Loneliness: The most treatable cause of depression

I often talk with folks who see themselves and their lives as complicated. In all my years of counseling people, I have never found that to be true. What I find is that the leading causes of depression and anxiety are very simple and correctable.

Social isolation is one of the leading causes of depression. The loneliness people in recovery experience is profound – it’s disconnection, detachment, keeping ourselves apart from and wanting desperately to belong. It’s the experience of being dissociative and checking out. It’s the fear of making new friendships and the expectation of being disappointed.

I have found that while I frequently use music to cope, I lean on it most when I’m feeling lonely.

My brain provides a soundtrack for countless moments in my life. The song is always fitting and usually uplifting. I love those moments. There are other songs I hate to hear – not because they’re bad but because it hurts to hear them. Harry Chapin’s Cat’s Cradle is at the top of that list.

I don’t understand people who just hear a tune and don’t appreciate the lyrics. The words of the song speak to me in a way that no conversation or book or painting can. Today I met with a man my age who is very much a rock that others cling to. I’ve been waiting for a long time for him to notice that his rock exterior has developed a number of cracks. He is a one way street – he gives but does not receive. That’s a common form of loneliness for us.

“I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate…
I am a rock
I am an island…

I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room…
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries”

– Paul Simon “I am a rock”

Loneliness to me is being a 12-year-old boy who is listening to loud music so that he can’t hear what’s happening down the hall. It’s having no friends and no hope. Loneliness is hopelessness and the fear that it will always be this way.

I crave connection. I need my tribe. Hell, I need people that I haven’t even met yet. The best thing my Higher Power does for me is connect me to kindred spirits. I’ve come to have a high tolerance for awkwardness and weirdness. Sometimes I meet folks and my gut just says I’m supposed to know them. I’ve gotten good at just showing folks who I am instead of worrying about making a good impression.

I know it’s very hard to get out of our own way and I know most of us have some level of social anxiety. I encourage folks to weigh the cost of disconnection against the discomfort of the unfamiliar. The Smashing Pumpkins did a song years ago in which he sings, “I’m in love with my sadness.”

No one wants to be sad or depressed. It’s just familiar. Move away from that. You deprive us the pleasure of knowing you.