By Paige Lee
Millennials have been labeled the loneliest and most depressed generation that has ever lived. Members of this generation are increasingly living alone, moving to new cities, working more, and spending less time face to face with friends and more time on social media. Recent research has estimated that approximately one in five Americans suffer from chronic loneliness. Feeling lonely has consequences beyond the simple lack of connection with others; it’s been linked with serious health issues like depression, heart disease, and substance abuse.
I’ve decided to tell my story so people who may be struggling with this issue know that they are not alone. I moved out to Seattle from the east coast after graduating from Notre Dame to work for Microsoft knowing no one in the city. I found a tiny studio in downtown Seattle and was excited to meet new people and begin my “adult life”. Finding new friends was more difficult than I thought and I found myself missing the friends that “really knew me” from home.
I started to feel more alone than I ever have in my life. My life consisted of working, going to the gym, studying for a finance certification, and desperately attempting to grow my inner circle and feel like I belonged. This loneliness was painful. I could feel it in my soul and this pain started to become too difficult to bare. I found myself slipping into a depression that made me feel less and less like the person I once knew and recognized. Millennials are diagnosed with depression at a much higher rate than any previous generations. If you’ve ever experienced this debilitating disease you know it further isolates you from others and makes it difficult to perform even simple tasks.
My depression told me that I was completely and utterly alone. I started to rely upon temporary, unhealthy coping mechanisms to make life more bearable. Alcohol became my best and most reliable friend, and I drank at night when I went home to my empty apartment to fill the void. I began abusing prescription drugs, attempting to self-medicate this unbearable feeling. When this no longer did the trick, I found myself turning to illegal drugs to maintain some false veil of happiness. I started doing things that I promised myself I never would, and I learned the true powerlessness of what it means to be an addict.
It was hard to let anyone in on what was going on with me. I maintained outside appearances and tried to pretend I was going about life just like everyone else. No one wants to be viewed as weak, and the stigma that mental health issues carry can make it hard to admit you are struggling. I had always thought of myself as strong and determined; I had run marathons, graduated on the dean’s list, and maintained a successful career. I couldn’t be depressed, right? On the inside I was screaming for help, for a little bit of relief. Most precarious was the inner battle to keep secrets so I could maintain my drug use. My addiction was so severe that I no longer cared if I lived or died, so long as I could continue using. Towards the end I believed nothing would ever get better. I was certain that I wasn’t going to make it much longer. If the drugs didn’t kill me, then I would.
My journey eventually brought me to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and then rehab. I began the arduous process of getting clean and learned how much I had isolated myself from the world. The most valuable thing I have gained from being sober has been connecting with others and realizing that I am no longer alone. I’ve since moved into a sober living house, live with seven other women, and actively participate in the program of AA. It’s been a difficult process of starting over, both externally and internally but I am more grateful for my life today than I ever have been before. My biggest piece of advice is to not remain a secret. We can’t make it through this life alone, in the dark. Reach out a thousand times if necessary to find that one hand that will pull you back into the life-boat.