Story by Justin Ong, Opinion Editor | Illustration credit to Flickr User Trash World

Last week’s Literature and Humanities lecture on Mrs. Dalloway, a novel by Virginia Woolf, sparked a campus-wide discussion about lyliness and the sanctity of one’s private life. So The Octant asked members of the Yale-NUS College community a simple question: “How do you deal with loneliness?” The answers we received were anything but simple. Below are excerpts from a series of interviews and five-minute free writes:

“I’m alone when I’m on my bike. It’s the good kind of lonely. For far away from the incessant drone of Facebook events, the screams and shouts emanating from below, the wind blows in my face and the supple road sings below my feet. I am alone because I choose to be so, here, and in fact anywhere, really. I feel free. Detached, I am content with myself; I can reflect in silence as my legs pump the pedals, hands stay firmly on the handlebars. I can understand the things I never did before, the reason for my friend’s displeasure, weigh the pros and cons of pursuing this internship or that. Sometimes you need to see things from a distance for them to make sense. Most of all, I can feel, and be with myself.”

-Aaron Pang, Elm College, Class of ’18

“There’s hardly time to feel lonely—or so I thought. Sitting in my room by myself, with no one to meet, no errands to run for once, I realized just how lonely I could actually feel. Here I am, living in a room of six girls, but none of them in to talk to. Even if they were, what could there be to talk about? We all share the same experiences, our conversations settling into comfortable silences sprung from familiarity. Perhaps using my phone will help. In an instant I could reach out to my old friends, my boyfriend. I could even Skype them in an instant if they were overseas. But strangely, it does not negate the fact that I am alone. I am by myself in this room. They cannot come over just when they want to, they all have their lives to live. Suddenly I am reminded of an article I read on Facebook with photos of people using their phones, but with the phones cropped out. They were looking at a space that didn’t exist, but with that space perhaps they would have the capacity to look at each other. Maybe it’s really easy not to feel lonely. I guess I’ll just have to try harder.”

-Lian Szu Jin, Saga College, Class of ’19

“What I feel about this school is, that when you’re in a college that expounds itself to be so happy and cheerful, you feel like it’s not okay to be lonely, or at least not okay to express loneliness. I don’t mean that people discourage it or that you would be condemned for it! It’s just that I personally value privacy and mystery, and I am just super self conscious about the way I express myself, and I don’t feel the need to air my emotions if they’re jarring or incongruous with the way much of the community shows itself to feel. I don’t want 15 people asking me about how I feel as I walk down the halls when I express my sadness. The care that the community could potentially show for me makes me more reluctant to express loneliness, and ironically there’s loneliness in that prospect, too. In a community so closely knit it feels natural for me to avoid any extra attention. However, I understand why Yale-NUS has to do what they do, making the school welcoming and friendly. It’s a crucial selling point for our college, and I guess there’s no alternative but this.”

– Anonymous, Elm College, Class of ’19

“Loneliness can be terrifying. But it can provide a space for me to see more clearly. A balance of community and loneliness is actually a healthy thing. When we’re healthy, we are in a good position to keep up with time! We meet all our deadlines, fill up our schedules perfectly and feel useful to the world. But the moment we are ill or fall off the treadmill of routine we experience absence. We begin to have an outside perspective where our daily routines don’t seem to be the whole truth. So what do you do? You lie in your bed; you stare at your ceiling and you think. Of course, this sickness is metaphorical, it could manifest in a loss of motivation or sudden, unexplainable bouts of sadness. I personally deal with this by recognizing the opportunity to be outward looking by being introspective and hence to be less afraid. I sit with loneliness, recognize it, for it is as much a part of the human experience as community and interaction. Of course, beyond this I go for swims as well, there’s a nice pool at Kent Vale.”

– Professor Heidi Stalla, who presented the lecture on Mrs. Dalloway.

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