Sista’s, I have come to this topic with a heavy heart and an open mind. Loneliness is a place that the Black community doesn’t talk openly about or necessarily identify with. For some it is a never-ending silence but for many it is a place filled with so much noise and busyness that it is hard to distinguish if in fact you are lonely. People have said to me in the past, how can you be lonely when you have so many kids and that was when there was just three of them. I've heard from others that when they have mentioned loneliness, they have been hit with get a job or a man but as I have suggested being with others does not remove the feeling of loneliness, it can however mask it or make it sound implausible.
There is also a common confusion with our community that loneliness is the same as being alone. Hell, I love being alone, it's a rarity in my life, but being in my own company rarely makes me feel lonely, I like me and so she (THAT IS ME) makes me laugh, keeps me calm, understands how I feel. My third person speak is not to be confused with mental ill health but is totally associated with mental wellbeing. I know some people that suffer with chronic loneliness and don’t particularly like themselves, now that leads to unbearable pain and anguish that thankfully has not unfolded on me. Rather, I have experienced the unpleasant emotional response to what the dictionary says is a perceived sense of isolation, although I am pretty sure I felt isolated and it was not just perceived, lol. Further definitions of loneliness describe it as a social pain, this is considered psychological, and when experienced, motivates people to seek social connections to fill the void. Both forms of loneliness are often associated with a significant lack of connection and intimacy.
If you didn’t know it before, I am sure more of you now to can pinpoint a time of feeling loneliness or are experiencing it right now. Do not despair, like most things with time and healing all seasons come to pass. The trick is not to look to fill your loneliness, but instead understand why you feel that way. For me, my earliest memory of loneliness came behind the death of my grandmother. Not to be confused with grief, although that was there too, I felt as though I knew something no one else knew and I couldn’t tell anyone or no one would listen, this led to a feeling of isolation that then deepened my loneliness. When I think back, I don’t know what changed that feeling, I am not sure anything did, I was fourteen and life moves on. It was years later in my late twenties that a loneliness hit me at a magnitude I had never experienced before. This was the moment I knew it needed to be dealt with.
I had been married young to the wrong man and went through some crap. My lack of elaboration is no longer about fear of what people will think or say but because I respect that that was a dark time in my life that looking back as a child I handled to the best of my ability whilst raising children of my own and I thank the guts and the gall of that young woman, she made me the woman I am proud to be today. Self-celebration over lol, back then I was in a situation that very few people knew about and even less truly understood, there was actual days of hell on earth and on those days, I saw many endings, but I bided my time. When the initial end came it was him who walked away, I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t understand it but that’s what happened. You would think I would have been dancing in the street but no I wasn’t, on the outside I was seemingly going about my day to day but on the inside, I was suffering with severe and acute and then chronic loneliness.
I look back at that beauty now and I am filled with joy that she was filled with the resilience that her grandmother in years gone by had boldly jam packed her with. That young woman through a series of extraordinary events was led back to her grandmother's teachings and recalled what she had suppressed many moons ago. She was enlightened to the fact that her grandmother had said and taught her things that no one else knew, you see, she raised me and instilled treasure maps that for every moment of challenge or strain or sadness or stretch in my life, I could find a gem or pot of gold to get me to a better place. I have been in work, the supermarket, on the bus and felt judged for some reason or another and I would hear her sweet Bajan voice say "Joanna, what other people think of you is none of your business and I know I taught you how to mind ya own business!" This was my grandmothers way of letting me know that 'I did not need the approval of other people'. My mama was the original Onyx Yaya, the wisest Black woman I have ever met to this day and everyone she met or knew her would say exactly the same.
By me seeking understanding of self I was removed from the misguidance of filling my loneliness with people and things and what some may call necessary evils. Necessary evils take their form in various ways like filled in bottles, cans, cups and glasses marked alcohol, rolled in rizla paper, crushed or melted into pipes or syringes. People in the form of numerous sexual partners, undesirable friendships who use, abuse or excuse you and your behaviours. These are observations of a woman who has seen society from several angels and walked in shoes that have toughened skin, dried out pores and bent toes out of shape. I have seen loss, guilt damage and irreconcilable differences that destroyed families and led to hurts that decades have not healed.
Are you suffering in this way? Has your loneliness turned you away from your loved ones or forced you to grow a love for a necessary evil. There is another way, and it leads to you being better. For some it looks like counselling, reconciliation or a different routine, for others joining a club, group or religion and still others may need to confront, confess or recognise someone/something. There is medical help available - your GP/ doctor is likely to be a good start - telephone help lines and charities that provide support. For those that are like me, the answer is within you and you are in a position to heal yourself that doesn't mean that all or some of the above will not also be of value.
The truth is Black women become lonely for many reasons, over educated and cannot find a suitable partner, too many children without support, no children and want them, too fat, too slim, too light, too dark, undiagnosed illness or unresolved trauma or simply - but profoundly deafening - is the truth that your voice is not heard. There are also our elder generations, mainly Black women who are experiencing chronic loneliness because of empty nest syndrome and then there are others in long term relationships that are going through the motions living a lonely existence.
My reason for telling you this is twofold. The first, is that loneliness does not discriminate, we are all at risk and the biggest danger to it becoming more than momentary is not talking about it. The second point to make, is that none of the reasons I mentioned are bigger than another and none of them cannot be overcome.
Know what you are dealing with:
Declining energy levels
Feeling forgetful, losing or not being able to focus
Sleep issues, ranging from insomnia to excessive sleeping but still feeling as though you have not rested
Low mood manifesting in feeling hopelessness or worthlessness
Feeling unwell or suffering with body aches and pains (not associated with a diagnosis or incident)
Anxiety that makes you feel all over the place
Buying unnecessary or unwanted items
Substance and alcohol misuse
Continual desire and an increasing desire to binge-watch shows and movies
Constantly wanting the feeling of warmth, usually fulfilled with hot drinks, long hot showers and baths, wearing layers of cozy clothes
So, what can you do for yourself:
Recognise your symptoms
If possible, understand why
Speak to people, keeping in touch with loved ones and opening up to those you Trust
Change your routine by getting out, exercise, taking up a hobby or volunteering
Accept help, do not accept loneliness
What can you do for others:
Reach out ...to that stay-at-home mum who always seems to be looking down and without adult company or your elders with a phone call or go roll the dumplings to put in the soup that they are only making because you said you would pop in.
Listen, not to fix or do anything, just listen so they feel heard, there is validation in feeling important enough that someone wants to hear you speak about who you really are and not just who people want you to be.
Offer to join them in a walk or session at the gym, do not arrange the activities or change your life for them/it if they change their mind, you may feel annoyed and not be available again or they may not feel they can come to you again.
Don’t make their problem yours, to help another should not feel burdensome (at least not long term).
You may not be the difference they need, don’t beat yourself up step back and leave another avenue like a helpline or YouTube video to spur them on.
Ladies remember, loneliness is not catching, it's not embarrassing and it's not your fault. Do not suffer in silence, do seek to understand why, do not seek the inappropriate use of people or things. If you are unable to recognise yourself, seek help and grow into a better version of yourself.
Onyx Yaya's will continue to open up the conversations all Black women need and want to have, stay blessed.