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On Loneliness

            Loneliness is a lifelong state of being for me. I was a lonely child, because I couldn’t share my world with anyone. I loved my big brother, but there were so many things he refused to hear, refused to say, refused to see. I loved my best friend, but she didn’t love me back. She tolerated me, she accepted my presence, but she didn’t understand me and didn’t want to. I thought that was my fault, by the way, because I wasn’t rich enough or pretty enough or clever enough, but, and this is something I’ve only recently figured out, it wasn’t about me; which doesn’t solve anything, or heal anything, for either of us, but it’s true.

            I loved my parents, but my mom was deep underwater, in an abusive marriage. And my father. Well. His idea of love was loyalty and control in only one direction. He was a bruised and broken child himself, who never healed, or ever tried to.

            I lived in this kaleidoscope of broken people, always moving around each other, never fitting together into a whole. And at school, even though the other kids didn’t know any of this, they knew. They knew that I bothered them, upset them, and scared them, just for being me: for being nice to people who hurt me; for helping people who looked down on me; for showing everything on my face that they were able to hide and thought should be hidden.

            I learned, over time, how to act like I was normal, or something like it. But there was still something too honest about me, and it hurt people to look at me, and so they hurt me, as if I’d done it on purpose; as if my sadness was an attack on their otherwise peaceful lives.

            I’ve worked hard to make connections with people, and to chisel away at the loneliness, but it is still there, and still informs everything I do. It makes me more desperate to have my say and to be heard; and it makes me more sensitive to the pain of others; and it makes me more frightened, of everyone, because I know how badly they can hurt me.

“I would never hurt you, Mommy.”

            In a way, isolation has been my way to protect myself from having to feel too much of the loneliness at once, because the feeling is most profound when I am closest to other people.

            I don’t know if any of this is true for other people, or for what percentage of other people. I know that some people use their loneliness to excuse acts of emotional and physical violence against others. I know that some people use loneliness to spur active and crowded lives. But most people don’t talk about their loneliness in public. Most people act as if they are fine; and even if I can imagine that there’s something behind the mask, I can’t presume to know what that is, and so my loneliness persists.

“I never hide my feelings behind a mask.”

            Loneliness is probably the echo underneath everything I write and everything I do – and it hurts, a lot. It doesn’t resolve. It doesn’t dissolve. It doesn’t disappear. There are other feelings that persist from my childhood, like shame and fear and guilt and physical pain, but loneliness is the most pervasive; it’s the one that follows me everywhere I go, even when I am otherwise happy and well.

            I don’t know why I wanted to write about this. Maybe because I’m starting to wonder if the loneliness will ever recede; and to wonder if I’m perpetuating the loneliness, even causing it, without any idea of how to stop.

            We have these ideas about healing – that it can be fast, and complete, and willed into fruition – but none of that tracks with my experience. Some wounds don’t heal, or fade, and sometimes we have to accept that our lives will always hold the shape of that pain.

I haven’t reached that level of acceptance, though. I still want the fairytale, with the happily ever after ending. I want, most of all, to be whole.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

169 responses »

  1. I do not have any clever words that can pull you away from the drifting current of loneliness that you are in. I can only encourage you not to give in to that current. Try to keep afloat and keep your head up. But bravo for being so honest !

  2. I’ve been lonely my whole life, even when people are around me, and I’m not alone. My brother was eleven years older than me, so I played alone when I was younger. He passed away a long time ago. If you don’t surround yourself with compassionate people, the loneliness grows worse over time. My husband and his family don’t have empathy or compassion for shy people. But I’ve learned to speak up for myself. And I have my two daughters who are compassionate.

  3. I am so sorry for all your pain. I have always wondered if being a “misfit” is self imposed or imposed by society or a strange cyclic mixture of both. It is only in the last ten years that some of my misfit self image has fallen away and I think that’s mainly thanks to motherhood. Not that I recommend it as a solution. Only that it’s a path I took, never seeing it as anything except itself, and it has proved to have such wide ranging benefits and consequences. So I hope life throws you some unexpected key soon that, in grasping you discover many doors. I am in my forties and, although I just got diagnosed with breast cancer, I think it will be the best decade of my life so far in the sense that I am the most comfortable with who I am. Be patient and kind with yourself. As the sunscreen song says, all our choices are half chance and so are everybody else’s.

  4. Beautifully written, brave and full of pathos. I wish you love, peace, and connection, fellow traveller.

  5. Self-acceptance is important. God bless. And love the pics of the dogs. Sure, cats rule, but dogs can be cute too!!!!

  6. I can understand this post, and I wonder if you are an empath.

  7. such a common feeling for many, especially now. dogs are super companions and healers.

  8. I also had a lot of loneliness growing up undiagnosed on the autism spectrum. I was lucky to have a good friend for much of my childhood, but as I got to adolescence, I struggled to work out how to socialise in an adult way (i.e. hanging out together instead of playing make-believe games) and couldn’t work out romantic relationships at all. This persisted through my twenties and into my thirties. I think I’m making progress now, but it all seems so fragile, as if it could all collapse.

  9. By sharing your struggles you are extending a helping hand to others, Rachel. ❤

  10. In the time that I’ve been following your blog, I’ve found your writing to be so beautifully impactful both for its thoughtfulness and wit. This very vulnerable post causes me to reflect on the fact that people who have impacted me the most for the good are authentic people, made so by the pain they have walked through. I really appreciate you sharing so openly … it touches part of my own journey. Someone in the comments referred to your honesty as a gem. I agree and would go further to say that you, yourself are a gem. Bless you, Rachel.

  11. A beautiful, deeply sensitive essay, Rachel. Loneliness and depression are all to familiar to me; I do, however, feel I am in good company with other sensitive people. And, like you, animals have been a source of comfort.

  12. Gosh this is the most relatable post ever. I’m horrified to hear of your life as a child. You deserved better. But I do relate and how wonder how many others do to. All of us lonely.

  13. Oh my goodness, Rachel, my heart goes out to you. You write so beautifully and have so many ‘friends’ on here because of your skills, truth, wit and your vulnerability. Being alone and lonliness are very different things. I certainly felt very apart as a child and as a young adult unfortunately found that alcohol was the answer. Obviously, it wasn’t but it took me a long time to overcome my dependency on it. Did you find it helpful to write this? I hope you can find ways of managing and coping with whatever stress or sadness you are experiencing and find peace.

  14. I think everyone is lonely at times, Rachel, but I’m praying that God will break this cycle for you. Here’s the specific scripture I’m praying for you: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”

  15. I think this pandemic has been brutal on all of us, whether we’re introverts or extroverts. When the virus first spread to the US we had maybe a month of winter left, with summer and spring right around the corner even if it felt like it took forever.

    This time around we’ve had a full winter of this — social distancing, working from home, zooming — and it’s been a dark, dark season.

    I went on a mini vacation to the Catskills this past summer, and as we were eating at a restaurant that had set up tables outdoors, in the sunshine, with the virus seemingly in retreat, it didn’t seem so bad. It seemed manageable, something we’d undoubtedly get over.

    Now, though…ugh. Between the news stories about the new COVID variants, the terrifying stories about the vaccine they’re using in Europe leading to blood clots, the frustrating stories about a disturbing number of Americans refusing to get vaccinated at all, the images of selfish people partying on the beaches of Florida, it makes me wonder if this is going to be what life is like for the next few years.

    Anyway, at the risk of writing a novel here, you’re not alone. I think we’re all feeling it, some worse than others. Some deal better than others, and some are just better at making it look like they’re coping. Thank God for our pets, eh? As difficult as this has been, it would be so much worse without my cat.

  16. Hi Ray, I send you the ray of warmth and cozy for your healing, You are not alone with love 🙂

  17. I think the world of you, Rachel. I’m sorry for the pain and loneliness, and in awe of your powers of communication. You are already a blessing to many readers, and I have no doubt you will grow in the ways that you are a blessing.

  18. Despite the pain, you have the faith of a child, Rachel. I hope this passage from the Psalms comforts you: “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.”
    I think each and everyone of us will have some kind of loneliness throughout life–manifested in different ways, but is actually our yearning for God, until we join Him in His kingdom.

  19. I salute your courage and perseverance 👍💐

  20. Hi Rachel, A heartfelt post, I too had a troubled childhood which has resulted in me feeling I am always on the outside, looking in. Art has been my saviour. All I can say is keep writing. 🙂

  21. Your heartfelt writing touches so many people, and, I believe, probably helps other heal, too. I wish you peace!

  22. Honest and heart wrenching. Most people are lonely to some degree. I used to be deeply lonely because my childhood was similar to yours. Jesus came into my heart and saved me and the Bible promises He will never leave nor forsake me (or anyone) and I think this is what has healed my loneliness. I am still lonely at times. There are so many things in my life that I can’t talk about or tell to anyone, but my heart is full of God and He is good at pushing the loneliness out. I’ll be praying that you find the answer to your loneliness, because while we both suffered hurt and abuse as children – every person is different and your loneliness is not the same as my loneliness. God bless and heal you. You are so talented and amazing.

  23. What a sad post. I hope you find your path to feeling whole.

  24. Pingback: beloved | bunnyhopscotch

  25. So very sorry for your pain. Praying you find peace and wholeness soon.

  26. That’s why I have always admire the blogosphere for listening! Lucky you, Rachel! Your dog’s eyes tell me that they are listening, too!

  27. You write beautifully.


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