The room is packed with people. The lights come up as the band takes the stage. The lead singer calls out to his hometown, and the crowd is fired up. I feel like I could cry any minute, but don’t know why. Every time I’m jostled by dancing fans, it’s a reminder that I’m surrounded by hundreds of people having fun – and I’m not. The only things preventing me from hiding in the bathroom are the filthy stalls and sticky floors. I stay with my friends and feign happiness. It’s not that I’m unhappy being with them, it’s that I simply can’t understand why I feel so alone.
I’m startled awake by my racing heart. My clock tells me it’s 3:15 a.m., and I know I’ll spend at least the next two hours fending off a cycle of vicious thoughts. I lay still – I don’t want to wake my fiance, because why should we both suffer? I think about the day ahead of me. I worry about what I said to an acquaintance three months ago. I consider every single flaw I have, and some that might crop up later for good measure. I wonder when this pain will stop and the cacophony of thoughts will quiet down. A person I love and trust is beside me, yet all I feel is sickening loneliness.
It’s an unusually warm spring day in Boston. I walk down the tree-lined street, but don’t notice the blooming flowers, Victorian brownstones or uneven bricks in the sidewalk. I only see people walking by. Every person that passes makes me think: “She’s so lucky. She’s happy.” I’ve convinced myself everyone else in the world is skipping carefree through life. Why don’t any of them have difficulty even getting out of bed each day? And there it is again: The feeling that I’m all alone.
In the years prior to seeking treatment for my depression, I wondered why I was incapable of feeling joy for extended periods of time (I’d later learn there’s a word for that: Anhedonia). I convinced myself that if I spoke up, I’d be told to “get over it.” I assumed no one would understand how I felt, so I kept quiet – which only made me feel more alone.
But the loneliness itself felt so illogical. I spent most days with other people. I worked in a bustling office. I lived with my fiancée. My family was nearby. Friends were minutes away. I was rarely alone, yet loneliness consumed me every minute.
Trapped Alone in My Mind
Those closest to me knew something was wrong and offered help many times, but I was too tired and unsure of what to say. Since I didn’t know how to properly explain the sadness, loneliness, exhaustion and fear of being a burden, it wasn’t uncommon for me to respond with, “I’ll be fine. It’s just a bad day.”
I felt like I was the only person in the world who couldn’t feel better, and my depressive thinking spiraled out of control. I tried to make sense of my emotions on my own and when that became too overwhelming, I would sleep it off.
By wasting years not sharing what I was going through, I was alone with my thoughts. And isolating myself only gave me a skewed perspective. One negative thought led to another. Reality wasn’t even close to the pictures I was painting in my head. Finally, when the fog simply wouldn’t lift, I would tell myself I deserved to feel terrible. I didn’t deserve anything close to it, of course, but that’s what depression does: Amplifies the negative to the point where it’s almost impossible to see any positives at all.
When I was given an official diagnosis, I finally felt empowered to speak up. But I shouldn’t have waited so long. If I’d explained the extent of my misery to someone sooner, I may not have experienced such unbearable loneliness for so long.
At times, depression has made me feel like the entire world was going forward without me. Paralyzed with shame, I’ve told myself no one cared. I’ve reached points where my illness was dictating my emotions.
But this type of thinking is based on … nothing, really. Encouragingly, when I learned what “anhedonia” meant, the word nerd in me had one thought: “Well if there’s a term for it, it must mean I’m not the only one in the world who feels this way.”
And, ultimately, it was my words that started my journey back to healing. In trying to explain my pain, the loneliness doesn’t weigh as heavily.