“Alone. Together.” by Holden Liang Qichao

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For a while in my high school, carrying your diary to school and sharing it among selected individuals was all the rage. It was not only embraced as an effective way to set your true besties apart from those less deserving, but bonus points also went to its perceived potential for relieving our hormone-marinated brains of their pent-up desires for finding our own cliques. It was amazing how many of said diaries were “accidentally” misplaced and left unguarded just so some like-minded earthlings might catch a glimpse of our surely unparalleled mind and be instantly floored with admiration. It happens all the time on TV and in movies, so it must work in real life too right? Let us just say we were not the most clear-headed or the subtlest bunch.

Despite the peer pressure, I was not swept up in this fad. Part of it was because of the inherent meanness of this practice, and my lack of persistence and the richness of life that was required of such an endeavor. But mostly, I was wrapped up in my own head to the exclusion of any interest in my immediate surroundings. The fictional worlds of books, TV, films and video games were so much more appealing to me than the dreary landscape of reality. So it follows I was not the most sociable person and definitely not one to wear my heart on my sleeve. I kept my distance and eschewed the kind of human bond most people would crave. I was a loner and fine with it.

But just when I thought I was immune to the great human malady that is loneliness, I got older. What came with getting older was not just get-off-my-damn-lawn-you-punks grumpiness (guilty!), it was also the confusing and terrifying realization that my delusion of invincibility was as ludicrous as my arrogance, that all the books, films and music I so fondly consumed in my solitude could not offer as much comfort as they used to, and that everything on this earth was connected and somehow I wanted to be a part of it too. These understandings were nothing original, but they still hit me quite unexpectedly, as if the armor of years of meticulous construction and maintenance had suddenly crumbled to ashes.

I was bereft of my illusory invulnerability and left with a new void to fill. But this time I did not have to go it alone. Surely, I thought, I was not the only one struggling with this existential dread. But everywhere I turned, I did not see my conditions reflected in real life. It seemed that everyone’s public persona was so well-adjusted, especially now that technology has enabled us to create and perpetuate an unattainable image of perfection tailored to our liking. Any display of those pesky and undesirable imperfections is becoming increasingly unacceptable and deviant. And when those uncomfortable moments of loneliness and anxiety can be easily filled up by incessantly checking our phones and sending out selfies, the need to confront and talk about those difficult feelings is readily pushed to the farthest back of our mind.

I am aware how corny and self-serving it is to write about such things in a public space, not unlike passing around those poor diaries. But it is increasingly clear to me that in order to find true connections, we cannot just open up the parts of ourselves that we are comfortable with and leave out the socially undesirable. It is imperative that we get over our insecurities and be willing to lay bare our fears, struggles and vulnerabilities. Part of what drives me to write this piece is the hope that some fellow human beings out there might read this and find comfort in knowing that someone else is trying to figure out how to get better at life too. And maybe they will feel a little less alone because of it. It might not be enough, but it seems like a good place to start.

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holdenHolden Liang Qichao is a PhD student at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all pieces by Holden.]

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