How do we navigate solitude in a world that tells us we need other people around us in order to feel valuable, and, further, how do we manage this when our neurobiology screams at us that being alone is dangerous? The messages we get from society tell us that relationships, especially the intimate ones, are a large key to our lifelong happiness.  On top of that, brain research demonstrates that loneliness can trigger the brain’s fight/flight/freeze response (the nervous system’s way of telling us we are in a potentially dangerous situation) and need to be on alert in order to stay alive. It is no surprise then, that being alone can lead to strong feelings of loneliness.

All of us have felt lonely. It’s part of the human experience. Ironically, we can be surrounded by others and still feel alone.  Loneliness is fickle – one moment masquerading as depression, the next moment rushing in on a cloud of anxiety. It is a feeling that sinks into your whole being, down to your bones. It’s hollow, yet fills you completely with a vast emptiness. It may come in waves or always be present.  It is a whole-being experience, meaning it affects our emotions, our thoughts, our bodies, our unconscious, and of course, our relationships.

The way we form relationships stems from our attachment systems – these are the ways in which we can (or cannot) get close to others.  Our attachment systems are generally created in childhood, but have the ability to change. The way we attached to others can add to what is perhaps the greatest irony in human life: the fact that what takes away loneliness can also be the source of it. Human connection can be fleeting, unreliable, untrustworthy. And when it falls apart, it can leave us lonelier than before.  Being alone can be a choice or can happen outside our control.

“Loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself.” Rupi Kaur

How can we survive this?

  • Perhaps we should start with addressing the stigma that surrounds being without a partner. Society tells us that we need to be in a relationships in order to be fulfilled, but this simply isn’t the case. Let’s start to reframe loneliness as solitude, so that when it occurs, it becomes a powerful and necessary experience leading to personal growth.
  • Acknowledge that you are sitting in solitude – and that you are human. When we validate our emotional experience, we are better able to move through those emotions.
  • We will never not have the experience of solitude when it is warranted. It’s wired within us to feel that kind of pain, and it’s all there for a reason. Accepting the grief, despair, pain, numbness, etc that comes with the feeling can often be the next step toward moving through these powerful emotions.

How do we move forward?

  • After facing solitude, we often level up and become better versions of ourselves. Reminding ourselves that this kind of growth may not have been able to occur while surrounded by others is important.
  • We become resilient – not in a way that makes us immune to solitude– but in a way that makes us better able to tolerate and perhaps even welcome the opportunity to become more intimate with ourselves.
  • We become woke – if we can figure out what we have just learned about ourselves through being alone. Reflecting, creating insight, and being creative are all ways we can find meaning in a situation.
  • We can use the opportunity to focus on the most important human connection and fall deeper into love and knowing with ourselves.

 If you find yourself alone, especially on a day like this one – full of hearts, cupids, chocolates, and materialistic love – it can be especially hard. Remember, though, that you are likely in a phase of intense personal growth, so remember to do the hard work of loving yourself each step of the way.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

Rushing into the winter break in December, you probably thought that going back to the grind after some time off would sparkle your rusty motivation. After all, most of us had at least a couple of days off in a warm company of family, friends, and delicious food. Away from the daily hustle, our minds and bodies hit reset and regrouped for a new adventure. But why, after the January lull and into the dark month of February, is motivation lagging behind?

Despite high expectations, January might be a year’s most unproductive month and cold temperatures in the following month can extend that lack of productivity. As you ease into 2019—powered by family gatherings, friendly get-togethers, and, most likely, a disrupted routine—it almost feels like you need to remind yourself of your past pre-holiday self in order to function. We’re resurfacing from a timeless, placeless oblivion back to the world of order and responsibility. Not only are we burdened by the societal pressures, but also self-imposed resolutions to start a new life when the clock strikes midnight – resolutions which many of us have already tossed aside as the months chug along. Alongside our efforts to re-establish a routine, living life inspired might be a bigger challenge than we think.

Inspiration is often perceived as a metaphysical concept: a transcendental phenomenon, a feeling that has to be nourished and pampered. An inspired life is living with purpose every minute, despite any curveballs that may arise. Along with identifying the triggers that awaken inspiration, it is equally important to sustain it—through many roadblocks and downturns. This is where most people begin to struggle. Once life throws us out of the environment or mindset conducive to an inspired living, we can quickly lose our mojo, plummeting into what we perceive to be a dull existence.

Staying inspired is a skill that you can pick up and hone. Follow these tips to turn inspiration into a habit.

  1. Actions over feelings. Think “inspire” rather than “inspiration”. Instead of waiting around for a feeling, focus on the actions that you can take to evoke it. Inspire yourself and inspire others. Why do you do what you do? When inspiration is hard to summon, zoom out to the bigger picture and think of the impact of your work, how your actions affect your family and friends, and the community at large. Remember, an inspired living is living with purpose. Be clear about your purpose and go back to it when inspiration starts to fade.
  2. Seek inspiration in the mundane. Unless you live in a perfect world, you can’t always surround yourself with things that inspire you. While it is instrumental to design a personal inspiration heaven—an image of an environment where you feel most inspired—it is equally important to find inspiration in the mundane: in a grocery store, on your way to work, on the bus. We touch thousands of lives every day. Every interaction matters. Listen to the stories around you, learn from the incredible people out there in the world. Find someone who inspires you. If you wish to be more proactive, challenge yourself to inspire at least one person a day. This can be your family member, a co-worker, or a complete stranger.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Life can wreak havoc our plans, throw off our inspiration, and turn our habits upside down. It is in these moments when you need to remind yourself that actions trigger feelings, and practice actions that inspire.

Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

 

Welcome to the first installment of Writing Wednesdays – a biweekly column with writer and researcher for The Drawing Board, Rachael Heffernan.

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At the outset of writing my thesis, I sat down with my advisor with a pile of questions. Unfortunately, though I had over a hundred pages of reading notes, I had not yet written anything myself.

My advisor was not impressed. “You must write.” He said. “Writing is a kind of learning, you know.”

I did not know. I had always thought of writing as something that you did once you had figured out what you wanted to say. Sure, you may fill in little holes here and there as you go, but writing was, I thought, the step you took after you had learned about the things you wanted to write about.

That understanding came out of my (well-founded) anxiety of disorganization. If I wrote without a plan, or without sufficient material stockpiled, I couldn’t write for very long before I had to stop writing. I would pull out books and articles to help me, and pretty soon I was surrounded by various journals, loose leaf paper, and Word documents, all full of bits of research, ideas, brainstorming, outlines, and even the occasional well-formed and articulated thought. Inevitably, my rumbling tummy or a nearing appointment would draw me away from my wild research tornado. Upon returning to that project, maybe hours, maybe days later, I would find sheets of paper crumpled or lost, forget which journal I had written what in, search endlessly for the obscure Word document I had titled in my academic frenzy, and ultimately feel lost and discombobulated amongst the disconnected threads of consciousness strewn around my workspace.

Under the pressure of meeting deadlines, I did not understand the chaos that was my writing process as contributing to my learning; I saw it as a hindrance to my academic success.

It was not. As much as I may have many lessons to learn vis a vis organization, I now understand (thanks to the guidance of my advisor) how important the craziness of that initial writing phase is. It is active. It is inspired. It is energetic. And no matter how many sheets of loose leaf paper I may have lost, at least I was excited. Being lit up in that way can never be recreated by reading, or by debating, or by presenting. Those have their own types of elation. But fighting to find the exact right words for the idea you have had just now, or having new ideas even as you are writing your other new ideas down, or finding that you cannot write fast enough to keep up with all you want to say – these are the rewards that await us when we put words to page.

We are not stenographers, nor copyists – we will never be able to sit down and write all that is in our heads with no edits or second thought. Writing is messy, and tumultuous, and raucous, and unsystematic – but if we can allow ourselves to take joy in the pandemonium and appreciate it for its contribution to our learning, it can shift from a stressor to an adventure.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.