Loneliness is a funny old entity. One which we commonly associate with a lack of social contact or no social contact whatsoever. Of being Alone. And yet the reality is there are times when loneliness can strike when you are not alone but surrounded by people. It’s a horrible feeling to have to feel all alone in a sea of people. To feel so disconnected from the world even though it’s right at your fingertips. And just like not being alone can leave you feeling lonely, sometimes being alone doesn’t always equal feeling lonely. It’s much more complex. It can even send our emotions into overdrive and make us act in ways that we know aren’t fully rational. It’s a tragically powerful force.
With it coming up to Christmas etc, loneliness is something that we hear mentioned more and more. Whether that be in relation to the homeless, the elderly or the disabled. It can be so easy to think that everyone is surrounded by loved ones at this time of year when in reality many are not. Or there are those that are struggling so much with their mental health that they can be surrounded by people and still feel unloved and lonely. So, I thought it was a good time to talk a little bit more about this subject.
Being physically unwell for more than six years I have spent much time on my own (sing it) and yet, for the most part, I have felt fortunate enough to not feel too lonely. Whether that’s because I’m quite a quiet person who has always appreciated my own space and been comfortable in my own company, topped by always being selective about who I got close to or whether I was too busy trying to deal with all my body was throwing at me, who knows? And despite my old life growing more of a distant memory and sadly my old social circle diminishing rapidly. On some days I’d only ever have actual human contact with my Mum and sometimes my Dad and mostly only when I needed basic care. I’d say 22-23 hours a day were spent on my own. Don’t get me wrong, at times this is incredibly painful but as a whole, loneliness had somehow not taken too much of a hold.
Until this year that is…
I wish I can remember who said it or where I saw it but I saw a quote recently along the lines of “There’s a reason why solitary confinement is a form of punishment” and I can’t help thinking how true that is.
This year has been a rollercoaster of changes. Starting with worsening physical health which left me even more unable to communicate (not even able to talk at times) and lead to hospitalizations. With each admission or my GP sending me to A&E (again) it really triggered something in me. Even with my Mum and Dad at my side and messages on my phone from my internet friends, I felt lonely. Perhaps it’s seeing others surrounded by visitors and cards, who knows. And in no way am I ungrateful for everything that I did have in those moments because they were absolutely everything to me, they were my source of hope and I am lucky to have that much. But sometimes we simply cannot help how we feel and we can’t punish ourselves for feeling the way we do. We have to also remember that those feelings aren’t always rational and cannot be explained away by logic.
Then later in the year when I began to be able to have a little more social contact my mental health decided to throw a wobbly and decided that those feelings of loneliness would bubble to the surface. Perhaps they saw their chance and wanted to make themselves known. Maybe six years worth was all catching up with me, who knows. Or maybe, seeing glimmers of hope was reminding me of just what I’d been alienated from all these years. I’m not really sure. I just know it was painful.
And it’s made me more reflective of all the others out there who might be feeling the same, for whatever reason and whatever their circumstances. People who have it far worse off than I do.
So whilst it is soon the season of giving, remember the best gift you can give someone is your time, your patience and your kindness. Even if that person is feeling lost and wishes they could appreciate you more rather than being consumed by their own hateful feelings. Reach out to those you know are more vulnerable and physically alone. As well as those who you know are struggling with their mental health and might be feeling more alone than they appear.
I think for my next post I might come up with a few ideas about how you can help yourself, or people you know (or don’t know) combat loneliness this festive season.