Dear Loneliness

When Chris told me that he might have to go back to China, I knew I couldn’t say no.

Even though I know that was best for him, I had no idea what to do. I asked my mom to come visit me, and she called me crazy. I asked her to send my brother over, and that plan didn’t go through.

So… Should I go back to Taipei? Should I go to stay at some hotel? Should I start visiting my friends? Should I try to get used to this newfound loneliness?

I was stressed…

Yet this stress is new to me because I was used to living with myself.

One of my proudest college moments is to secure single housing. My roommate even told me, “I didn’t expect you to be so alone-but-not-lonely: You take control with such confidence that only through living together could I appreciate your introversion.

When I did my first internship in the Bay Area, I was living alone in a family friend’s house for a month. When I did my second internship, I was living alone for three months. I even credit my thinking to the large portion of freedom and privacy.

Well, then why am I making a big deal out of potentially living alone for four weeks? Have I changed?

This insecurity is new…

After some panic attacks, I decided to come back to the present and focus on what I could do. I took some deep breaths and came to my senses. I would add a full entrée of meditation if the stresses persist. I’m getting better…

This new social order (quarantine!) tamed me to be happy with Chris, yet this change of event woke me up. I texted a few friends and shared my anxiety.

Fortunately, they have all been really responsive and assuring that they are there for me.

I sent my life coach a note.

I’d love to get some resources on managing loneliness. My partner is heading home to handle family emergency, so I might be living with myself for the next month. The thought made me nervous, and I’d appreciate some guidance!

She replied with some questions to help me examine the thoughts and fears around living alone for one month. Here’s my reply: I think it is okay in the morning but at night the fear of darkness would haunt me. Another fear is that I won’t see anyone for a month, as I am not comfortable leaving the house & will be living alone.

Look, I was really stuck. I was fixated on the thought of “living alone.” But why does it have to be a bad thing?

After I shared my fears in potentially staying home alone, my life coach asked me, What actions are you taking to prepare for the time you will have by yourself?

Well, I’m not there yet. I am still waiting for Chris to sort things out. What a victim. What a lie.

We all have a natural tendency to find excuses to avoid situations that make us fearful or stressed.

Avoidance takes many forms: procrastinating, declining social invitations, and so on. Avoidance is anything that prevents us from taking the plunge to do important things. The more we avoid, the more uncomfortable it gets. If we put a bandaid on our fear, we will never get the opportunity to cope with our fears.

During these emotional moments, it is best to accept what we are feeling, focus on what we can do in the situation, and face our fears. But what does it mean to face our own fears?

Facing your fears entails gradually and repeatedly approaching situations that you tend to avoid because of anxiety. Over time, you will feel less uncomfortable in these situations and build the confidence muscle against the discomfort.

Here’s the step-by-step recipe my coach shared with me:

  1. Make a List: Make a list of situations, places, and objects that you fear.E.g. If you fear darkness, the list might include staying in a dark room, going for a walk in the dark, sleeping alone, waking up before the sunrise, etc.
  2. Build a Fear Ladder: For each item on your list, rate your fear from 0 (no fear) to 10 (extreme fear). Then arrange the list from least fearful to most fearful.
  3. Face Your Fears: Start with the situation that causes you the least anxiety. Repeatedly approach the activity until your anxiety decreases by 50% or more. If your anxiety doesn’t decrease, stay with the situation until you’re 50% less confident that something bad will occur.E.g. Sit in a dark room until you feel less anxious doing it. If you still feel anxious, you’re much less convinced that something bad is going to happen.
  4. Practice: Practice approaching the feared situation on a regular basis. Once you’re able to enter the situation without much difficulty, move onto the next item on your fear ladder.Facing your fears doesn’t work very well if you simply grit your teeth through the experience. It helps to be willing to allow whatever discomfort you have at the same time. Remind yourself that anxiety and fear can’t hurt you, even though they’re uncomfortable.
  5. Reward Yourself: Don’t forget to reward yourself. Being kind to yourself as you face your fears is as important as the willingness to feel discomfort. Gentle encouragement usually works better than self-criticism.

What opportunities may be present for you during this time?

This is the powerful question that helped me reframe the tough time.

Instead of treating that as a mental health crisis, I am now seeing it as an opportunity to accept and grow beyond my level of knowledge. Here are two more questions that further guided me during this time:

  1. What if this is a creative time?
  2. What do I want my legacy to be?

Earlier this year, everything was thrown up in the air. Schools moved online. Graduation was cancelled. Wedding was delayed. The entire world was on fire. While it is tempting to label this period of destruction as bad, we need to see all the great things we are creating at the same time.

Chris is learning how to make sushi, and I am learning how to design a home. People are cooking at home more than ever. Families are spending more time together. Not too bad, right?

The other side of destruction is creation.

According to the Vedas, creation, maintenance and destruction flow in a cycle. All three are happening all the time. However, our fear of change tricks us into believing that maintenance is safer than creation. As a result, we’d much rather stay with the status quo.

When we lead with creation, life flows more elegantly. How can we lead with creation in time of destruction?

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