The hashtag, #AloneTogether, has been everywhere. Its purpose is to serve as a way of building connectedness and community, especially during a time when our sense of freedom has become restricted. I love the message of hope and support that it is trying to convey, but the reality is that even though we are going through this together as a nation, I still feel lonely at times. I know I do not stand alone with this sentiment. Research has indicated that before this pandemic, 3 out of 5 Americans reported feeling lonely in 2019.
( https://www.cigna.com/static/www-cigna-com/docs/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/cigna-2020-loneliness-factsheet.pdf ) Covid-19 has only exacerbated the situation for many individuals, myself included.
Alone is defined as being separated from others, while lonely is producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation according to Merriam-Webster. In other words, being alone is external whereas loneliness is internal. A person can be sheltering at home with loved ones, but yet still feel misunderstood or as if no one cares about them. I had a client one time ask me if I have it all together since I am a Therapist. I laughed and told her that I am a work in progress just like everyone else. Sometimes our clients look at us as having all of the answers but it's important to note that just because mental health professionals have the training, knowledge, and skill set to handle a myriad of emotional and mental concerns, that does not mean that we don't experience challenges. The truth is, I feel lonely at times. Historically and presently, as a black woman, society has never valued me or felt that I could be of value. In general, marginalized communities have always had the odds stacked against them. I believe that loneliness is related to mattering. Mattering is a term that I first heard used by my graduate school professor. She described it as the need to be important to others. Mattering means feeling valued and adding value to self and others. It is a key component of mental health. Mattering can be linked to depression, suicidal ideation, job satisfaction, romantic relationships, etc.
I think most if not all of us have experienced feelings of loneliness or have asked ourselves do I matter. Honestly, the times when I do feel lonely are the moments when I feel unloved or unlovable or that my struggles are just overwhelming. Those are the instances when I am in my head trying to quiet my inner critic. I remind myself that I do matter by reading positive affirmations, writing in my journal, as well as recalling situations where I made a difference in someone's life. Also, I reach out to my support system and when all else fails and I still can't shake the feeling, I practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present and observing one's surroundings, thoughts, and feelings (emotional and physical) without judging them as good or as bad. I allow myself to be present at the moment and accept and embrace what I am experiencing versus trying to run and hide from it.
In the movie, The Help, Viola Davis's character constantly repeats to the little white girl, "You is smart, You is kind, You is important." She was hoping to ingrain in her that she is valued and has value. In other words, she matters. I recognize that my clients come to me feeling as if they don't matter, as if their challenges are too much for anyone to deal with. As a therapist, I show my clients that they matter by providing a safe non-judgmental environment. I am supportive and caring yet real and transparent with them. I let them know that counseling will not be easy and that at times having to unravel everything will suck but I am here with you on this journey. You don't have to go through this alone, we can do this together even though the road may be lonely at times. How do you show others that they matter? How do others show you that you are valued? How do your actions inform your clients that they matter? How do you teach your clients that they matter? What does it mean to matter and how do you let yourself know that you matter?
If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or mentally, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Hello to 741741.
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