In All of My Loneliness, I Learned Something

I’m a 27-year-old millennial with a booming career. I have a family that loves me unconditionally and I have friends that I have known for years. For crying out loud, it’s 2019—I have the world at my fingertips! Despite all of this, however, I fight with a kind of loneliness that even someone from a background like mine cannot shake. Maybe I needed fresh air or to get out even more than I already was? The truth is: I tried all of that and it doesn’t work.

My loneliness often takes me by surprise. I could be out shopping—dancing down the streets of Chicago with my headphones in—during the first half of my day and suddenly spend the second half of day at home alone in the dark, wondering why no one “likes” me. I tried hard to understand these feelings, documenting my exact thoughts in a journal or recording my voice in “happy” and “sad” times for comparison. I came to accept that fact that I was just “depressed” and needed medication. I quickly learned I didn’t.

Enter the work of Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. In her book Braving The Wilderness, she breaks down the root cause of loneliness and how it can manifest itself among individuals and groups of people. She illustrates how loneliness can transcend the body into physical space. She lays out how to mitigate loneliness when it consumes us.

Dr. Brown posits that, among other things, as people continuously stratify—or sort, as Dr. Brown puts it—themselves into homogenous groups centered around similar beliefs, political ideologies, or other like-minded groups. As you would guess, sorting results in groups of people who share similar thought patterns. It sends a signal to folks within a particular group that they can trust one another. That, within the confines of a politically, racially, or spiritually indistinguishable walled garden, people like them are in good company.

Often referencing the work of Bill Bishop, Dr. Brown asks, “Wouldn’t you think that all of the sorting by politics and beliefs we’ve been doing would lead to more social interaction?” Citing years of research, Dr. Brown submits that “at the same time sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.” One would assume that as people begin to assimilate across various idiosyncrasies, they also become happier. This is, as Dr. Brown points out in the book, unequivocally not true.

Take, for example, folks who gather on partisan beliefs. According to Bill Bishop, “In 1976, less than 25 percent of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide.” Contrasting that to the 2016 presidential election, Bishop cites that “80 percent of U.S. counties gave either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton a landslide victory.” As is illustrated by Bishop, it’s more likely than ever that we no longer share neighbors who are different from us, politically speaking.

So what’s the point? It all boils down to connection. Dr. Brown illustrates in her book that loneliness is, in both a qualitative and quantitative way, linked to connection. Dr. Brown states that “at the same time sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.” However, sorting ourselves is not the reason we’ve become lonelier — fear is. Fear drives out connection. Even within an in-group formed on the basis of a particular shared facet, certain aspects of a person — like their race, gender, and other attributes — may cease to be reconciled, creating yet another pocket of indifference.

While I think there is a lot to be learned about the relationship between connection, fear, and the assimilation of similar ideologies on a macro level, I would like to return to how all of this opened my eyes and how it can be applied on a micro—or individual—level. As I began to dive deeper into my personal experiences, I started with my friendships. As I mentioned earlier on, I have a good amount of friends; however, it wasn’t with my close friends that I felt connected in such a way that would rid me of lonliness. Most of my close friends are part of the LGBT community, grew up in the same children’s home I did, or share some other strong common characteristic. It was with the friends with whom I had to push myself to reach across the aisle and engage in conversation over political, spiritual, or ideological differences that I experienced the strongest feeling of connection. Simply put: Engaging with friends who are different than I drove out my fear and laid the foundation for a meaningful relationship.

To be clear, and to hopefully drive this home for folks: I am not proclaiming that reconciling political, spiritual, or ideological differences is the only way to combat loneliness. Boiling this down to the core argument raised by Dr. Brown: fear drives a lack of connection and a lack of connection drives an increase in loneliness. Certainly, as we becoming more politically divided, afraid of reconciling our differences and thusly driving out any chance at connecting, we too, will also experience loneliness. However, stepping out of our comfort zone (overcoming fear) and seeking connection with others on hobbies in which we think we lack skill, movies that we render “not our type”, or music that we don’t necessarily vibe to, will drive out loneliness. This can be done with friends who may consider close or among friends with whom you lack a strong bond. It can be done informally through having a gathering in your home or formally through joining or starting a book club or other group.

For myself and maybe for you, I hope we take heed of the advice Dr. Brown puts forward and find ways to connect on a meaningful level – even if that connection exists outside of political, spiritual, and ideological indifference. For once a connection is forged, our differences can be reconciled.

Diary of a Broken Child: A Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness

Everyday I wake up and thank God that I am alive because only He knows there were times when I didn’t think living was the best option anymore.

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This piece was originally posted on Medium.com and written/owned by Kyle Urbashich.

Everyday I wake up and thank God that I am alive because only He knows there were times when I didn’t think living was the best option anymore.

In 2001, my life changed forever. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was actually being saved from the anguish I lived in up until then. It all started on the South Side of Chicago. As much as I can remember, we had always lived in a two flat apartment building. To this day, I cannot remember the insides of the house very much, although I do remember many nights where I would avoid using the bathroom so I didn’t have to turn on the lights and watch dozens of cockroaches scatter in all different directions. The thought horrifies me to this day.

Growing up I dealt with constant pain from my drug and alcohol addicted parents. Time and time again, I watched my father get high in the bedroom, or my mother ruin herself with a deadly combination of alcohol and dangerous drugs. Many times she spiraled out of control and she was almost always helpless during her episodes. In one of her episodes, I remember her locking my siblings and I in the bathroom, forcing us to watch her slice her face with a razor. She said she did it to prove that she would do anything for us, but her actions only forced me to distance myself from her in order to avoid anything like that again. My mother faced multiple incarcerations during my childhood, so my relationship with her rested on the very few memories I had of her at that time.

My siblings and I faced serious abuse and neglect from my parents because of their tarnished state of mind the drugs and alcohol produced. Being the oldest brother, I constantly felt the pressure to protect my siblings under any circumstance. Most times when the abuse started, I would hurry my siblings into our bedroom where they hid on the top bunk. There was no way that with my siblings being so young, they would ever understand what was going on. I also knew that safeguarding them as much as possible might help them come out on top of the situation we were facing.

Amidst all of this, however, there were good times that were had that kind of took my mind off of the situation. During our time in Chicago, my father worked as the night watchperson for a Chicago cruise line. His commute to work always fascinated me because even at a young age, the beauty of the city simply fascinated me. My favorite part of the commute, and still probably my favorite thing to do to this day, is to travel on Lower Wacker Drive. The tunnel-like experience of the commute always made me happy.

After many years in Chicago, my father met a woman who I now know as my ex-stepmother. As he fell in love with her, I began to realize that the two of them had similar problems when it came to drugs and alcohol. After some time together, they moved us to the suburbs of Chicago. At the time, I figured this would alleviate some of adversity and abuse we were facing, but it only continued. My father and former stepmother fed off of each other when it came to drugs and alcohol, which led to many arguments and more abuse. It didn’t take long for my former stepmother to join in on adding to all of the chaos in our lives.

After some time, the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services finally intervened and encouraged my father to place my siblings and I in a children’s home. I distinctly remember meeting with the case manager at the Home, who setup our weekend visit at at the facility to determine if our placement at the Home was appropriate. During our weekend visit — which almost felt like vacation — I remember being amazed by how well kept the houses were. I remember being shown my bedroom and told that a particular side of the room would be mine and that I would share it with another person. I was overjoyed at the fact that I finally had my own bed because for so long my siblings and I shared bunk beds. I was happy that my siblings and I were able to stay together and that we were able to see each other everyday.

During my time there, the Home provided complete care for me and provided me with love that I wasn’t familiar with. We attended the local public schools and were encouraged to participate in the community where I volunteered my time The LeaderShop, a local youth service agency that coordinated youth volunteer efforts. During my time with The LeaderShop, I volunteered hundreds of hours assisting with relief efforts for refugee families, caroling at senior living facilities, assisting with local 5K races, and so on. As a token of appreciation, I was awarded with the Cook County Sheriff’s Medal of Honor in 2007 and 2009.

Living in the Home saved my life and granted me opportunities I would’ve have never had before. I resided at the home until I was 18 years old, at which time the Home released me as an adult. After 10 years in the Home, I was able to learn about myself, who I was, and what I stood for. The staff and children at the Home provided me with a family and gave me love even when I didn’t love myself very much. I don’t tell this story to talk down about my biological parents. I tell this story to show that sometimes in life we will be afraid. Sometimes in life we will want to give up. Audre Lorde once said, ““When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I knew as a childhood that no matter how afraid I was or how badly I wanted out, I was better than the hand that was dealt to me at the time.

Tomorrow I turn 24 years old, and in May, I will graduate as a first generation college student with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. I have a family who has taken me and my siblings into their home and loved us as if we were their own. It’s hard for me to imagine a world where I would’ve given up. I wouldn’t have lived to change the lives of others. I wouldn’t have lived to learn what love is. I wouldn’t have lived to watch my siblings grow up. I wouldn’t have lived to learn that life is so much more than a crappy childhood. I wouldn’t have lived to realize that I was given this life because I was strong enough live it.