Writing and illustrations by Jieun Lee
It’s easy to feel alone. It’s just as easy to feel ashamed about it.
I spent my high school years having trouble connecting with my peers. This led me to constantly worry that there was something preventing me from making real friends and living what I thought was the “normal life”.
To my relief, I quickly made friends when I arrived at university, and I was able to spend most of my first and second years surrounded by other people.
But by my third year of university, I started to feel that familiar, gnawing loneliness I had felt in high school. I had grown past my initial university bliss of feeling like everyone was a potential friend. Concern about my uncertain future plans, family stress and struggling with my own depressive and anxious thoughts slowly began to take over. I struggled to try and block these thoughts, and remind myself that I wasn’t going to be that person again: the lonely teenager that longed for connections with my peers and feeling like something was preventing me from a “normal life”.
Unfortunately, it didn’t get easier when I graduated. The comfort of routine and familiarity, and living with my friends that had sustained me in my last year of university had vanished. My close friends had moved away, I started a full-time job, I was in between apartments, and my routine completely changed. Every single day was structurally the same: the alarm clock at 6:45, the route to work, and the office paperwork completed. Although I made great friends through my job, the work wasn’t easy, and it emotionally and physically drained me. I felt like my entire life was being drained into a job I didn’t see a future in; a job that I knew did not care about my well-being but I was forced to give my time and mental energy to.
I felt more alone than ever before. And this time, I didn’t feel like it was all in my head. I rarely saw old friends, and the emotionally demanding aspect of my job made me withdraw socially when I wasn’t at work. I just wanted to be left alone all the time. My old friends did not even understand how alone I truly felt. Every time I spent time with other people, I felt either like an imposter, struggling to feign normality, or like a toxic person that only ever complained.
It came to a point where I realized that I was struggling to see anything hopeful in my life. Everything seemed to be shadowed by a looming, uncertain yet hopeless future.
I realized that I couldn’t let my job define my entire life anymore. I had to do something else to sustain my happiness by giving myself something to look forward to.
Which is when I started to draw again.
The first job I ever wanted as a kid was to be an artist. Like many other things, drawing had been taken over by other priorities for most of my life, but when I started drawing again I knew that it was the kind of energy I needed. I started drawing affirmations for myself. I invented my own characters that said little encouragements to me. I put them up all over my walls, reminding myself to look at them and see them as my little guardians. I then started making birthday cards for my co-workers, and began to imagine a different, hopeful future for myself again.
Working on my drawings meant I was spending a lot of time alone. But this time, it was in order to create something that made me feel myself again. Instead of feeling hollow and ashamed of being alone, I knew that this is the time I needed to spend to improve my art, and to heal my relationship with myself.
I won’t say that I don’t still feel lonely sometimes. But I no longer equate being alone with failure, but rather an essential aspect of taking care of myself.
Jieun Lee is a women’s health advocate by day, artist by night. She recently started her illustration and design work where she aims to create images inspired by love and whimsy from her daily life. Her illustrations focus mainly on characters, friendship and self-care. A graduate of the University of Toronto Anthropology and English program, she has been and continues to be dedicated to learning and advocating for immigrant and women’s health. Most recently she worked with Planned Parenthood Toronto on their Supporting Newcomer Access Project, collaborating with other newcomer health advocates on supporting and improving sexual health education amongst newcomer youth. When she isn’t working or drawing, she spends most of her time stomping around Toronto, finding new ramen restaurants and petting fluffy cats. You can view her work at www.jieunleedesigns.com and her Instagram: @jieunleedesigns.