• Tshepang Pooe

Dealing with loneliness and overwhelm as an independent woman

Hey sis

I hope you're doing well today. I'm not doing so great, but I'm trying to sit through the feelings and hold space for myself as I am in this moment. You might be able to sense in my writing that my energy is a bit lower than usual today, but I am committed to showing up here as honestly as I can. It serves neither you nor me pretending always to be happy! Life is cyclical, and today just turned out to be one of those days.

Okay, let's get into it girl.

In this post you will discover...

. Why healthy dependency theory says that we thrive on interdependence

. The benefits of relying on people for support

. Healthy coping mechanisms for loneliness and feeling overwhelmed with doing life alone

Is it just me, or does life just seem to weigh heavy on the shoulders? From driving yourself to and from work every day, to cooking your own meals and doing your own grocery shopping, to cleaning your house, working eight hours a day, and coming home to a side hustle. Not to mention being your own emotional support. It's a lot, at least for me it feels like a little bit too much. I kind of want to know that I'm not the only person who feels like this, because maybe then my struggle will feel a bit more valid. Let me know if you're also feeling overwhelmed sis. Who knows, maybe when we know there's more of us out there, we can find a way to support each other.

Loneliness, my biggest challenge at the moment

To be honest with you, I think my biggest stumbling point is loneliness. Loneliness for me is quite multifaceted (not that I think I'm special in any way) but it's not just about wishing I wasn't alone. I live by myself, I've actually been living alone for about the past three years. I'm quite used to it, in fact I'm highly effective at living independently. I've kind of been training to be an independent woman since I was a young girl. I was in boarding school by the age of eight, so you can imagine that I've had a lot of time to get a hold on the being independent thing.

Since university though, I've been experiencing a feeling that I just can't quite shake off. At first it was really that I was just feeling so isolated. At times I literally felt like I was the only person on the planet; I couldn't access the emotional tie to the people I loved when they were not with me. Throughout my self-healing over these past few years, I've been able to work through that in a huge way. It's not so crippling as it used to be. Nowadays, what weighs heavy on my shoulders is the feeling that everything is up to me. I have to do everything for myself, take care of all my physical needs and also my emotional needs. That's such a heavy feeling for me. The part of handling my physical needs alone is not that major, but when it's merged with the responsibility of holding space for my emotional self all the time, it becomes overwhelming.

Rationally, I know that I have emotional support. I can always call my mom when I need a shoulder to lean on. I have begun being more intentional with scheduling time with friends, and I now have a weekly Friday evening call with a best friend. All that is amazing, yet I still feel quite alone at times. When I talk about this to my dear friend, who I'll call Lala in this post, I express to her that on days when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, it's like I can't keep it together anymore. I need a break from being everything for myself, and I guess my mind and spirit force me into this break with this massive feeling of overwhelm. Living alone makes me feel like I just have to have it together all the time, because everything is literally up to me. But it's a lot, and I'm really feeling it.

I guess the fact that this is just life makes us feel like we just have to deal and keep moving forward. We might think to ourselves "so many people in the world are living alone and taking care of themselves and I don't hear them complaining." But how healthy is it for us to accept a social norm that isn't working for us? How healthy is it to push through the overwhelm with coping strategies that we learn from our therapists or from psychology blogs online? Will it ever be okay for us to admit that we're not coping as well as we are expected to? Will it ever be okay for us to confess that we actually need real people in our lives supporting us?

We all need support

Self-sufficiency is a modern day cultural norm. But to what extent is it good for us to stand on our own two feet, and to what extent is it detrimental to our emotional health not to lean on others? Living alone is becoming a less of a choice and more of a circumstantial outcome for me. There are major perks to it, but a lot of the time I feel like the perks are outweighed by the cons. If there was another feasible way of living that would work better for me than this, I would totally opt for it.

I think as a collective; we need to re-examine the social model of hyper-independence. As part of my research for this post and my personal quest to get some answers, I came across an interesting psychological theory called healthy dependency. Healthy dependency, according to psychologytoday.com, describes a spectrum of dependence styles. Your dependence style may either be "healthy (balanced), or may tend to extremes, seeking too much or too little help from others.

Based on the article, here are some benefits of healthy emotional dependence:

1. Lightened load

Relying on others helps us to ease the emotional burden of coping with everything on our own.

2. More learning

Asking for help, at work for example, can provide a great opportunity to learn from and collaborate with people who have a lot more knowledge than you on a particular subject.

3. Improved relationships

Genuinely asking for support can be a display of vulnerability and trust. And apparently, in some cultures such as Japanese culture, interdependence (reciprocal acts of support), is actually promoted as a way of promoting relational intimacy.

In another psychologytoday.com article, titled Healthy Dependency, I read an excerpt that really resonated with me:

The authors propose an alternative strategy of “depathologizing” dependency (Bornstein, 1998) thus allowing ourselves the quintessentially human need and desire to share our burdens with another, not just as a means of relieving stress, but at least as importantly, as a means of building intimacy. In that instance, dependency becomes a “prosocial” behavior.

This excerpt helped me realise that feeling overburdened, and like you don't have enough emotional support is actually a sign that you're yearning for more emotional intimacy. And something I've noticed for myself is that virtual support is not enough. I love to have phone calls with people I love, and I love to chat to new friends on Instagram and Facebook groups, but that doesn't help me feel like I'm sharing my load with others. It does not provide me with the emotional relief that I really desire.

Tips to feel less burdened by a living a highly independent lifestyle

At this point, I really don't feel like I have the answers. This is probably something that I will have to learn through for as long as I live alone. If you're reading this and you're like "sis is really speaking to me right now", then I hope you're not feeling hopeless. I have some tips that I've thought of to help you through this. Although I feel that for as long as we don't give ourselves what we truly need, which is a healthier level of emotional dependence, however that looks for you, we will continue to feel overwhelmed and overburdened by our responsibilities to ourselves. But there are little strategies that we can put into place on a daily basis, or whenever we need them, to help us through this.

1. Know your triggers

What usually happens before you start to feel ultra-alone? For me, it's usually after I've been with spent some time with someone who I've really connected with in the time that we've been together. That person tends to be my boyfriend, because he's the one person I see the most regularly.

What can you do to turn that triggering event into a catalyst for spending some rejuvenating alone-time? Could you schedule a lovely date with yourself immediately after spending time with that person? Maybe trying a new recipe, writing in your journal, or whatever else deeply pulls you into joy?

2. Make your responsibilities as easy as possible

What systems can you put in place to remove the thinking from taking care of yourself? Sometimes when I think of cooking, I get sooo turned off. Generally, cooking isn't something I enjoy much. I just do it because a girl gotta eat. But when I've already told myself what I'll be cooking, and I've made sure to choose a super yum recipe, then it feels less like a task and something to look forward to because I know the output will me amazing.

How else could I make my cooking responsibility easier? Well, I could choose recipes that yield 3 - 4 meals, to reduce the number of times I need to cook a week. I could also further reduce the thinking by deciding on which evenings will be my cooking evenings. And lastly, create a routine of going grocery shopping on a specific day after work, for example.

3. Give yourself time to rest (and connect with yourself emotionally)

I sometimes find that I keep myself majorly busy. I'm in a season where I need to be pushing myself a bit harder, because I work three days a week, do yoga teacher training on the weekends, and am also trying to grow my blog. Mondays to Wednesdays I get home and cook, and then get to working for about two hours, and then prep for bed. Then Thursdays and Fridays I try to do more work for my blog, spend time with my boyfriend and sort out my life admin. So it's pretty busy for the first three days, then it slows down a bit and picks up again on the weekends. On my slower days is when I feel the burden and when I often experience the loneliness.

Creating time to slow down and check in with yourself is great because it prevents the emotional build-up which leads to overwhelm. Giving ourselves rest time and emotional first-aid time on a regular basis allows us to nurture ourselves. In our self-nurturing, we can face the quiet and the feelings of isolation. We can write about it, and move through it on that particular day, rather than shoving it away by working constantly, or distracting ourselves with series and social media. I've definitely started to notice myself gravitating towards series more often and also emotional eating. These are unhealthy coping mechanisms which I would rather replace with the strategies I'm sharing with you.

4. Talk to someone about it

Tell someone who understands what you're going through how you're feeling. Oftentimes, all we want is to feel seen and heard. That in itself can make you feel understood, which is enough to make you feel better. Reach out to someone you love, who you know is patient and empathetic.

5. Create a support system

I'm trying to work on this right now. But it's not quite as easy as it might seem. People are busy. We all have our own lives to tend to; I definitely get it. I've realised that not only do I desire a small network of friends who I know I will see routinely, I also want to feel like I can rely on those friends for impromptu support. My therapist told me, maybe one or two years ago, that I needed to create a support system for myself. I was quite turned off by this because it felt like yet another task to work on to keep myself afloat. I just wanted it to be there, without me having it create it. But life doesn't work that way, and not putting effort into this part of my life has so far not worked in my favour.

So if you're in the same boat as me, I would recommend that you take this as seriously as you can and that you do it in whichever way you need. You might find that connecting with a few sisters over a social media group is enough to make you feel supported. Or if you're like me, you might need to find people who you can regularly connect with in real life.

I hope that you (and me too) will action these five tips. Many of us live an individualistic lifestyle, some by choice and others by circumstance. Whichever way you got here sis, it's up to you to make the change that you want in your life. And I know that can be disheartening. I definitely feel that this emotional support thing is something that I "should just have." But life doesn't always hand us what we want, and maybe there is a lesson or transformation waiting for us as we grow and heal through this. It's up to us to take this step to let others in to support us.

As always, please share this post with a sister who you think might need it! Today's post is the kind that can really help someone out of a dark place, so if you know of anyone who might benefit from this, please do share. Leave a comment below as well! I'd love to know you were here.

Remember that you're not alone. You are supported, and you are perfectly able to heal whatever you're going through.

All my love

#dependency #relationships #emotionalhealth #mentalhealth

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