To overcome my loneliness at Georgetown, I had to learn how to be comfortable being alone. As a freshman, I was afraid that as soon as I was by myself, I would be overcome with loneliness and homesickness. In the first few weeks, when everyone around me was a stranger, learning to take time for myself rather than avoiding time alone allowed me to feel at home on campus.
When I first arrived on campus, I was convinced surrounding myself with others and making connections would help wash away the feelings of homesickness, impostor syndrome, and FOMO that I felt lurking in the back of my mind. To me, this strategy made sense; I came to campus with no connections and was unfamiliar enough with the feeling of loneliness that I assumed the only way to get past the feeling was to find people to rely on.
So I made plans all the time. Whether it was exploring town with my new roommate, planning meals with new friends, or working in the HFSC or Lau with new classmates, I made plans on plans. However, the more overstimulated and crammed my days were, the more lonely and restless I found myself in the inevitable and unavoidable moments when I was alone: the hours when my roommate was in class, nights being the last one in the library, and walks back from class at the end of the day. I found myself mentally exhausted, suffering from insomnia, and with an unshakeable feeling of weariness. Still, my loneliness felt insignificant enough that bothering friends and family seemed unnecessary, especially when all my home friends were busy navigating their own college campuses.
Eventually, after I realized how overtired and easily aggravated I had become, I was able to isolate what specifically about my life at Georgetown was preventing me from settling in and feeling like I belonged in D.C. Aside from the novelty of it all, I realized that, in moving from the suburbs of Minneapolis to a dorm in Washington, I had completely lost all of the alone time that was so ingrained in my day-to-day rhythm at home.
A naturally extroverted person, I didn’t realize how much I depended on moments of solitude in my daily routine back in Minnesota to recharge and deal with stress: the drive to school at sunrise, reading a book in an oversized chair, or even just having the choice to answer a call without headphones on. These voluntary moments of isolation were pivotal to my mental health. Recognizing them and then learning how to purposefully be alone on campus in the way that I needed—taking walks to the monuments along the waterfront, stopping for Saxby’s on the way to class while listening to a podcast, or discovering new coffee shops in town—helped me get over all my negative emotions almost instantly.
It was naïve of me to assume that I could avoid being alone on campus forever, and now, preparing for completely virtual classes, I’ve had to reflect on how I will deal with loneliness this semester. This kind of loneliness is much more difficult to manage. It’s easier to be alone when it is a choice—working at a new coffee shop, people-watching along the Potomac, or observing the sunset on the National Mall—and I know that I have friends, a roommate, and classmates to return to.
While I definitely overcrowded my schedule on campus, forming those connections and relationships was still vital to helping me become adjusted to college life. Regardless of how time spent alone boosted my mental health, without the relationships I formed at Georgetown, I would’ve been completely lost. Undoubtedly, losing many of the natural opportunities to form connections on campus will add to the isolation that will accompany this semester for many students, especially for the incoming freshmen. Making small talk before class starts, running into someone at the line at Leo’s, and talking to club members on the walk out of club meetings are all small moments of time that everyone will lose out on.
For so many of us, the claustrophobia of our childhood bedrooms (or wherever we are residing for the next four months) is clearly less than ideal. We will have to put in the extra work to make friends in a completely novel way—emailing classmates instead of being able to ask for their contact information and starting conversations over Zoom are only a few examples.
However, it is our natural tendency as humans to form connections. I’m certain that, though the methods may look new and feel untraditional, we will all be able to make friends through virtual learning, and when we eventually return to campus, these online relationships will easily adjust to being face-to-face.
But, as I work from home, I will be mindful to take intentional time for myself even if I seem to be spending the whole day alone. While attending classes and doing homework do count as time spent alone, they are mentally draining and exhausting. Without the kind of support we normally receive from in-person relationships on campus, it is especially important now that we carve out time for ourselves. This semester will force all of us to find sustainable ways to boost our mental health without relying on others.
I plan to take the time to do something physical outside every day as an outlet to relieve stress. I also hope to limit my time on social media in order to resist feeling sorry for myself when I see photos of friends attending colleges that have reopened. I intend on being open about how I am feeling with the people around me to keep these normal feelings from becoming overbearing and unhealthy. Being aware that we will spend a lot of time alone may seem daunting, but being able to find comfort in solitude and leaning into uncertainty will help us get through the semester. It may even help you find friends and clubs within the Georgetown community you may have otherwise not discovered. Like the Voice!