No One Is Alone

Hey guys, just a heads up, this post touches briefly but directly on depression and self-harm. If that's too much for you, I totally get it. Please take care of yourself.

In Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods”, there’s a song called “No One Is Alone” which perfectly captures two things for me. They are:

  1. How I have been thinking and feeling about the concept of loneliness lately.
  2. What we can do to take care of each other in an increasingly divided and separated world.

It’s an achingly beautiful piece, sung by characters whose world has seemingly collapsed around them. It’s sad, hopeful, loving, and painful all at the same time, and I absolutely love it.

At one point in the song, a character cries out simply “I wish!” before being comforted by another’s reply of “I know.” The wishing character has suddenly found herself all alone in the world and is grieving for what she’s lost. The other is simply trying to be present with her friend. It’s heartbreaking; and wonderful.

I want to focus on the importance of the “I know” in that song– because right now the world can feel really lonely, and those around us need to know we’re there with them.

I’ll start with a story:

In mid 2017 I was in a bad, bad, place. I didn’t yet know that I was dealing with depression and I was feeling stuck, hopeless, trapped, and utterly alone.

Those feelings compounded and grew until, finally, one night at work (I was working overnights as a mall-cop at the time), I sat staring at a pair of scissors, planning to walk into my boss’s office and stab myself with them as soon as he showed up the next morning. Like I said, I was in a terrible, terrible place. In those moments I desperately needed someone to know how isolated and afraid I felt, and he was the next person I would see. So my plan was to try to show him.

Fortunately for me, that night I also typed “someone please help me” into Google. It turns out that when you do that kind of thing Google responds with an automated response about mental health. Instantly, I was inundated with crisis hotlines and websites for immediate, free, online counseling. Among the deluge were countless reminders  that “you are not alone” and that my feelings wouldn’t be permanent. Those reminders we’re enough to allow me to hold on, and soon after that night I started seeing medical professionals and got the help I desperately needed.

Now, this is an extreme example, but I use it to illustrate just how powerful the feelings of loneliness and isolation can be. In my own way I was crying out, wishing for someone to be there and understand. Much like in the song.

And that brings us back to the “I know.” Between COVID, political turmoil, and a general widening of ideological divides around the world, people are lonely. People are scared. People are crying out–or maybe just whispering–“I wish.” And it’s our job to take care of each other.

So, what can we do?

First, remember this: most people don’t need –or want– you to solve their problems for them.

Seriously.

When people feel alone, or depressed, or isolated, what they need is support. They need love. They simply need to know you’re there for them. They don’t need you to solve their problems for them. When we come into someone’s life with nothing but solutions–no matter how well-meaning we are–it can be overwhelming, confusing, and disheartening for them. Instead, we can simply allow ourselves to be there, ready to provide whatever support they need.

Next? Reach out.

Keep tabs on the people in your life! For me, the road to my breakdown started with a slow pulling away from the people I care about; today that pulling away is being done for us. We live in a world of quarantine, limited travel, and full-on lockdowns, so it’s easy to lose track of people. Reach out. Text someone. Call someone. Send someone a card (Seriously, send them a card. How cool would it be to get a card in the mail these days??). After a year of this pandemic craziness none of us can say we don’t how to connect with someone remotely. And if someone is slow to respond, keep trying. Be that obnoxious friend, just be sure to be intentional and loving about it.

Finally, put yourself out there.

I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s even more vitally important in this context. When someone is depressed, or lonely, or feeling isolated, the most comforting thing –at least it has been for me– can be knowing that they aren’t alone in what they feel. When you reach out to others, prompted or unprompted, and let them know how you feel, it opens the door for a safe exchange of feelings that can be incredibly cathartic and helpful. Of the three, I think this last one is most important.

So, yeah. Be someone’s “I know”. Take care of each other. Because eventually things get better. No one is alone.

I’ll leave you with the last few lines of the song from above:

Hard to see the light now; Just don’t let it go; Things will come out right now; We can make it so; Someone is on your side; No one is alone

Stephen Sondheim, “No One Is Alone”

Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,

-Ian

41 thoughts on “No One Is Alone

  1. I really enjoyed this post, thanks for writing it. I’m sorry that you experienced such a low but I’m so happy you turned to Google and it helped you in a positive way. I suffer from depression as well and I know first hand just how dark it can be. It’s extremely hard to find the light sometimes but knowing you have people around you who care about you and are there for you always helps. I love the lines from the song as well. I listen to a lot of Linkin Park when I’m feeling low and there’s a line from one of their songs that always gets me – Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do. It seems to help pull me through those days. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I’ve been there…lost in the black fog. I’m in my 40s now and know how it plays out. When it comes, maybe once or twice a year, I just have to batten down the hatches and wait it out, hopefully without doing or saying something I can’t take back. It always passes, I know that now, and thankfully I have people close to me who know that too. But it still sucks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, man it does. I’ve gotten better at handling it in the last few years but every once in a while you just get blindsided. Thanks for reading 😊

      Like

  3. I’m glad those days are gone now, Ian. I see you doing good and putting yourself into your writing which I bet is really helpful (because it is for me). 😊 I definitely agree, bad days will come and go. Let’s not forget about it. Thanks for sharing this x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Elle 😊 Bad days definitely aren’t permanent, and I think as long as we all take care of each other everything will turn out ok 😊

      Like

  4. Hi Ian! I think it’s great how you communicate to others what it feels like to feel helpless and alone. Depression hits different for every one but you stated some real facts that apply to everyone…knowing that they’re not alone and that there is help! I found this to be such an inspiring post. Thank you for sharing your story. Mental health is something we should all be talking about. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I find that being open and genuine is the best way to help people understand any kind of mental illness. People can let go of their preconceptions and biases when they can come face to face with something they don’t yet understand in a safe and open place. I really appreciate your comment 😊

      Like

  5. Loneliness and isolation are indeed exacerbated by the pandemic, making people much more vulnerable. Remoteness and lack of physical contact with others is becoming a major mental health challenge. What we are experiencing today makes us even more aware of the problem you are raising because it can even affect people who are usually coping well. Thank you for making us aware of this problem, for motivating us to be empathetic towards others and for inviting us not to hesitate to seek help when things go wrong.

    Corinne
    https://en.maqualitedevie.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a personal and raw article —- love it! I really like how you emphasized how not all people like you to solve their problems no matter how well-meaning you are. That isn’t ungrateful or selfish, but it’s true. You have to ask if he/she wants help and go from there. Maybe you don’t know how to deal with their problem so it’s better to approach them in a manner that would help them, not you. THis is beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing.

    http://www.lifebeginsattwenty.com

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, that’s why I put myself out there. Unfortunately, there is sometimes the stigma of not suppose to share too much and fear of being judged that still plagues many that I know including myself.

    Like

  8. Wow… this is so powerful and honest. Whilst at times it must feel so isolated, it’s always important to remember that we struggle together, and that you are never alone

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve found that openness and honesty is the best way to help people hear you. People just respond better when they can sense honesty. Thank you for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I really felt this. I’ve been in the same, dark place that you described and luckily, I found help. I’m SO glad that you did, too! There’s a lot of help, support and love out there, if we look for it. I really like your advice on how to support people who are struggling with depression and suicidal feelings – so many well-meaning people lead with solutions and advice, when quiet empathy and support is more effective. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much for this post. My heart breaks for the past you that was feeling such despair (I hope that doesn’t sound trite as it’s not meant to I just really felt for you) I am so glad you were able to work through and find some happiness again. It is so important like you say to check in with people especially now. Not just those on their own. Even people with family surrounding them can spiral and feel alone. This has inspired me to reach out and contact friends and family I haven’t spoken to in a while. I want to go and listen to this song too I’ve not heard it myself. I love your blog, keep writing and sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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