Anastasia Sukhanov
8 min readApr 1, 2019
Photo by Gerard Uferas on

Loneliness and loneliness are different things. There is loneliness you feel when you’re in the middle of a party, left behind in the kitchen with all the dirty wine glasses, peering into the bright square of the rowdy living room asking yourself too many questions. There is loneliness you feel when scrolling through social media feeds where friends are endlessly getting engaged and having babies. There is loneliness you feel when someone you love falls silent and you wish you knew what they were thinking. There is loneliness you are plunged into right before doing something important, no matter how supported you were throughout your journey, because in that moment it’s really just you — taking the leap between the fear of the unknown and the possibility of glory. There is loneliness of decision-making, loneliness of success, loneliness of calmly understanding that essentially, we come to this world and leave it alone. Loneliness is a not a negative state, it’s a state of meeting yourself tête-à-tête, of looking into the mirror and not being afraid of seeing your soul, with all its dusty dark corners. Loneliness is a creative vehicle.

Loneliness should be listened to, understood, taken care of. The fear of it and the beauty of it should be thought of separately, like the cure and its side effects.

There is, for instance, the loneliness of being at one with world. I felt a surprisingly equal share of it when I held my new-born nephew who wasn’t even 5 minutes old — and when I held my mother’s hand as she passed away. Birth is about joy, death is about despair — and yet they were intuitively about the same sensation of a briefly ajar door, a corridor, a passage from one state to another. It was like a free fall into the stratosphere, and just like in a skydiving free fall you’re so in the moment you cannot decipher the plus or minus sign of the emotion, you are simply in awe. I felt a different degree of the same life-affirming loneliness when I floated in the middle of a mountain lake staring up at the sky, skinny-dipped in the cold autumn ocean after a month-long pedestrian pilgrimage, fell asleep under the stars of an Arabian desert. In those moments you’re lonely not because there is a lack of someone. On the contrary, there is an excess — of the world, of life, of something much bigger than the tiny stretches of our lives.

We came into this world alone, and we will leave alone. Only by letting yourself feel separate from the rest, detached, uncoupled, remote again — can you feel at one with the bigger, eternal, fleeting. Monks seek solitude for a reason — it gets you to the source. By letting ourselves a fearless dive into loneliness we can see it too, temporarily. Like meditation, or a high.

I felt loneliness in some of the most beautiful moments of my life. I felt it pierce my heart when I was walking on an empty beach on one of those off-season mornings when it’s too windy for locals and too early for tourists. I wasn’t alone. As he took my hand to hurry me up for the sunrise, I felt a wave of love swallow me up and in that second, I knew: the extent of it, the way of it, all the little things about it would never be fully understood by anyone else simply because those feelings are mine and mine alone.

Photo by Gerard Uferas on

There is loneliness of being in between. In between cities, in between your own personal eras. It’s a time of fragility when anyone fully settled into their space and era seems alien, offensively confident, inappropriately figured out, almost rude. There is also loneliness of growth. That horrible feeling of being proud of the way you’ve come, but also absolutely uncomfortable, bordering on ashamed, about the people you will leave behind — inevitably.

There is the most profound loneliness of all — the seeping loneliness of being left behind while the world keeps turning — the loneliness of missing out. When I was a child, I spent all of the summers on a small plot of land, surrounded by the woods on one side, a road on the other, sandwiched between two neighbours’ houses. The biggest occurrence of these summers was the weekly visit from a milk farmer, who opened the boot of his car like a treasure chest of news from the outside. The other days were all alike. That’s when I learned to stop time. I learned to separate all the different layers of the moment, to lay them out in the palm of my outstretched hand like onion spheres once it’s sliced in half. I took the matter around me completely apart, without knowing I was a bit of a witch that way. I would sit on the warm wooden terrace floor and feel, with all my senses. I would observe my mother battling some poor unwanted raspberry bush, and at the same time follow the movements of an ant carrying a crumble away. I heard women chatting in the distance — about their daughters in law not treating their sons right, about the right proportion of sugar in jam. There was a crack in the window that rattled every time a car drove by, I was aware of that too. And the whisper of our neighbour as she talked to her flowers. And the sound of the fire slowly eating up the green that was weeded up that day. And the smoke from the fire, mixing with the sunset light in an almost shamanic dance around the branches of apple trees. And the sudden gush of wind dishevelling the height of the woods. And the smells: of fire, tea, freshly cut grass. I was so intensely aware of everything around me that it would sometimes terrify me that people were just living while all of these happenings were taking place, completely oblivious to the multitude of parallel universes. But at least I knew, at least I was there to watch, remember and document — it gave me peace. I didn’t want to miss anything.

Photo by Gerard Uferas on

A lot of my life in the following years, even as I moved to bigger cities and started to have a hint of a social life, were spent in a self-imposed protectory bubble, where I only let inside as many layers as I could process. I was always an observer, always on the outskirts, always careful not to let my senses meet too much life. At 18 I moved to London. I was shy, unsure of who I was, constantly mimicking one person or another when it came to style, character, political views, musical taste, life choices. I started letting the world in to find out what stuck, to feel more, to break free from the monk-like tranquillity I used to raise as a shield against the pain life threw at me. There were suddenly too many layers, I struggled. It all came crashing down on a spectacular summer day, the kind that happens in London so rarely you end up asking your friends what they did that exact day years later, and everyone remembers. It was a student picnic in Hyde Park, complete with a Sainsbury’s basic cheese selection, white wine in plastic cups and numerous overlapping unrequited crushes. There was us, there were runners with their untraceable patterns, the double-deckers encircling the park in a tight band of red and noisy, the buzz of a million voices, the ringtones, the children enacting a Greek tragedy in one corner, a couple having a row in another, too many corners I couldn’t even see. There were no ants, no reference points. I think these days they call it a panic attack, or anxiety. But what I really felt was a deep, scarring sensation of loneliness. It only left CO2 in the air, it distorted vision to the point of everything looking like an early impressionist painting, back when they blamed them for using too much green and blue when depicting skin tone. It was like the first time you hear that white is actually all of the colour wavelengths mixed together, but all we are capable of seeing is one. Astonishment, doubt, unwilling acceptance, awe, fear. What else do we not see? How else are we handicapped at birth, or through the process of growing up and turning into “proper” adults? The onion was too big, I couldn’t lay out all the layers in front of me to understand, I was lost.

Photo by Gerard Uferas on

Then, slowly, came writing. I didn’t think much of it. Mostly I wrote in endless notebooks I started to only abandon a few month later, on the back of my financial analysis retake notes, on Facebook — so people would say something like “you’re a poet!” and I would snort and go back to my battle. I would sit in a Ladbroke Grove cafe and write about the time I saw a couple of students, a boy and a girl, drop by for a coffee. She turned around, he extended his arm to touch her elbow. Too slow, missed. She grabbed both coffees as he tried to help. Too slow, missed. He moved his hand closer to hers across the table. Too slow, missed. Every single time I was there to observe, to dissect tenderness and fear, hope and despair, courage and doubt. Sometimes I wrote about things that would only take a few seconds in real life, but on my onion scale they bore dozens of layers, a myriad of events preceding them.

There is certainly loneliness in being a writer. It stares at you from a blank computer screen, it strikes you when words so intimate come to your mind you realise you won’t be able to share them with anyone you know — but maybe with the millions of strangers when it’s published. There is loneliness in being a writer of state and existence when everyone is about plot and “how to”-s. But I learned to stick with it. Writing is my way of separating the layers, my spell for stopping time, my personal recipe for dealing with the loneliness of missing out. And in that, I believe, I am far from alone. Some of the most inspiring humans make sense of the world around them by creating something from nothing, by processing the meat of life through the grinder of their art — whether it’s their profession, hobby, or a battle.