Before I steam in to this post, I need to acknowledge the serious reality of lonliness for some people and make it clear that I’m not trying to pull the ‘woe is me’ card. Although I feel lonliness and am basically isolated, I’m acutely aware there are others suffering and alone in a far more serious way than me. I am writing this post knowing that I only understand a snippet of what it’s like to be lonely. I know that my snippet is incredibly unpleasant, so I have to wonder how others who may be less capable, or even more isolated, manage with even more unpleasantness…
Who is lonely?
We’ve all been lonely from time to time. After a relationship breakup, leaving the parents home for uni, starting a new job in a new city, being the new kid in an established classroom of teenagers. I shudder when I remember the feeling of these situations. It’s not just sad, sometimes it’s scary too or maybe tiring. Like all mental health issues I guess it effects people in different ways.
I used to know people with so much social presence. Dump them in a room full of strangers and within an hour they’ll have 3 new FaceBook friends, a date for next Saturday and a cushy job offer from the CEO of a busy and important company. They can work a room. Actually, I used to be one of these people.
And these people may have a million friends, a rewarding career and be very well respected. On paper they have it all. Expensive house, flashy car, designer clothes. But when they get home to an empty house on Friday evening and watch the minutes tick by until 6am on Monday arrives again, they are lonely too. They have it all on paper, but no one to share it with.
Then there are the people who are lonely and you know about it. I’m currently in this group. I spend much of my time isolated thanks to agoraphobia and as a result I have just 2 real friends. I can go for 9 hours a day without having a single conversation verbally, texted or otherwise. I talk on here about it and tried to on social media a couple of times. I think when you’re vocal about these things some people quickly lose sympathy and believe it’s all for attention. There’s a stigma attached to being open about your mental health. So I stopped posting and now I don’t even have people telling me to shut up. The irony.
Finally the quiet lonely masses. From a charity, community and mental health point of view, these are the people that often need the most attention. Sadly, I believe, because these are people that either don’t speak up or don’t know how to speak up, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full extent of the worst type of lonliness out there. People going for weeks, sometimes months, without a single conversation. Not one. It’s sad to consider how bleak that must feel.
What do I know about these people? They deserve better. Far better.
I realise I can’t fully wear the lonliness badge. I’m 40 and I have a family. After their days at work and school are over, the noise in my home returns and conversations restart. My isolation is permanent, but my lonliness (despite happening daily) is temporary. So i’m lucky, even though I do feel this pain, because there are so many who are living it for weeks, months and sometimes years. For me, the idea of this is incredibly powerful and riddles my mind with guilt. I wish I could do more than sit at this keyboard thrashing out my innermost fears and sadness to splash on the internet in the hope I might have a chance of helping someone.
I’m basically impotent.
My purpose with this post is to talk about what the fraction of lonliness I experience feels like, what might help, and how so many others (like those mentioned above) are suffering with this as a pandemic that has gone unnoticed for years, not just since Covid-19 turned things upside-down. People (often elderly and infirm) are reluctantly living a life of solitude everywhere. It’s not just the UK, although our status as one of the richest countries in the world should be preventing something as simple as lonliness with relative ease.
I find it very upsetting, no…I find it shocking, that we are leaving people to live in silence when there are so many easy solutions.
Are there really solutions?
In this world of lonliness I can’t understand for a second why there are families who haven’t visted relatives that live alone just a few hours up the road, for months. Sometimes years. Who are you? Why are you doing this? I guess, in some cases, there may have been a relationship breakdown or argument, but I’m certain there are lonely people who don’t deserve to be. Lonely people with friends or family who claim to be close, but know in the depths of their brains that they don’t do nearly enough.
If your grandma is saying she doesn’t want you to make a fuss, make a bloody fuss. If grandad is saying he doesn’t want to ruin your weekend, let him ruin your frigging weekend. If Aunty Mildred doesn’t want you to leave the dog on its own for the day, take the flaming dog with you. And when your dad, having just lost his wife, tells you to go home and ‘get back to your own life’, stay. For an hour. For a chat. Show them how to use FaceTime, buy them a cheap smartphone, add them to your contract if you’re feeling that way inclined. Take flowers, stay for dinner, send the text, show up uninvited, take them shopping, treat them to lunch, make the call.
This is a fraction, or another snippet, of the myriad of things we can ALL do to releive the strain of those who are lonely and isolated.
Where do lonely people end up?
If we do nothing, if we don’t start to care or help out, if we don’t pick up the phone or answer a message – they’ll end up lonely.
I guess, for some people (and this is so sad), all that’s left is a life of solitude until one day you’re gone and I guess it takes a while for anyone to realise. How is this dignified? How is it even allowed to happen in one of the worlds richest countries? Actually no, why is it being allowed to happen anywhere?
The feeling of waking up in the morning knowing your day will be as mundane and silent as yesterday and tomorrow will follow the pattern too…it must be awful. Add on the pressure of a forgotten birthday or missing a relative – it could be a daily hell. In my head I imagine a lonely person has a dog. In reality they have nothing. Even my head tries to paint a better picture of isolation. It’s unrealistic and almost a redundant excuse for not bothering.
“Oh well, at least he’s got Rover to keep him company”.
No! Phone him anyway. Rover cant ask how his birthday was or whether he’s enjoying the latest episodes of Corrie. A dog doesn’t make it better. A cat won’t hold your hand. A budgie doesn’t snuggle under a blanket. Come on…
We are living in a world drowning in technology. Everyone has a phone. Amazon and Facebook (amongst many others) have created communication tools that someone from the stone ages would operate with relative ease. Surely there is an opportunity for these companies, charities, governments…whoever (I’m terrible at politics, sorry!) to get together and come up with a way of allowing people to get hold of some tech that opens them up to the rest of the world? I understand there would be a cost, but what if we stopped paying traffic wardens? Joke, it’s a joke. But the councils parking fines could be better used in this way. We have billions invested in transportation such as the High Speed train link. I can’t help but think how wasteful that will be when the people using the train to visit their relatives stop bothering. Could we remove a few grand and trial some tech on lonely people? See if it increases the volume in their otherwise silent world?
Look, I have no idea how to fund it, but I’d get behind any campaign that allowed people who listen to nothing but a tv, a radio and silence all day to finally have a way to talk. To talk to ANYONE.
I genuinely believe the planet is trying to make us wake up. If we don’t start taking care of it and those of us who live here were all destined for trouble, along with our children and theirs. The list will go on until it’s unbearable to be part of society and the isolation and lonliness spreads like an infection, swarming its way round to every crevice of the planet.
When I think about the other pandemic plaguing our lives – Covid-19 – I’m wowed by the messages that came from the planets year of isolation. The earth itself started to heal. Everyone, ALL OF US, got an idea (or snippet 😜) of what it’s like to be isolated. Stuck indoors, no mates over, no family sunday roast, no playdates. The world stopped.
Are we going to look back on that time one day and wonder why we didn’t notice people had been living in that level of isolation long before Covid arrived? And now we are back to normal (ish) are we doing enough to show that we understand and want to help those that remain isolated and lonely?
As usual, I’ve over-exaggerated a bit, but the source of the message and net result could well be correct if we don’t start loving ourselves and loving each other.
IF, IF, you’ve read this and thought I’m being over-inflated or just talking on a blog for effect…why don’t you test the theory? Call an old relative who you haven’t spoken to for a while. Or a friend that you’ve heard is having a hard time at the moment. Or that colleague that mentioned he was trialling anti-depressants at the water cooler last week. Pick up the phone, knock on the door, send a bloody postcard for all I care.
I’d love it if I was wrong.
But the person you contact will love it EITHER WAY.
And THAT is what counts.
Finally…as always, my comments on the drawing attached to this post. Why did I draw a cow? I saw an old photograph on my iPhone last year that I’ve strugg;ed to forget. Years ago, in an old life, I was out for a holiday (pre-agoraphobia…a long time ago), talking a leisurely stroll. I saw a beautiful field with a single tree and a single brown cow. I captured the moment because it triggered my sadness for a lonely creature, with just a tree to keep him company. That lonliness is echoed in this post, so I drew him with a rainbow as a reminder of hope and colour, which will be round the corner for anyone lonely that gets some unexpected contact.
Never lose hope.