writing isn’t convenient, you can even just think the words to yourself– it might feel crazy, but I promise, it helps. Pretend you are someone else, someone who loves and cares deeply about you, and advise the real, suffering you on your problems. We are, in general, far more apt to criticize ourselves when we aren’t feeling our best than we are to criticize a friend in distress. I imagine you’ll feel surprised by how much you can help yourself just by creating that small amount of distance, and by approaching your suffering with love and a supportive attitude.
I’m writing this post precisely because I’m not feeling my best today. I had a week at home with my family, and reentering my life after that has been a bit of a struggle. I’m not sure exactly what changed, but in the week that I stepped away from my normal living situation something shifted in my perspective, and I feel like an outsider in my own life. I can’t tell if this feeling is coming from just me or from outside, and I’m trying not to get too close to anyone, physically or in conversation, for fear the feeling of non-belonging isn’t just in my head. This is one of my particular insecurities: I feel unsure whether it’s my place to contribute or receive anything emotionally from the people around me, so I draw deeper inside myself. I imagine this doesn’t help the situation, but I don’t know what else to do, what to ask for.
It’s clearly time to take my own advice. So here I am, writing to myself, trying to be my own best friend.
We all have bad days, and sometimes even bad weeks. For you, it’s only been since Thursday, which was three-and-a-half days ago. Yes, those three-and-a-half days have felt long, but it’s such a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things.
This small, rough stretch doesn’t mean you need to move away right now, or make any other drastic changes. You just chopped off all your hair, for goodness’ sakes, and I know your feelings about that are complicated. Remember that you value perseverance! There is courage to be found in the simple act of continuing to exist when you feel like shit. Change is coming soon enough either way (but you don’t need to worry about the spring right now! Give yourself a break from all that). Wait it out a little longer, let yourself re-acclimate. I’m glad you came to me for advice; the good news is that I know a lot about you (probably because I am you, but let’s put that aside for a sec), so I can probably help.
There’s no need to be angry with yourself. I know you long to be truly known by someone (not in the biblical sense, though that probably wouldn’t hurt). I know you hurt inside, that you feel like you’ve been trying all the ways you can think of to not be lonely anymore without actually involving anyone else. I know that you hate how lame you feel when you try to describe this. I know that trusting that the people around you love and care about you through all the mundanities and minor tribulations of everyday life is SO HARD when they have no logical reason to. I know your style: you try, as you always have, to make up for this uncertainty by making yourself an even-more-useful presence. Having someone around who can do dishes and help take out garbage is convenient, you reason, so people will be more likely to keep you around even if they don’t like you very much, even if you make almost no money and aren’t very fun all the time. You need to learn trust, if only to preserve your sanity.
Intangibles are hard to trust. I know. You’ve never been in love with someone who’s in love with you, so it’s so hard to comprehend the nature of the glue that sticks people together. At the same time, you want someone to stick to, to end the strangely empty feeling of having so much to share and no one to share it with. It’s ok, my friend. Twenty-two is a completely legitimate age for loneliness. Give love to your plants, to the strangers you smile at in the street. Radiate it to suffering people in faraway places, or pretend to, since you aren’t sure if that quantum action-at-a-distance stuff works on a macro level. Most of all, though, use this experience as an opportunity to be generous with your suffering comrades-in-loneliness. Share the difficult moments of this phase of your life to try to share hope and insight and empathy with the thousands of people out there who probably feel exactly like you do right now. This is not altruism; it will serve you as well. You are unique, yes, but not that unique. Your suffering is not unique.
Now I want to commit the ultimate act of hubris, and quote you to yourself. In public. From the first draft of the novel you’re trying to write in 30 days, ostensibly as part of National Novel Writing Month, but really as an act of emotional self-translation and sustainment. Yes, I know you’re cringing. Those words weren’t ever supposed to see the light of day, much less in unedited form. It’s good for you– Yup! It is. And even more importantly, it could theoretically be useful to someone.
“One couldn’t ever truly be lonely, she realized. The act of loneliness itself gave you exclusive membership in a club that expanded not horizontally but vertically, stretching back through time, connecting all the people who’d ever been lonely. The lonelier you were, the better, really. The lonelier you were, the more you belonged”.
If that thought doesn’t work, though, remember this: the bad days make the good days feel like a lie, but that doesn’t mean they were. Bad days don’t treat you well, so why would you choose to listen to them? Remember the feelings of light and warmth and hilarity and belonging, the ones that made you smile instead of crying when you closed your eyes at night and woke you up laughing and made car trips feel like adventures. Remember that the facts of life have likely changed only a little, that your mindset is the real culprit here. The good thing about the capricious nature of your thoughts is that things can get better just as easily as they can get worse. That, my friend, is a realistic kind of hope, and if you stay present with that feeling, the layers of defensive self-pity and hurt and rumination within which you’ve cocooned yourself over the last few days might just begin to unravel.
*Update: This happened a couple of days ago, and over the course of writing and editing it I’ve gotten to a much happier place.
Have you ever used writing to get yourself out of a difficult headspace? Please share your favorite techniques in the comments!