I don’t often have insomnia. In fact, most of the time I sleep very well. And the times when I am wide awake, I often have company in the form of my long-suffering and chronic-insomniac partner. But for an hour this morning I found myself totally alone, creeping through a quiet, dark house with nothing but myself for company. And I found the experience to be above all one of intense loneliness.
I’ve never thought of insomnia as being a lonely place before. Frustrating and annoying to be certain, possibly even upsetting and distressing, but it’s never occured to me before that it must also be lonely. You daren’t even turn the television on for company for fear of the noise waking up other members of the household (or at least I, being hard of hearing and needing the volume up high, cannot).
I remember as a teenager trying to explain to someone who hated big cities how I felt alone and anonymous in the middle of a crowded street. They were used to a small town and associated the experience of walking down the high street and being seen by people they knew and greeted by name in several places. I, however, had experienced Manchester’s Market Street on a Saturday afternoon, and knew that even if there were people in the crowds with whom I was aquainted, the chances of them seeing me, much less being able to get to me and say hello, were remote to say the least.
As a teenager I craved the moments when I could be alone, and sought them whenever I could, such as going shopping in the city centre on a Saturday, whether I wanted to actually shop or not. And as an adult, I do still need alone time to recharge my batteries, to re-energise myself and gear up for whatever is coming next. But being alone and needing to feel alone is quite different than the sensation of being lonely.
I think that’s a common mistake people make. Just because someone values their own space and time by themselves, it does not mean that they do not sometimes feel intense loneliness, especially when solitary pursuits have been imposed upon them. And being awake in a household full of sleepers is a very solitary pursuit indeed.
The feeling of being lonely is not a nice one. Being alone means making a choice about whether or not to interact with others. Being lonely is having any such choices removed.
I have felt lonely in crowds of people before. It’s not difficult. Just as some people mistake being alone for being lonely, they also mistake being with others as a solution to loneliness. Sometimes only escaping a situation completely, removing oneself and seeking alone time can remove the hollow pit caused by loneliness and the sure knowledge that no one understands just how you are feeling.
Tonight, however, I have been lucky. I was not lonely for very long, and my loneliness fled in the face of a much nicer solution (at least for me)….. my beloved and long suffering partner woke up to join me!