You are not alone

Image @missarty

Image @missarty

The last week was something of a rollercoaster as we launched the blog, and I questioned whether Surviving Sundays could be useful to people and how it might be received. 

However, when we launched on Sunday, the response was nothing short of overwhelming as people reached out to us via personal channels, the @surviving_Sundays Instagram and on email to tell us how much they liked what they saw and how it made them feel. All of this honestly brought me to tears.

Each time I connected with someone I was so pleased that the blog could comfort people, but I also became more aware than ever of the fact that we are at the tip of the iceberg with understanding just how large this issue is. People I didn’t know spoke to me about their struggles last week as did old friends, simply because I had put myself out there alongside a few brave others who also decided to share their stories.

This led me to two realistations: one is that in sharing there is some healing, in that others feel they can connect with someone else and that is helpful when you feel like you are fighting a battle alone. The other is the very real thought that quite literally nobody is alone in suffering – it's just that many people are doing so in silence. And so, this week as a reaction to that, I wanted to share my experience of loneliness, which was particularly acute when I was at my lowest point five years ago.

My experience of loneliness has at times been long/fleeting/sometimes not present at all (wahey!), but when it does come, it’s real. Before I found self-care, living with loneliness was almost unbearable.

Thanks to social media, there is increasing access to solutions, and depression and anxiety are now becoming more widely discussed. However, loneliness is still often considered an issue for the elderly, meaning fewer sources of inspiration or support for those who are younger. For that reason, it’s also perhaps something that fewer feel happy to admit to.

As I’m writing about my experience of loneliness, I think it’s important to acknowledge that I have felt this way while also having friends and family in my life, and sometimes even while being with them in the very same room.

Loneliness by definition is described as ‘anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with others’, which means that you can have lots of people in your life and still feel lonely if you don’t feel a sense of connection. Loneliness is universal, but it can be especially difficult for people who have depression, as the resulting feelings can be difficult to share with people. It’s also not dinner party chat (‘Before I got here, I lay looking at the ceiling willing myself to get here for three hours but knew I couldn’t cancel’), and, thanks to anxiety and over-thinking, there may also be the added delight (definite irony here) of fatigue, so bit by bit it’s easy to become isolated at a time when you need support the most.

With a rather ‘engaging’ style (this one is a northerner who has danced on many tables) and almost 20 years in communications, I have a real smorgasbord of friends for every occasion: party friends, pop-for-a-drink-after-work friends, girl crushes, gay husbands, work husbands and the ones who love to get deep in the chat with me. Although varied, within these tribes, live some truly wonderful people (honestly, some would give me a kidney if I needed one) whom I’ve supported and who have supported me. But even with these friends in my life, when I was at my lowest five years ago, I still felt lonely because I wasn’t in touch with myself.

Image @liviafalcaru

Image @liviafalcaru

These days, I feel loneliness less, having worked hard to get to a place where I know and love who I am. I of course don’t always love being the third or fifth wheel at a Sunday lunch, I find online dating BEYOND painful and I have also been known to have a good old drunk cry to Patti Labelle’s On My Own (usually in an Uber around Christmas), but I’m not in a place any more where I think there’s something wrong with me or that I’m forever doomed to be alone because I’m ‘broken’. By opening up and having conversations, I now know that everyone has their struggles.

I love and accept myself, not because my battle with depression made me stronger, but because it also made me kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, and more honest with myself and those around me.

Getting here wasn’t easy. When it comes to developing self-love, I would definitely consider myself a late bloomer. For years I had no sense of who I was, or how to value myself without the presence of another person to reassure me that I was a beautiful, living, breathing thing. Taking the decision to be celibate and not date for around a year at the end of my last big relationship kick-started the loneliest period of my life.

It was during this time that I started to look inward, to change my habits, saying no to some social situations and yes to others. I also let go of some of my friendships and enforced some alone time, which was healthier for me in the long term, but at the time led to unbelievable loneliness as I started to feel things that had been bubbling away for years. But I did this all in service of getting to grips with myself.

I started yoga, which made me feel more connected to my body, and meditation, which helped me to connect with my feelings. I also attended therapy sessions, which helped me find out what I needed and I slowly started to put to bed the version of me that I had created for others. I also started new rituals and activities that helped me build my confidence and meet new people who were on a similar path to me. This helped to ease the feeling of being lonely.

From that time to this, here are 10 things I’ve learned about being lonely:

1.   Loneliness isn’t uncommon or unique to single people. Ironically, you are not alone in your feelings and there are some useful groups and discussions emerging that acknowledge this.

2.   The presence of another does not signify your worth. 

3.   You can be lonely in a relationship. For fear of loneliness, I’ve known people to sit in unhealthy relationships for the longest time, and in the past have also found myself fighting to leave toxic relationships for fear of being alone.

4.   It’s indiscriminate. It’s not owned by the elderly, the bereaved, the depressed or any one community of people.

5.   Real comfort won’t be found by suppressing the feeling. Masking any fear means that it will present itself  in different guises, so if you’re feeling lonely and blue, observe your habits: comfort eating, partying too hard, being with toxic company can all be signs of avoidance, and, although they often provide initial relief, they’re really the thief in the night, depleting all the good stuff that you need.

6.   Touch can be a healer when you feel a bit invisible. Massage is great. And I’ve almost squeezed the life out of my cousins, friends’ kids, pooches – anyone to whom I can show affection. If you see me, just ask and I’ll hug you! Every little helps.

7.    Speaking up can be a game-changer. I saw a therapist which helped me greatly and I started to tell my friends when I needed company or felt ‘off’ and realised that some of them felt the same. We made more plans and started to do different things together, such as yoga dates and meditation classes, rather than necking a bottle of wine and feeling worse.

8.    ‘Junk food’ is BAD. These days, I won’t date for distraction if I feel lonely.  At times, doing so led to me make bad choices, so as not to be alone. I see it as shopping for food when you’re starving: you’ll run to the nearest shop, panic-fill the trolley and buy the junk that makes you feel good for a moment, but 10 times worse later on when the buzz wears off and you’re bloated.

9.  Being of service feels good. Connecting with your community can provide new opportunities to make friends and in giving you also receive.

10.  There are ways to connect with others beyond your circle. Meetup is a great app for meeting other single people, as is Bumble, which connects people for friendship, not just dating. Also, CODA is a good place to go if you recognise low self-esteem and co-dependency as part of your baggage. It’s not an easy ride and requires you to look deeply at your habits, which can be incredibly difficult, but connecting with others who share similar feelings can be life changing and life affirming. 

Please contact the Samaritans should you need urgent help. You can call them on 116 123



Emma Mainoo