I Feel Alone

This post is a confession of sorts.

If you read my confession, it’s quite possible you’ll just think I’m strange and need help—and you wouldn’t be wrong.

Even if that is your reaction, I still I hope you’ll read the whole thing. Why? Because maybe it will stir up some compassion in your heart for strange and needy people like me.

But it’s also possible you might actually relate to what I’m saying—like, “Oh my gosh! I feel like that too!” If that’s your reaction… you’re why I’m writing this.

Have you heard that 1990 Michael W. Smith song “Place In This World?” OK, I know, it’s totally corny and he has a wicked mullet. The thing is, this song has always resonated with me. Sure, I thought it was cheese back in ’90 when I first heard it—but I also felt the truth of it, particularly these words:

“Looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world, my place in this world. Not a lot to lean on, I need Your light to help me find my place in this world, my place in this world.”

Here’s my confession: I feel alone.

*  *  *  *  *

This past year, Shari and I were talking about something when she suddenly switched subjects and dropped a bomb of a question on me. “Do you ever wonder if you should be on medication for depression?”

I was shocked. My wife thinks I’m depressed? What the heck? I don’t think she knows me…

I answered, feeling rather incredulous. “No, not at all. I don’t think I’m depressed and I don’t feel like I struggle with that. Actually, I have wondered the same thing about you. You have some crazy mood swings. Have you ever thought antidepressants might help you?”

Now Shari was shocked. She couldn’t believe I’d suggest she might need help in this area.

Honestly, the whole exchange was pretty funny.

I really don’t think I struggle with depression though.

Instead, I struggle with something else.

I feel alone. Frequently. Misunderstood. Like an outlier. A fish out of water. An odd duck.

*  *  *  *  *

There’s a fun picture of this feeling of aloneness in the romantic comedy/zombie apocalypse movie “Warm Bodies.”

Here’s a quick synopsis of the plot: with much of the world’s population now an undead horde, “R” is a young and oddly introspective zombie. In the course of typical zombie activities, he meets a living human named Julie, and feels an urge to protect her. What happens next is the beginning of a strangely warm relationship that allows R to begin regaining his humanity.

Throughout the movie, you can hear R’s thoughts – almost like a narrator.

“What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. I should get out more. I should eat better. My posture is terrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.”

The tagline of this movie? “Cold Body. Warm Heart.”

That is the description of one odd duck. And I can relate.

R is not your average zombie. He struggles with his conscience. He doesn’t want to feed on living bodies like all the other zombies do – but he’s hungry. And now he finds himself caring for a living human being.

Because Julie is alive, she has to pretend to be one of the walking dead in order to not get eaten by the hordes of zombies. It’s comical.

R coaches her on how to fit in: “Be dead,” he says, then follows up with a helpful correction, “It’s too much.” Hilarious.

Watch it (it’s not scary).

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Both of these characters are quite relatable to me. They live in a world they don’t totally understand or fit into. And although they’re surrounded by lots of bodies, they feel alone in the world. They try to understand each other, but the relationship is tenuous and tricky.

*  *  *  *  *

Yesterday, I received a notification that this guy @MichaelJaiWhite started following me on Twitter. Apparently he’s an actor who has been in some movies. His Twitter bio caught my attention, “I pretend I am other people for a living.”

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I know what he means. He’s talking about being an actor. But so am I, in a different way. That Twitter bio really resonated with me…

I pretend I am other people for a living.

I pretend to fit in.

I pretend I’m a guy who is comfortable in social situations.

I pretend to be someone who enjoys having conversations about American Idol.

I pretend I want to be at this party (for 5 minutes anyway, then I can’t handle it anymore and go hide).

All my pretending and acting is pretty bad – like Julie trying to look and sound like a zombie…

Awkward, something just doesn’t look quite right.

*  *  *  *  *

In the Warm Bodies movie, R introduces us to another Zombie – M.

“This is my best friend. By best friend, I mean we occasionally grunt and stare awkwardly at each other. We even have almost conversations sometimes. Even though we can’t communicate, we do share a similar taste in food. Traveling in packs just kind of makes sense. Especially when everyone and their grandmother is trying to shoot you in the head all the time.”

I feel like that’s a good description of my best friendships. “We even have almost conversations sometimes.”

Sometimes I wonder what I’d be like on MDMA, ecstasy, Molly, or whatever it’s called. Would I be all friendly and outgoing? Excited to talk with people about American Idol? Give hugs freely and without awkwardness?

Could it cure my sense of feeling alone in the world? Is it like an extrovert pill?

That’s OK. I don’t really need to know. Even though I’m curious, I’m trying to stay drug-free.

*  *  *  *  *

Maybe feeling alone is a common trait with introverts. I’m definitely an introvert. My inner life is so much more vibrant, exciting, and engaging than my outer life. I think the upcoming Ben Stiller movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” might portray what I’m talking about…

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It is difficult for me to mingle and make friends. It just doesn’t come easy. It’s hard work and I’m clumsy at it. I try—I really do. The small talk kills me. Chit chat turns me into a socially awkward, conversationally impotent, absolutely boring individual.

I don’t know how to do it.

Class reunions. Benefits and fundraising auctions. Conferences. Receptions.

These types of things slay me.

*  *  *  *  *

I saw this on Twitter yesterday…

“I love the beginning of relationships, tricking someone into thinking you’re not as terrible as you really are. So sweet.”          —Caprice Crane

You detect the sarcasm in her tweet, right? I’d be willing to bet money Caprice Crane is an introvert.

There are few safe places for me, being an introvert.

And there are few safe relationships – where I can truly be myself – say what is going on in my mind without fear of judgment or disapproval or rejection.

It’s weird. I’m really comfortable in my own skin. I like who I am. I really get me…

It kinda blows me away that others don’t seem to.

My wife has to try and get me. She’s married to me, so it’s sort of obligatory. We work on understanding each other, and we work on communicating with each other – because we have to. We’re very different from each other – like R and Julie. We do the work because we’re committed to each other. We are family.

Even with the commitment to working on it, there are still times when my wife doesn’t get me. This makes me wonder, does anyone get me? Will anyone ever really get me?

I don’t think anyone will ever work harder than my wife trying to understand what’s going on inside my head and my heart. Somehow I doubt that I have a twin out there somewhere who thinks and feels and dreams just like me—a doppelganger who 100% gets me.

*  *  *  *  *

I frequently feel misunderstood. Am I alone in this? Do you ever feel misunderstood?

Not only do I feel alone because of my personality, I also feel alone because of my profession. I hate the assumptions people make about who a pastor is.

I don’t golf or sing or play guitar or want to go on retreats with other men. And since we’re being honest, I’m probably one of the more difficult people in my church.

In fact, stereotypical pastor-types bother me.

This confession has already gotten too long and I’ve probably revealed too much. I’m not trying to make anyone feel sorry for me. It’s not a cry for help. I don’t feel like I need more buddies.

More than anything else, I just want to be understood. I like being different, and I like who I am. I’m comfortable with myself and I like being alone—but I also want to be known and understood, I want at least a few people to get me.

From the zombie movie reference, R and Julie live in a world they don’t totally understand or fit into. And although they’re surrounded by lots of bodies, they feel alone in the world. They try to understand each other, but the relationship is tenuous and tricky.

This perfectly describes me. Maybe with some time and effort, and the help of some unique people, my cold body will develop a warm heart.

“If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” ― Jodi Picoult

Do you relate? In what ways do you feel alone in the world? How do you cope?

This is part 1 of 3 posts this week. Come back tomorrow for “I Want To Be Alone” and Thursday for “Between Alone & With

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

18 Comments to I Feel Alone

  1. Tim wheeler

    I sense this in myself as well. I’m happily married, have two wonderful kids, a church family I love and enjoy being with and a very supportive family, but still don’t feel like I’m the “yin to anyone’s yang” (or whatever the appropriate Christian phrase would be).

    I dont know if I was born this way, or if it developed in me as a survival technique due to being the younger brother of the popular, talented and “so good looking” Kyle Wheeler, along with being stuck at home while my parents constantly fought in what seemed to be a never-ending divorce.

    But through it all I grew very comfortable with myself, because I didn’t need anyone else, but I very much enjoy other people. That dichotomy I think is what allows me to both fit in to a new group easily, but also leave a group without much regret or sadness. Probably helps explain why I’m so black and white on many things because I hold to my view and if you don’t like it, I don’t need you anyway.

    Sorry for such a long response, but very thought provoking.

  2. Thanks for your honesty and revelation of self-awareness. Jesus made us all different. Here’s a question I have posed: Was Jesus an introvert? As a fully human Divine being, He had a personality. Certainly he could walk right into a crowd and converse with strangers. But he also withdrew in solitude – so frequently that the New Testament records it, even though it does not record a lot of other personal details about his life. Introversion is not bad, nor is being an extrovert. It is just coming to grips with who we are and accepting how God made us. I look forward to your next posts.

    • Brian Dolleman

      I have wondered about this too. The retreating from the crowds and even friends into solitude is one of the classic marks of an introvert – we recharge alone. Then some of His behavior seems more like an extravert – frequent presence at parties and social gatherings, inviting Himself over for dinner, traveling with an entourage, etc.

      Most of us aren’t 100% all introvert or 100% all extravert, but we do have tendencies and leanings. By the way, have you read Susan Cain’s book Quiet? It’s excellent.


  3. This post makes me really happy, and it also makes me feel normal. (Which is rare.)
    I often feel like I am participating in Olympic level awkwardness. I love laughing so that is my safety net.

  4. Chris Bohannon

    Honestly we sound alot alike.. Although I’ve never let anyone see the real me or my whole heart before. No matter how close I am to a person I just can’t see to show them what’s really going on on the inside. I wonder if you as an introvert have the same problem? I end up withdrawing from short conversation and parties because there is something else I would rather do. Instead of shallow talk and talk about things that don’t really even matter… I want desperately to just lay out whatever is in my heart at the time. I want to hear the depth about other people too because it’s not only exciting but it makes me love them more. I want to hear the good and the bad and be able to tell people the pain and joy in my life and in my soul. I hate sitting there and not caring about the latest episodes of popular shows! Even when it comes to bible reading, I’d rather not hear the same scripture over and over.. I’d rather hear how God changed peoples lives and in some cases even saved them. Brian, you aren’t saying to much and honestly when I hear honesty like this, I never see it as a pity party or a cry for attention. But if it really is a cry for attention I take it VERY seriously and I refuse to make judgements or assume anything. I don’t see how most people look at “attention seeking” as a bad thing when in reality it’s a very good sign. It’s okay if you share more, and to be honest I want to share more too but this post is a bit long. Maybe your next blog.

    • Brian Dolleman

      Yeah – I know what you’re saying Chris. I despise shallow conversations & long to open up… but in order to really do that, I have to feel safe. In a relationship where there is trust and understanding, I’m eager to dive right in and talk about the deeper and more meaningful things.

  5. Nicole Gillam

    I can totally relate to this. I have an extremely hard time developing close friendships because I have a lot of social anxiety….when I am around people my mind goes blank – I don’t know what to say, so I often say nothing even though I really want to. Its not that there is nothing to me or that I don’t have interesting thoughts – I just have a hard time engaging with people. I’ve always wanted and wished I could be that super fun person that everyone loves to be around – but that just isn’t me and never will be I’m sure. To be honest, I haven’t found a way to cope with this issue – I just keep “working at it” and hope for small steps of improvement :)

    • Brian Dolleman

      Sometimes when I have to go to a party & I know people will ask me questions about whatever (family, job, church, adventures, etc.), I plan and rehearse what I will say. It kind of helps me – & I think it’s a little better than stalling out with nothing to say. It doesn’t make me feel any less anxious or awkward though.

    • Nicole – I told DJ just the other day after our Life Group how much I like you. I love having you and your family in our home, love chatting with you about how you and Jason met and the different places you have worked, and I love watching our girls play together.
      You’re so kind, attentive, and helpful and I love that about you. You also make the very most yummiest of treats :)

      So although you’ve always wished you could be the kind of person that people love to be around – in my opinion, you already are.

  6. Katie Jones

    Sometimes I feel guilty about the need to be alone, but I’ve come to terms with how necessary it is for me. I do enjoy social settings where I know people, and I even hosting them, but when I’ve reached my limit, I sometimes disappear.

  7. I love this blog.

    I am very much like this myself. I hate small talk. I am not the life of the party. Ever. I’m the guy holding up the wall.

    I hate entertaining large groups. I love intimate conversation.

    Most people really don’t know this about me. I’m fantastic at small talk, I move around groups of people extremely well. All of this has come through and extremely painstaking process of self development.

    Now that I have done this though I find I talk too much and that I actually crave silence. I long to be the guy who is seen and not heard. I only want to talk when I have something very important or very valuable to say. I want to be wise with my mouth.

    What I really love about this post is that we all know this about you Brian, we actually talk about it. At least the people I talk with about you. We all know your sweet spot is preaching and writing. You delegate relationship building to Shari or people who are similar to you that you don’t have to cut through 3 layers to actually have a meaningful conversation. And from us to you, it’s OK. We love and appreciate the gifts and talents God has at work in you not the ones He doesn’t.

    In your brokenness, you are extremely influential and have raised a ton of leaders. Many of those leaders are making a huge difference in their communities and even globally.

    Keep being imperfect.

    • Brian Dolleman

      Thank you Robb. You’re very kind & I find your encouragement to be liberating – “from us to you, it’s OK.” I wasn’t fishing for praise or validation, but your comment made writing this post totally worth it.

  8. Your post is very refreshing. I have felt many of these things over the years. It wasn’t until we left full time church ministry that I was really able to identify some of my feelings by starting a blog. I too am an introvert, finding a “recharge” by being alone with my thoughts and away from people who add so much drama and chaos to my world. And like you, I have never liked staff gatherings, women’s retreats and being on the platform. I was forced into all these things because that’s what pastor’s wives and good musicians do. I could always tell something was different for me. Everyone around me used to get charged up and ready for more when we would do a singing Christmas tree or Easter production – and I was always relieved, exhausted and counting the hours when the madness would be over. People still disappoint me. These are not things you can just admit. At least not in my world. But having you say them is so freeing. I understand you and those like you, more than you think. Thanks.

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