Jennifer transforms feelings of loneliness into an opportunity for greater self-care and connection with women friends. She didn’t even realize the depth of her isolation and depression until we started talking about her typical daily routine.
A forty–one year old mother of two pre-teen girls, Jennifer is more of a planner and caretaker than the warm and fuzzy sort. Jennifer dutifully takes her daughters to school, music and skating lessons and assorted play dates. She routinely does the laundry, grocery shopping and prepares the family meals. Jennifer take her job as homemaker seriously and carefully analyzes the best ways of handling her multitude of responsibilities.
She came to see me because she “…felt lonely, bored and often sad.” Jennifer knew that everything she did revolved around the needs of her family. She admitted that she did very little to take care of herself. When we first met I observed that her clothes were wrinkled and mismatched. Tousled hair hid much of her face. She slouched on the couch and spoke in soft, terse sentences while fighting back tears.
Not used to talking about her feelings or herself, Jennifer encouraged me to ask her questions. My first inquiry was about her friends. “Who do you spend time with?” I asked. Jennifer looked perplexed and told me she had no time for friends. The only person she opened up to was her cousin Julie who lived in Philadelphia, six hours away. They usually spoke about once a week, but lately they were connecting less because of Julie’s new job.
“Is there anyone else you talk to locally?”
Jennifer began to cry. She confessed to being an introvert. Her husband was the social one in her family and essentially he interfered with her chances of getting to know anyone. “He is the life of the party and always takes over. I feel like there is no one drawn to me. Why would they be? He’s so appealing and I can hardly find the words to say what I’m thinking or feeling. I always feel so vulnerable and irrelevant.”
I wanted to know more about Jennifer but I thought the first order of business was for us to establish a bond. Then I needed to leave her with tools that she could implement right away.
We discussed the skill of walking meditation which combines abdominal breathing with slow, mindful walking. Jennifer lived near some conservation land where she could practice the walking meditation. I thought this practice would help her to be more in the present moment, add some movement into her life and get her away from the usual household and shopping routine. In high school she had been a cross country runner, but felt like she no longer had the time to indulge in running or working out. The walks were meant to be reflective, but also to ignite the pleasure center associated with outdoor activity.
The following weeks, as our connection grew stronger, Jennifer continued to talk about her life. She noticed that she felt less depressed but the loneliness still felt pervasive. Jennifer did not want to talk about the relationship with her husband just yet. She felt that she was better off not exploring their marriage, especially since she was not willing to leave him and did not want to dredge up her complicated feelings about him.
Instead, we spoke again about her friendships. Nothing much had changed in that realm. Jennifer and I discussed the ways in which her life would improve if she invited more women friends into her life. Her shyness ran interference with her ability to connect, so we needed to explore ways of overcoming her lack of confidence. I suggested she commit to making a phone call a day to the women she knew from the various car pools or the women friends she knew through the couples her husband befriended. Jennifer reluctantly agreed.
The following week I encouraged Jennifer to begin keeping a gratitude journal of 3-5 positive experiences she had daily. A good cup of coffee, a conversation with a friend, a nap, or anything she liked, regardless of how minor, could be counted. This practice developed Jennifer’s sense of appreciation for everyday pleasures. She was on board for the gratitude journal.
Several weeks later, Jennifer shared that for the first time in years her sense of isolation was lifting. She met a neighbor while out walking and they decided to join ranks and walk. Over the course of the next couple of months they began walking and talking several times weekly. Jennifer also walked on alternate days with another woman she knew through carpooling.
Jennifer felt a greater sense of connection with women friends. She was taking better care of herself physically and psychologically. Her children and husband noticed the positive changes. Everything else seemed more manageable as Jennifer gained a greater sense of balance and happiness in her life.
What do you do to stay connected with others and care for yourself?