Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Surviving love and loneliness

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Surviving love and loneliness

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Japan

Being alone and loneliness aren’t the same. When you’re enjoying your solitude, you don’t feel isolated in a negative way or crave contact with others. Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. You can be alone, yet not lonely. You can feel lonely in a crowd of people. Loneliness is when you feel no one is there for you and you need to connect with people. It’s a feeling that you’re disconnected from others, with no one to confide in. It’s a lack of meaningful relationships. Isolation and loneliness often go hand in hand, and can affect your emotional health andl well-being. It’s common for people to feel lonely.

Having morning coffee with my mother in the kitchen, she admitted she was lonely. I was surprised and replied, sadly, “Okay mom, let’s talk about this after I cook breakfast.” Afterward during our walk to the movie theater, she said she was tired of being left home alone. My father had to travel frequently. So, mom was frustrated, just hanging out with her sister, going to Vegas and attending television game shows in Los Angeles. She wanted more meaning in her life. She was bored, frustrated, and lonely. So, we talked about overcoming challenges in her life.  
While walking, we took deep breaths. Mom had the symptoms for people feeling lonely: stress, tension, not sleeping well, tension headaches, feeling tired, and easily upset. I suggested going to the gym a few times a week, taking a fun class, or becoming a volunteer. She didn’t like those ideas. Mom enjoyed coffee, donuts and red wine. I asked what was upsetting her the most. And, what was the worst part of dad being away from home?

“I’m married, not single. I don’t like watching TV by myself,” she replied. I scratched my head suggesting, “Be happy for what you have. Stay enthusiastic about life.” She glanced at me, smirking, shaking her head no. “What’s missing in your life?” I asked. She was quiet, looking straight ahead.

“What can I change?” she asked. I suggested not jumping straight to negativity and not letting the negative voice in her mind win. I suggested replacing negative talk with positive self-talk.  “That’s easy for you to say,” she pouted, shaking her heard. “I earned my bad attitude,” she continued.

While we waited to pay for our movie tickets, I suggested adding a few short-term goals, maybe some exercise and spending time with friends who have positive attitudes. “I don’t like exercise,” she said shaking her head, adding that she belonged to a wine club already.

Standing in the popcorn line I asked, “What are the positive and the negative aspects of being apart? What can you do to feel closer to your husband? What can you do to stay motivated and passionate toward the relationship?” Munching on her popcorn, she replied sarcastically with a smile.

“I can send him a love letter. I can say something positive about our relationship. I can plan a homecoming. Or send him interesting photos of me,” she said with a playful grin, grinding forcefully on more popcorn. As we walked to our seats, I told her loneliness and isolation are everywhere. I urged her to be nice to herself and not become a victim of despair. She listened, aggressively crunching on her popcorn while I suggested including her husband in her trips to Vegas and to attend game shows in Los Angeles together.

 Soon, “Heat,” the movie we were watching, started and she was distracted. Afterward, at a café she began to appreciate the strong bonds she had with people. She admitted her loneliness came from a lack of meaningful social interaction, but she was lucky to have the support of her sister and friends. Mom was in a great relationship and was fortunate to have a reliable partner. She had a lot be thankful for but felt like she needed a sense of purpose.

On the walk home I encouraged her to take care of the neighbor’s children once in a while. Give support to others. Get a good night’s sleep without drinking. She admitted being lonely made her feel more negative, critical and judgmental. That wasn’t fun. We agreed to focus on good things that are happening everyday all around us. As I left, we  looked at each other and hugged, grateful for our relationship.

If you woke up today, that’s a start. The rest is up to you.


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

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