Winnie Lim » to be my self is to be lonely

illustration: loneliness of deviating from the social norms

Loneliness is a frequent theme in my writing. I struggle with it a lot, but not in the way most people do. People seem to need frequent social interactions and a wide social circle, I prefer to spend most of my time either with my partner or simply alone. My loneliness is more of an existential loneliness: I feel alone in this world, as though I don’t relate to most human beings – this is something that is actually made worse with social interaction, because being around people amplifies how out of place I am.

I think that is why I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It has brought me the rare resonance I sought, but often it just makes me feel lonelier. I often wonder about the analog days. In those days we don’t post our views or work or art online, so there is no sense of rejection. Is it worse to have no chance of connection, or to have none among the multitude of potential connections?

I often thought of giving up my existence. Is it worth existing in a world that doesn’t resonate, that I’ll never have a sense of belonging from? I do know I am not the only human being who has felt this way in the course of human history. But it is one thing to intellectually know, and another thing to live with this feeling deeply rooted in my bones. Every day, I feel like I have woken up in the wrong world.

Meeting my partner has made it tremendously better, with my weirdness being accepted and loved, even. Yet there are times I still protrude like a sore thumb juxtaposed against my partner. Even with so much love, I still feel a unfillable deep pit within me. This is not something that can be taken away by another person, or perhaps it can never be taken away.

In order to continue existing, I have to play mind games with myself. I do believe because of the nature of the brain – most of us need dopamine to survive – one has to find something to be engaged with or participate in, even if that something is to practice non-engagement, like a monk. So I convince myself that perhaps it is worth developing my inner self: to see who I can become, what I can learn, how wide and deep my internal world can be.

The irony is, the further I go along this path, the deeper into my self I go, the more I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. I can understand why there is so much emphasis on sanghas in buddhism, because it is difficult to pursue a path that is almost the opposite of everyone else so having the support of a community is vital. Maybe the most human thing about me is that I still feel immense social pressure, the strange desire to be like everyone else so that I can feel like I belong.

But the point of developing one’s self is that is a very individual experience. Because we’re all individual outcomes of infinite combinations of genes, biology, ancestral history, family narratives, upbringing, individual experiences – we can never truly share the same personal journey. I think most people take societal journeys instead: fulfilling the milestones set by society, in return they get social recognition. One can live a life filled with social recognition to overcome their existential loneliness. But I seem to be unable to do so, even if I tried – I did try, and it brought me close to a total breakdown.

I often wonder why am I so sensitive to this deviation from the inner longings of my self. Why can’t I just be like everyone else? Who is this “self” anyway and why does she seem to have these “preferences”? My self wants to live closer to my inner truth, and will rebel if I seek to be like everyone else. And what the hell is my inner truth, and where does it come from?

Some people have told me that I am very brave for following my own path. In truth I don’t feel like I had a choice. I get physically and mentally sick from the stress of trying to be like everyone else. Why am I this way?

I think there is an existential freedom to be found if one decides to truly pursue this personal journey and accepts the inevitable loneliness that comes with it. Imagine being unencumbered by what people think and say of us – the caveat being that whoever we become is not harmful to others.

Say you really enjoy wearing pyjamas to town. You’re harming no one by wearing pyjamas out, but maybe people will ridicule you or you may feel conspicuous, simply because we’re conditioned to follow social norms. We’re uncomfortable when people don’t conform to these norms, and we also get uncomfortable with ourselves when we want to do something out of the norm. Say one day you decide okay whatever you shall wear pyjamas from now on because life is just too short to care about what people think and you just want to enjoy whatever little bit of life you have left. Wearing pyjamas makes you feel alive. You are uncomfortable at first, but slowly you ignore the laughter, the stares. One day perhaps you may become oblivious to it and simply enjoy wearing pyjamas. Then encouraged by this internal success, you decide to go bald, because you’ve always found the weight of your hair annoying. Slowly, bit by bit, you become more comfortable with what you desire to be and do. You no longer feel like you have to wear a mask, a costume, and put on an act all the time.

Isn’t that an extremely freeing idea?

Apply this to my self, my gender, my gayness, my work, my art, my expressions. There are no brownie points for getting the least amount of ridicule when we leave this world. However to tend to our selves, to be aware of what we need, who we are and live up to it, this is my idea of living. To be alive. Aliveness requires being aligned to our inner truth, at least for me. Being who we are generates harmony, resonance, energy, joy.

Is this sort of thriving worth the social loneliness? I think everybody when they arrive at this juncture, they have to make a choice. Maybe for some social harmony is more important than inner harmony. I just cannot seem to function that way. I wish to thrive, to know what it is like to live life fully embracing my own quirks.

I think there is considerable psychic weight to bear when we disown our selves. This weight could perhaps be alleviated by relationships, if you like them. There is definitely safety in numbers. But not for me. In place of safety, I feel considerable friction when surrounded by people. Nature thrives on diversity, no homogeneity – so it is strange to expect billions of people to like the same things?

I know this intellectually, but I wish to incorporate this into my bones some day. That I can fully accept my self for all the deviations I have made, that being able to live as my self is something worth pursuing, that perhaps I will feel a sense of belonging – to my self.

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