Being lonely vs. being alone

This is part 2 of a 4-part series on Simplifying the Semantics of Suicide

For part 1, click here

A friend posted a link to the story of Madison Holleran. It is an article about a young woman who committed suicide. I recommend the time to read it.

In digesting Madison’s story, you will see that she was smart, athletic, popular, in demand at several universities, and surrounded by family and friends who all cared deeply about her.

Madison was loved by so many.

But as near as I can tell, she did not feel she was loved by the one.

Let me explain:

???????????????????????????????When I was a teenager I remember feeling so lonely. But it didn’t make any sense to me as I had lots of friends and my family was always there and I knew that people cared about me.

I couldn’t understand this feeling that conflicted with what I knew to be true.

But my Dad could tell that I was struggling and he cornered me in the kitchen one evening. I felt like a whining complainer trying to explain something that didn’t make any sense at all.

My first, second, and third instincts were to just say “I’m really okay, I think I’m just a little tired.”

What a blessing that my Dad pushed to the fourth instinctual reply that consisted of a garbled mess of tears and words and feelings and frustration.

We discovered together that someone can indeed feel lonely in a crowded room of friends and family.

It’s what it means to be alone.

At that point, my Dad became the one.

As I became familiar with Madison’s story, I sadly recognized how alone she was in the midst of all her loved ones.

I submit that those who find suicidal ideations on their radar, regardless of the source of their pain (be it mental illness, addiction, deep-seated desires, chronic disease, etc.) have misunderstood being alone as simply feeling lonely.


Ironically, the harder we work to put forth the image of what we think others expect of us, so that we will somehow not feel lonely in their midst, the more alone we become.

That survival tactic will fail every time; the solution doesn’t come from increasing the number of loved ones, but in the singularity of the one we allow to truly love us.

And that we allow ourselves to love in return.

At our last appointment with the psychiatrist, I filled out the same questionnaire that I always fill out. This time I was feeling pretty good that I could downscale the number of days that had been rough. Ann took the paper after I had filled it out, as she always does, and said that she didn’t quite agree with my self-assessment.

When our doctor asked her how she felt things were going, she was open and honest and told him that she was worried that I was trying to act better than I was feeling when I was around her. She had been watching closely and what she saw didn’t match with what I was reporting.

dancing3I have always seen pretending to feel better than I actually felt as a good thing; you know, an act of love, a selfless heroism if you will.

But it’s not.

Ann is incredibly perceptive, and in many ways knows me better than I know myself, but she is not a mind reader. The better I get at masking my situation, the easier it is for her to let her guard down and think that things really are getting better.

Even when they are not.

That doesn’t help either of us.

Here’s what Ann and I have figured out on this journey:

There has to be one person who watches all the time those who are mentally ill, or struggling in some way that leads down the road to suicide. Think of it as “the buck stops here” kind of mentality. If they aren’t physically around the person, then they need to follow up with others who are. It’s kind of like having a primary care physician who receives all the notes and information from the neurologist, psychiatrist, orthopedist, psychologist, etc.


Someone has to be the collector of all the data, and then understand what it means.

The one.

At the same time, the mentally ill or any who struggle down those scary paths must have one person that they simply love more than themselves. Think of it as having more trust than fear. I know that is counterintuitive to what we learn about loving ourselves first; but the truth is that there are times when if it is just about us, then getting off the ride is preferable.

Really, if not for the one, why else would we keep fighting a battle that doesn’t have an end?

Ann and I are blessed beyond description in so many ways, and in this in particular.

She loves me enough to be the one who will keep digging and asking and following up. She is the collector of data and understands when things are approaching a critical point.

I love her enough as the one for whom I will keep fighting the fight that doesn’t have an end, and I will do it cheerfully. By making it more about her, my pain and madness get to take a back seat to the happiness and peace I want for her.annandgreg

She focuses more on me; I focus more on her.

And in the process we save each other.

Madison had many people who cared very much about her. But it seems she wasn’t able to allow herself to trust them enough to cry out for help, to appear weak, to risk vulnerability.

Remember, she was smart, athletic, popular, in demand at several universities, and surrounded by family and friends who all cared deeply about her. It simply was not logical that she felt so lonely.

As she ended her life, she carefully made sure that those she loved knew, not only that she loved them, but that she knew she was loved by them.

But then she still jumped alone.

Each of us can be the one for someone – mentally ill or incredibly sane, family member or close friend, chronically ill or incredibly healthy. It’s really not a one-directional kind of thing.

Being the one helps to heal another; but our own healing also comes from being the one for another.

The bottom line would be that each of us needs to be on both sides of the equation.

Please, when you are on the inside looking out, trust more than you fear being misunderstood. Love the one enough to allow them to listen while you stumble over that garbled mess of tears and words and feelings and frustrations. They really do want to hear it.  And help.

Please, when you are on the outside looking in, love more than you fear being offensive. Be the one who is willing to commit to be that long term data collector and interpreter.


By focusing on the one, we grow to understand that none of us need be alone in a crowded room.



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