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Loneliness: Perspectives over time

By Beth Dillon (she/her) and Ross Tanner (he/they)

Loneliness is something that we tend to talk about purely in relation to elderly people, but it is something that can affect young people too. All young people experience feelings of loneliness; growing up involves lots of challenges: moving from school to university, changes in your support system, and new experiences that can be isolating. These feelings of loneliness can become more acute with chronic health conditions for a variety of reasons: from communication and sensory difficulties, to bad attendance and hospital admissions involving many underlying feelings of loneliness. These are the perspectives we are coming at it from.

Ross and Beth are both drinking tea at a cafe, looking warm and happy. The photo is pasted onto a green background and at the top is the text "Loneliness; perspectives over time".

This piece is a combination of small pieces of writing done by Beth and Ross to do with loneliness over a period of months. They reflect the way that between people loneliness can be experienced differently, and even within yourself it can be something that comes in peaks and troughs and changes, and so it aims to show this.

Loneliness. There are the times that feel really hard…

Beth, written 20/12/19, on the way back from University, feeling down, exhausted and struggling with health a bit.

It can often feel like no one else quite ‘gets it’ or fully understands every time you face a new barrier or have another difficult day; creating the sense that there are a few feet between you and the rest of the world. You think of everything you’d like to do; such as the discussions you want to participate in but you can’t hear because of a flare up or you aren’t well enough to go to the party you’ve been looking forward to can get frustrating but often this just manifests as sadness and loneliness. As with anything if you don’t do it often, you can quickly run out of ‘practice’ and social interactions can become really scary so you start to avoid even things you can participate in which only escalates the problem. In hospitals you become so accustomed to the routine, so ‘institutionalised’, feeling rubbish, making difficult decisions and often around people either much older or much younger than yourself which can amplify these feelings of isolation and having no one to relate to. These feelings all can resulting in you beginning to feel so out of place in groups or settings you normally feel quite comfortable in.

Times when loneliness can feel confusing or unexpected…

Ross 20/10/19, after spending the day with friends in town

Feelings of loneliness do not necessarily mean that you are physically alone. I have often felt detached and alone in groups because something has been bothering me. Feelings of guilt can arise from this because you think there is no need to be lonely: You’re surrounded by friends that you love, and you just want to be in the moment and the way you’re feeling isolates you even more. However, mental health isn’t as black and white as this and unfortunately there is no life-time cure to loneliness but there are many things you can do to bring you out of this state.

There are the times when it feels more manageable ….

Beth, written 19/01/20, back at uni after the Winter holidays, feeling a lot more positive, refreshed.

However, it’s not all so bleak and miserable. Loneliness is one of those things that can comes in waves. There are sometimes bad days, even bad weeks or months. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that things do get better. I personally find I can go through definite periods of feeling incredibly lonely but at the same time not really wanting to be around people. I find this is far more the case when I am tired and can’t see the wood for the trees no matter how many times I try writing it down. When this is the case I’ve found that often the two things which make the most difference are getting a change of scenery e.g. last year I joined my family for the weekend in the Dales and it made the world of difference seeing everyone and getting out of a place I was currently associating with feeling sad and I felt far more positive when I came back the next day. The other thing I find helpful is sometimes ‘just deciding’ that you are going to be more upbeat and cheerful. This may sound ridiculous however sometimes I find that I get myself into a spiral and into a rut and I actually need to just snap out of it, this does not work for everyone but speaking from what I know about myself I find it to be helpful. Also opening to people is also incredibly helpful. For instance just this week I was unable to make it to a night with friends due to a few walking problems, however when my friends rang and asked if I was coming I just explained that whilst I really wanted to, it was just going to be too difficult. A few minutes later they messaged saying they were all coming round which was the most lovely thing and really was what I needed to stop myself wallowing in self-pity. So things are fluid and that’s ok, ups and downs are just a part of life, just chronic health conditions can just throw a few spanners in the works!

Times when you feel able to develop strategies to manage loneliness…

Ross, 06/01/19, at home for the winter holidays and the house is empty and have nothing to do

Personally, I try and embrace my loneliness. I play upbeat music or inspirational speeches on Spotify and I get productive: I clean my room because a tidy physical space lays the foundations for a tidy mental space; I get creative and use this time by myself to create something, such as a drawing or painting or even writing in my journal and this is a good way to rationalise your thoughts, express them and identify why you’re feeling lonely and how you can escape from that headspace. Also, you’ve created something in the process, which is always self-rewarding and gratifying, you can stick it up on your wall and it’s there as a reminder that you’re amazing and that you can combat any feelings of loneliness. I also use this time to call my friend I’ve been meaning to catch-up with for weeks or I call my parents (but I usually do this when I’m procrastinating).

And times you feel that you really aren’t so alone in these feelings of loneliness at all…

Ross, 27/01/20, written just after a tough and emotionally exhausting week.

Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their life, year, month, week or day. It is really common and is often the result of feeling misunderstood or isolated. There is no ‘cure-all’ for loneliness and sometimes no matter what measures you take, you can’t get out of that hole. But remember loneliness is an emotional state that all humans feel, your flatmate, friend, parent, sibling and neighbour, even those people that you secretly hate because it seems like they have their lives together with great friends doing fun things all the time.

There are 7.8 billion people on this planet who have the capability to and inevitably will feel alone, isolated, down and shut off from the world. Surely if we all spoke up and talked about when we were feeling lonely, I can guarantee you that our tough times wouldn’t be so alone and we can (quite literally) make the world of difference.

(originally published 9/2/20)

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