When I was a kid, I had a school assignment to write in a journal. I would write tall tales to try to impress my teacher and make her think I had more close friends than I really did. Making up stories helped me convince myself I wasn’t as lonely as I actually was. But the reality was, I spent a lot of recess periods by myself on the swings.
Maybe you did similar things growing up. As a kid, it’s not always easy to put words to how you’re feeling — especially if you’re struggling with the pain of loneliness. For this reason, some lonely children turn to code phrases like “I’m tired” or “I’m shy” that hint at what they’re feeling, without coming right out and saying it.
To find out what kids really say when they’re feeling lonely, we asked members of our Mighty community to share one thing they said growing up that was really code for, “I’m lonely.” If any of these sound familiar, you’re not alone.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. ‘I’m bored.’
“‘I’m bored’ was my go-to for a while. Then I realized if I was quiet and stayed out of the way, I would be able to be in the same room as my parents and not be told to go play in my room.” — Amanda M.
“‘I’m bored.’ I’d repeat it until someone gave a damn. I also would ask my mom, ‘Do you love me?’ multiple times a day, which is where my need for constant reassurance comes from. I still ask my fiancé now that same question. The only difference now aside from my age is that I no longer use my words to express loneliness, I just habitually slip into my own world without anyone ever noticing and I get overwhelmed by my own thoughts and typically I cry.” — Brittany E.
2. ‘I love you.’
“‘I love you.’ Whenever my parents ignored me or made me feel ignored, I would tell them I loved them and try to get a hug or some kind of affection.” — Cinder C.
3. ‘Can I get a hug?’
“I’d ask for hugs from my dad a lot of the time, nobody knew how to give me love and affection that wasn’t from giving me gifts — which was why I was a spoiled brat when I was little. I would have temper tantrums just so someone in my family would actually pay attention, but instead, they would just give me the thing I wanted if I was mad or upset.” — Trinity D.
“I’d keep asking for hugs, or just go into phases of intentionally staying silent or bury myself in novels.” — Nalini N.
4. ‘How can I help you?’
“‘What can I do to help you?’ Adults would always give you some type of task in the same room or close enough to listen to their conversations whether it was mom, dad, teachers or extended family.” — Ashley A.
5. ‘Let’s hang out.’
“I would just cry. I would say things like ‘I’m bored’ or ‘Let’s hang out’ and when that didn’t work, I would get overwhelmed. I would feel like I was a burden… an annoyance.” — Michelle S.
6. ‘I’m just introverted.’
“‘I’m just introverted.’ That was a huge one. I was lonely a lot and when people would question me about it I used to shrug it off by talking about my introversion. While I am, indeed, an introvert, and I wasn’t necessarily lying, it was a way for me to cover up my loneliness and social anxiety.” — Remy L.
7. ‘Promise you’ll come back.’
“I used to say, ‘Don’t leave me’ or ‘Promise you’ll come back’ as a child and people didn’t pick it up until I was in grade four (middle school) and the bullying at school continued until grade nine (second year of high school). People didn’t realize it was a cry for help.” — Nina M.
8. ‘I want to go home.’
“‘I want to go home.’ I still use it when I am down. But I don’t really have a home to go [to].” — Khanam T.
9. ‘How much do you love me?’
“‘How much do you love me?’ ‘Are you really my friend or are you just pretending to be?'” — Alicia Y.
10. ‘I like playing by myself.’
“‘You’ll find me in the library again.’ ‘A book is just a friend you haven’t met yet.’ ‘It’s OK, I like playing by myself.’ Or just simply silence when no one else would be silent, also known as sitting alone in the corner watching the other kids play.” — Rebecca H.
11. ‘Can I take today off from school?’
“‘Can I have the day off of school today?’ You never feel more alone than when you are surrounded by people who don’t want you around.” — Benjamin W.
12. ‘I’m tired.’
“My go-to saying was always ‘I’m tired.’ This meant I didn’t want to talk about it, but no, I’m not alright.” — Jacquelyn M.
If you grew up lonely and used “code words” to express your loneliness, you’re not alone. If feelings of loneliness are still part of your life, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. Our Mighty community wants to support you, no matter what you’re facing today.
For more from our Mighty community, check out these stories:
- Chronic Loneliness: The Depression Symptom We Aren’t Talking About
- 19 Signs You Grew Up With Social Anxiety
- The Word I Wish I Had in My Vocabulary Growing Up