How to Beat Loneliness Before it Beats You

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A picture of me and Costa Rican friends sitting on a fence on the side of a dormant volcano. I am not alone here. I just think it is cool.

My family lives in a small, idyllic town off of the Southeastern Coast of the USA. It is a well-known destination for southern elites (I mean that as a compliment) who come here to spend a few idle days before heading back to the grind of whatever they do for work in whatever larger city they live. Generally, the people who live in my hometown are retired or got married within less than 8 years of college and are adapted to the slower pace.

When between jobs, I have found myself back there with little to do and less and less people to do it with. I am not married or retired. Among the popular activities in my coastal hometown are golf, drinking, boating, riding bikes, tennis, golf and drinking. These are fun, but not perfect for someone who is confident that his next paycheck will come, but doesn’t know exactly when. And, I left my bike in San Francisco; I don’t own a boat yet; and think drinking heavily while unemployed can jeopardize potential future employment. This means I have to be creative in avoiding boredom. Consequently, I have found and developed other fulfilling hobbies, such as jiu-jitsu, but I have not figured out how to get paid to do them.

As for my friends here, their family obligations leave them with little time to fuck around with one of their few remaining bachelor friends. I must emphasize that I attribute my friends’ unavailability to their busyness, but not maliciousness, and will continue to do so until proven wrong. This phenomenon of busyness is prevalent in most places in this country among people in their mid-30s, because that seems to be the optimal age to start a family. I love my friends.

Getting to the point, the lack of suitable daily social activities and people to do them with creates a lot of alone time for me here. I, like other people need to spend about half of my time alone to feel like I am at my best. I love me some me, time.

However, too much alone time is widely known as hazardous to a person’s mental health. I just finished reading a great book in which the author explains how loneliness and disconnection are a sure path to a decrease in mental health and even depression. The author did this in more depth and with more eloquence than I am here, but, if you have been alive for long enough, you know what I am talking about. We weren’t designed to spend life in solitude.

Having experienced extended periods of solitude in my hometown, I have become more proficient at keeping my mind out of the “devil’s workshop.” It wasn’t always like this, but, through experience, I have vastly improved at being alone. Below are a few things I recommend doing to help you stay sane while you are by yourself for extended periods of time.

  1. Call People–I’m coming out of the gate with this one, because it can make or break the quality of your mindset and, in turn, mental health. Calling and staying in touch with people, even if it is just to bullshit, can do wonders for your psychey. Taking it a step further, every time I think of someone I haven’t been in contact with for some time, I write their name down and plan on reaching out to them within 24 hours. It works. Our tendency, as human beings, is to interpret other people’s inability to spend time with us as them not wanting to. This is less often the case. There is a quote that is credited to Napolean that goes, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” Replace “incompetence” with “busyness” and there you have a philosophy you can use when people can’t hang out with you. Besides, I like being around me, so other people must feel that way too. Lastly, I found it acceptable to have long phone conversations about nothing with friends who might live far away, but are available during these times. You don’t have to join a cult to diminish the sting of loneliness. Stay connected to people you know. It works. I promise.
  2. Exercise–Duh! Exercise is the antidote for a better life for innumerable reasons. Doing it regularly while alone and idle is no exception. Adding to this, sticking to a goal-based exercise program during protracted alone time is optimal. I have found meaning and purpose in the seemingly sophomoric or insignificant goal of learning to hold a handstand for longer than 30 seconds. I have found that setting small exercise related goals like this one can keep a person engaged in exercising in the first place. Additionally, keep in mind that your busy friends may have put their personal fitness under their family and financial priorities. Eventually, they will have to make room for fitness again. Being alone and uncommitted is an opportunity to invest in your physical health that other, more established professionals may not have. Take advantage of it.
  3. Learn–Balancing work and a social life often leaves little time for one’s personal learning interests. I, for one, am a language learning nerd. I thoroughly enjoy learning how to speak foreign languages whether I reach fluency or not. If you find yourself alone and still have the lingering thought that goes something like, “I’ve always wanted to do that,” you should use idle or alone time to try whatever “that” is. Either you will eventually find one or more people to share your life with OR you will die alone. In either scenario, your schedule won’t allow you to pursue things you want to learn for their own sake forever.
  4. Trust the Process–The end is nigh. Every time I have escaped periods of unemployment and the loneliness that goes with it through force, I wound up putting myself in an unsustainable work or life situation. Instead of trusting that the change will come how and when it is supposed to, I forced it only to land myself back in the static position I was in before. The change will come if you let it and it will be change that you may not have wanted, but needed. Do what you need to do to pursue available opportunities, but don’t force it.
  5. Friends and Health–Expanding on two previous points, be grateful for your friends and health.  As an unmarried, unestablished and unoccupied adult, you may feel like you have lost many things. This is sometime the case, but, typically, if you try focusing on the solid relationships and health that you still have, you may find that you still have an abundance of these. In fact, when you have nothing, the people who remain in your life are the ones worth holding on to. Just because you may be temporarily poor in career success and finances, doesn’t mean you can’t be rich in your relationships and health. List the relationships and positive aspects of your health out loud if it helps. Keep in mind that it is during such times that you have the opportunity to invest more in these areas. Don’t let it pass you by.

All in all, loneliness is difficult and unnatural. Definitive action is necessary to keep it from clouding your mood. It can, however, be tamed using just some of the above loneliness-slaying tactics. Keep well and let me know in the comments if you relate to this and have any other ideas on how to kill the loneliness monster.

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving In in San Francisco

I elaborated about getting from Georgia to San Francisco (“SF”) late last summer in a recent post. Although the journey provided as much reward as the destination, I omitted to write about the process that unfolded during the months after I got there. It was chalked full of trial and error and taught me more than I expected. Below is a list of what I would emphasize if I decided to move there again.

Consider comfort when picking an apartment–Before arriving in SF, I brainstormed about the factors that would determine where I would live. An overpowering aversion to long commutes led me to make proximity to work a much greater factor than it should have been. I set out to find an apartment within my price range that allowed me to walk to the office. My southern charm served me well in my Craigslist search for an apartment and landed me a room on a known and busy street in Nob Hill. I was living in the middle of the city’s action within a mile from work, so I jumped right in.

Unbeknownst to me was my inability to sleep in a room, which overhung the sidewalk next to a street of a 24-hour bus line. Public buses in SF, while electrically powered, still make enough noise starting and stopping to jar me from slumber. On top of that, weeknight partiers frequented the streets until the wee hours of every morning. No judgment, but I awoke to the hooting and hollering of Tuesday night drunkards on multiple occasions. I remember waking up to someone asking, “Do you know what time it is?” to which another someone replied, “2:40.” I happily realized that I still had a few more hours before I needed to get up for work.

Lastly, the room was infested with bed bugs. They are far more awful than I can express in a blog. I will refrain from grossing you out or reliving it (my feet still itch when I think about it), but, trust me, you never want to experience them if you haven’t already. A room far away from work without bedbugs is far better than one next to work with them. Having had this realization, I happily moved to a quieter place that was a greater distance from the office and did not have bedbugs.

Put any real dating on hold–Dating is a necessary pleasure and evil at this juncture of my life. SF was, in this regard, full of more exciting options than in my previous town. I came from a place made up of the same age demographic as the Price is Right’s viewing audience. I was ready to meet new people in my new town.

In spite of my readiness, I would have been better served by putting my energy into settling in before going on any real dates. I am not talking about avoiding making new friends or connections. I’m talking about setting up a mutually agreed upon meeting place days in advance, meeting there and spending$75 on someone you don’t know.

In my defense, I deleted Bumble and Tinder before moving to SF, but ended up spending more time, effort and money on a few dates than was necessary before I had my bearings there.  Speaking to myself, you will find better partners / dating options / mates when you are comfortable with yourself and your situation no matter where you are. To try and find them before you are is not only wasteful, but may end up hindering your ability to settle in at all.

I am always looking to be who the person I am looking for is looking for, which is someone who has their shit together. So, it follows that I was not going to find a person with their shit together until I had the same. Lesson learned.

Give Friends Space–Speaking in second person again, more solitude than normal is unavoidable in a place that is not your hometown. This is obvious, but important to keep in mind when you move. You may have friends in your new town, but keep in mind that they didn’t wait until you moved there to build lives and develop routines. Be mindful of the fact that they may still want to welcome you to their circle of friends even if they cannot get together on a weekly basis. It doesn’t mean they are avoiding you, it just means they have other shit going on. Give them space by creating your own original life that does not have to include them every week. After a while, you have new friends of your own, which you can introduce them to giving everyone a larger friend base!

Adulthood is full of people in different life phases at different times. Growing up, everyone is generally on the same schedule through college. Then, people get married, have kids, and do things on different timelines. This is as true in a new city as anywhere else. Don’t assume malice when busyness can explain everything.

 

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Me on a Sizeable Rock exactly 34 years after being born

I can continue on this subject and double the length of this post, but, in closing, SF is a magical place that should be tried for any amount of time. I am home now, but more fully understand that returning home is not the same as never leaving. I left some, not all, of my heart in San Francisco.

From Sea to Shining Sea

G’day Reader Creatures,

I am sticking to the persona of my blog and am keeping it ‘Themeless.’ After a few Cheat Day journals, which I very much enjoyed, I am here to report on a recent, life-changing journey.

I moved from Southeast Georgia to San Francisco (“SF”) for a new job and a new chapter. Having longed to experience the city life as a young/getting older professional, I finally got the opportunity to do so when I least expected it. Having practiced law for 3.5 years in my idyllic, but small, hometown, I took a sabbatical and then set my sights on a few of the great American cities. SF had always topped my list, but I took a pragmatic approach by searching for a job in places that I knew people (not SF).  I had only dreamed of living in SF, but had no idea how to get here.

Somehow, someway, I got a call from an interested employer in SF and was on my way there 2 weeks later. Shortly after accepting the job, I wrestled with whether to drive or fly and ended up driving as it was the easiest way to get my dwindling amount of belongings from the East to the West Coast.

By now, you may have deduced that I drove across the middle of the USA by myself. I am fortunate to have done it twice before with a travel companion. This one was uniquely memorable. My first segment was short. I drove from Coastal Georgia to Atlanta when both the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Classic college football season opener and Dragon Con converged on the city at once. It was a spectacle of various characters.

After Atlanta, I started on a more direct path toward SF. Other stops included Fayetteville, AR; Denver, CO; Reno, NV; before arriving in SF. I am enjoying being here in SF, but the journey at least equals getting to live here.

My observations and realizations from driving across the country are too numerous to post. I have not fully grasped some of these observations and realizations and some of the others I cannot fully articulate. If traveling is  super-food for the soul, my cross-country trip was a Kale smoothie.

Here are some of the things I saw and learned in no particular order:

Arkansas is underrated: Being arbitrarily grouped in with other southeastern states, Arkansas’ appeal was previously unbeknownst to me. I ignorantly thought it was most similar to Northern Alabama and Mississippi. Boy, was I wrong. Middle Arkansas to Fayetteville up through Bentonville (home of Wal-Mart) and all the way to the Missouri border are all as pleasant of suburban-rural places as there are anywhere else in the United States. The state is covered with lakes and rivers that are on display during the mountainous drive through the major highways of the states.

Fayetteville, having caught the eye of publications that have placed it atop their versions of ‘America’s Most Livable Cities’ lists, is Mayberry in the Mountains. Southeastern Conference college towns have an advantage in my book, but this one has the natural beauty going along with everything else most similar college towns do. Arkansans who I know commonly tout the attractiveness of their state, but are not always paid attention to. It is out of the way most for most of my trips. I should have listened to them earlier. It is so scenic and I plan on going back.

Continuing up the Walton corridor, the cleanliness of the area gives you a sense that Wal-Mart’s money trickled into Bentonville’s public areasand surrounding areas. It is so nice.

Simply stated, the Fayetteville through Bentonville to Missouri corridor is mountainous, forested, clean, scenic and worth checking out if you have any liking of the outdoors. Few people advised me to go there, but now I am advising you. Go there.

Still in the dark about Kansas

I-70 intersects the less populated parts of Kansas. This is the only part I saw and it made me want to drive through it faster. I credit Kansas for supporting our country’s agriculture, but I cannot say much more about it. Some people may like pretending to live on the moon by living in Kansas, but I found little stimulation there. One positive trait I gleaned was the catchiness of University of Kansas’s ‘Rock-Chalk Jayhawk’ battle cry. That sounds cool.

To sum up what I learned about Kansas: there are sunny days; you can drive fast there; the University has a cool mascot; and a disproportionate amount of food is grown there. I need to go back and learn more about it.

Colorado, let me count the ways

After enduring Kansas on I-70 West, I was rewarded by a noticeable improvement in scenery and plant life (I don’t mean marijuana) immediately after crossing into Colorado. You reach the Eastern Colorado border and start the gradual climb to Denver. It feels like you go from a moderate altitude to a mile above sea-level over the course of an hour drive. It is like God built a gradually inclining ramp from the Eastern Colorado border to the Mile High City.

The trip to Denver from the East is only outdone by the trip leaving Denver to head west. Vail Pass gets the reward for my favorite part of this segment, but surrounding areas are a close second. The views overtake your senses on this part of the drive. Green, forested mountains with rivers winding around and through the highway make it too much to take in on a single drive. It made me consider where I might go should I have good business fortune one day. I nearly stopped my trip there.

To try and fully articulate the scenery in this part of the country is to trivialize it. You cannot grasp the allure of this landscape without seeing it in person when it is not covered in snow. Continuing on I-70 toward and through Utah holds its own distinguished beauty, but there are few places in the lower-48 that compare to Vail Pass in the summer.

Lonely, Lovely Stretches

Traveling from one side of Utah to the other is scenic for sure, but it is also a lonely stretch of road. I reached Utah, drove a few hours, exited the highway, turned left and then turned right in East Jesus toward Utah. Then, I drove and drove and drove and drove until I saw another house, gas station, store, person or any other sign of modern civilization. I started thinking I’d see more broken down cars on the road as people are bound to overestimate their fuel, food, water, and sustenance supply for this arduous section. It was like a modern day Oregon Trail in a car minus the cholera and dysentery. If you plan on driving through Utah, get gas every time you pass a station and you might not run out.

Nevada, that is all

I covered 80% of the way through Nevada in the dark, which may explain why I took little note of it. I was too tired to think about much during this section other than how fast I could drive. I didn’t go through Vegas so that should tell you about all I experienced in Nevada.

California Love

Arriving in California came with a jolt of adrenaline not unlike Tom Joad’s final leg of his journey out here. As soon as I reached Cali, I was enthralled with the steeply sloping, grayish mountains on either side of the highway. The trek through Northern California from Reno to SF is breathtaking. The height and vastness of the mountains that crowd the road make you feel insulated. It is awesome.

Left Coast

Arriving in SF was the best part as it is truly a magical place. You take everything from every other great American city and put it in one place and you have a fraction of the allure of this place. Food aside, SF has mountains, water, weather (seldom too hot or cold), culture, music, surfing, skiing, high-tech commerce and on and on. SF is awesome.

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Near Vail Pass


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Kansas


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Utah (no people or cars)


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Nevada


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Near Vail pass again