“The older you grow, the lesser friends you have. No one wants to be around, when the going gets tough”, my father shared his observation on life. There is always this negative stigma attached to being alone that is drilled in your head from childhood. You are considered a loser, if you are picked last for the team. Nobody wants to go for lunch alone. You are taught from childhood, that there is something horribly wrong, if you are alone. It is worse, if you fail. No one wants to be left behind in the ‘rat race’, that we attach so much importance to in our minds.
As a grown up, I was thinking of the times when I was really alone and felt like a sack of shit. Did it actually seal my fate ? Did it really mean the end of the line?
Times, that by social definition would classify as being miserably lonely and in despair. The loneliest I have ever been in my life like literally alone is after I flunked my 12th board exams. I hated school and sucked at most of the subjects. I had zero human friends. There was a strange craze for joining the medical and engineering brigade. Like any other responsible Indian parents, my parents also tried the pressurize your kid till they wish they were never born thing. That sealed the fate of my evenings and free time with more tuition. It was a pretty mechanical and shitty lifestyle of getting up, going to school, getting back home and sleeping. If it weren’t for my dog, the only sane person around I would have gone nuts. Then I flunked. Everyone said, my life is ruined. For the first time in a long time, I was actually alone.
Whatever few ties I had made to finish assignments and school work, got cut off. Classmates, acquaintances and neighborhood friends moved on to college while I had to repeat a year, alone on my own. Initially I was happy to be out of school. The more I telephoned and kept in touch with people, the more I realized how everyone moved on and I was the only one left behind, stuck in time like a fossil in amber. Apart from a few people I met at the 2 hour Wednesday tuition class , I hardly met anyone. Both my parents hated my guts for flunking. So they were always at work and I avoided them when they were home. The lesser I talked to them, the better I felt. No job, not an adult, no school means your weekends and weekdays pretty much look the same. Boring as shit! It was a pretty depressing picture of failure and loneliness.
Technically, that time was the definition of utter loneliness, disappointment and despair. You are all alone at home for a fucking year. I want to scare everyone and say it was the worst phase of my life, I absolutely loathed it etc etc. But that wouldn’t be true. Because that year was also the year that I started taking better care of my dog, myself and interacted more with old neighbors whom I did not know existed. I would not say it was like a major ground breaking achievement or something, but I did learn something valuable from my first-hand experience of hitting rock bottom, all alone. I got a lot more done that year than any other year. It was not the best of times. But, it did bring out the best in me. You can be your most powerful self when you are alone.
Initially it did suck. No lies. I would say the anxiety of being alone and not knowing what future lay ahead sucked more. When we overthink, we create mental obstacles where there are none. I did the same and got pretty depressed pretty soon. Being depressed is the easiest thing in the world to do. Happiness is a lot of hard work. What really broke me down was the lack of will and hope towards the end of my chaotic, undisciplined life. I learnt 3 things about life:
1) Being happy takes effort.
By effort, I mean self-motivation, self-discipline and setting goals for yourself. Happiness is not free. It comes from a lot of work in knowing who you are, knowing what you want and getting those things that you truly want. Happiness is a result of success at achieving your dreams, whatever they are, how ever small or stupid they are. Sometimes, you need the mental discipline to control your thoughts from going negative and bonkers. You need to take control of your thoughts like a driver of a vehicle. Thinking positive does not come just like that. You kind of have to steer your thoughts towards it. Plan your day, set goals and get ’em done. You actually have to work for yourself to be happy.
2) Being unhappy is fucking easy.
Just do nothing. Your thoughts will race, negative emotions will pile up and you will go ‘cuckoo’ sad in no time. Till I flunked, I had this stupid idea that relaxing, means having lot of time for doing nothing. Actually, your mind is never fully empty. Even when you think you are doing nothing, you are thinking. Even to picture a state of your mind blank, it takes focus. That’s work. That’s part of being human. When you give up and do nothing, you are letting your mind wander directionless. Most of the times, it wanders to depressive potholes of despair. Don’t do that yourself. Life has enough shit that you can’t control. Don’t make it worse by adding your own negative thoughts. I learnt it the hard way.
3) Sometimes being alone is a good thing.
It is better than being in the company of negative assholes. People are assholes. It is human nature to be an asshole. Some may argue any form of interaction with people is good. But I have observed that, the more you interact with really negative people, the more focus you are going to lose from things that really matter. Some toxic people even derive a sadistic pleasure in making others feel miserable. Sooner or later, you, yourself will become an expert complainer and manufacturer of unhappiness. I have nothing against pessimists and jerks. It is just easy to handle criticism and crap in life when you are mentally strong and in tune with yourself. When you already feel like shit and have hit rock bottom, you don’t need some idiot to bug you and make things worse. If you want to make each day better, get back on your feet from a major loss, AVOID negative people like plague. I already knew I flunked; ‘boohoo I am losing a year. I cant go to college, I am a loser bla bla’. I really did not need any more people telling me that my life was over, while I accepted my failure and tried to move on. But there, they were. Toxic people in my own family and friend circle who sapped the good out of good mornings. Trust me, you can’t change people. Most of them are assholes. Just fucking keep away.
I tried making some lifestyle changes to survive my one year of loneliness, away from the jerks till I finished school alone. Here are the things that worked for me when I hit rock bottom:
1) Start the day happily
My dog really helped with this part. Humans are grumpy when they wake up. Avoid them. Animals are happy like it is their birthday every morning. They don’t think about the shit that happened yesterday. Somehow they are hopeful that today would be better than yesterday. Music helps too. Snippy was my alarm clock, my walking partner and my assistant in kitchen while I made our breakfast. It is nice to wake up to the sound of paws on your sheets and wet nose near your face. Snippy was happy every morning. That helped me get up and do something for us every morning. If you get the first half of your day right, you can get the rest of it right. Get out of bed, make yourself happy, get started with your plans and that good feeling will stay with you, the entire day. You won’t feel like postponing stuff. Screw your morning and you will feel lousy pretty easily.
2) Set goals
This may be either really easy or really difficult at first. You see when I was hopeless, I found it hard to actually really believe that I could accomplish anything. My first attempts were either nothing or some sarcastic, unbelievable joke of a goal. To set your goals, just eliminate obstacles and imagine a perfect scenario in life where everything is just the way you want it. Go to your happy place. Now, think of the things that would really make you happy. Those are the dreams you want to hold on to. Picture the obstacles that are stopping you. It’s OK if they are big and if there are many. Think of logical ways to beat the obstacles. Mentally, get over them and picture the success. This really helps in starting out. No matter how big or small your goal is, truth is, if you really want something you can get it. The first step to achieving something is to know that you can do it. The best part about doing something difficult? It stays with you like a vaccine shot for life, making you stronger with time. No matter how rough things get, you will find the power within you to do anything.
3) Self Discipline
This was horribly hard for me. I kept a journal. Some days were good. Other days were not so productive. You just have to learn about yourself ( strengths and weaknesses) and keep trying. It’s OK to change your strategy. Plans are made to be changed. Just put them in pencil. It does not matter how many times you fail, when you finally succeed, you will feel epic good. It gives a better high than weed. You don’t have to wake up hyper early at 4 am or adopt a military lifestyle like Steve Jobs. You don’t have to get it perfectly right. You don’t have to be someone else. You just have to be honest to yourself and your plans. All it takes is some level of discipline in eating on time, sleeping on time and getting your shit together. Throw in rewards whenever, you get something done really well. Being disciplined with your own rules helps you enjoy life a lot more. It is like when you watch TV after a long time versus watching again after the whole day of it.
4) Work Out
This may sound like a stupid advice for getting your life back in order. But I actually worked out, walked more when I was home for a year than I was at school. For 2 years, I was a meat blob that rolled from home to school and back daily. I did nothing in between except eat, watch TV and sleep. After flunking, I had time, no one to bug me and a new fitness goal. I actually wanted Abs. That didn’t happen, but there is something nice about exercising, which makes you feel happy. I did a lot more chores too. I painted the house, cleaned the water tank, fixed the bulbs, planted trees and did whatever made me happy. I even took driving lessons and got a DL even though I had no car or bike. The best part: Sleep is never a problem if you are dead tired at the end of the day. Falling asleep on time saves you from staying awake alone and being engulfed by lonely, depressing thoughts.
5) Spend more time with animals
Animals and people who are straight forward like animals can make life a lot better. I took better care of my dog and adopted a couple of cats. (I actually took in a male cat. He got a girl friend and they made babies and pretty soon there were lot of cats)
If you have a pet, get in sync with their routine to take good care of them and yourself. It makes you more responsible, gives you more will power. Plus it is nice to come home to people who are happy to see you.
These are the things that did not work:
1) Waiting for that perfect day, that perfect routine.
The perfect plan and the perfect timing does not exist. That will never happen. Life is fucking unpredictable and messy. It’s like a adventure movie where you will have to keep improvising and carry on. If you wait for things to be perfect, you will run out of pages in your plan book. You will lose track of the number of times you postponed plans. Don’t wait for that perfect time, that perfect break, that perfect person. Life is a fucking chaos, far from perfect. You can only control some aspects of it. With the rest, you just have to improvise and find your footing to hold on.
2) Relying solely on will power to do things I hated
Will power is an expendable resource. Even the final countdown music will sound annoying after some time. Your steel resolve to stick by plans will melt into a gooey butter of disappointment. Word of advice: If you actually want to get something difficult done, don’t hate it. Better yet, do things that you love. Try to make your job fun. Find humor. The only thing that helps in holding on is being peaceful and happy inside. To be peaceful, you have to stop hating the task you are trying to accomplish. Don’t panic. Don’t hate it. Whatever it is , find a way to make it fun. The more you enjoy doing something, the more likely you are to stay put and keep doing it. In my case, Maths was my kryptonite. When I stopped hating it, it got easier.
When you hit the rock bottom, you really know who your true friends are. You learn a lot about yourself too. I had nothing in mind but to be happy and make life better when I picked up the pieces. If you are out there, struggling, feel all alone and hopeless, know that life is a funny game where only change is constant. Everything passes with time. This time shall pass too. Don’t listen to the assholes who tell you that you are screwed. It’s a fucking good time to be alive and kicking. Every battle will bring out your best skills and your best friends. Life has both ups and shitty downs. You don’t deserves shit. But, shit happens. Randomly. You are going to get out of it soon and be OK. Just hold on.