Ever since reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I have been pondering the subject of loneliness. In part due to the frequency with which pangs of loneliness have struck me in the last six months since we left our hometown and moved to the big smoke.
What does loneliness actually feel like?
I’m aware of my inability to fully grasp the depths of it having never been isolated to the extreme. Yet we all experience loneliness at some point in our lives and the simplest way I can sum up what it feels like is with the following statements:
I wish somebody knew about this.
I wish somebody knew what I was feeling… What I did today… What I’m hoping for… How misunderstood I’ve been… How ill I feel… How much I despise my life… The cute thing my child/pet just did… The movie that just moved me to tears… The mistake I made that’s eating me up.
Loneliness is an inevitable acquaintance of suffering. Not just because people can avoid you because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, or because they won’t bring up your pain or loss because they think you’ve momentarily forgotten it and would be put out to be reminded of it. It is simply because no one else has gone through it in the exact same way that you have. You are isolated by your own uniqueness of circumstance and personhood.
This is why I believe empathy is so essential and drives connection. To have your truth and perspective heard and acknowledged without judgment is a hand lifting you our of your isolation and shame. Shame and isolation have a Catch 22 thing going on. They fuel each other and it can be so challenging to break free from the shame of isolation or the isolation of shame.
What helps deal with loneliness?
Well, as all mental or emotional issues, it’s not a simple answer. But here’s my genuine response:
- Self-pity – it’s only natural right? (Smile and nod.) But as soon as I realise how unproductive that is…
- I contacted people and made plans – this can take real willpower when I don’t know people very well. Loneliness is a natural response to not having that connection with others that humans naturally crave. To an extent it can propel us in a positive direction towards others, but those deeper connections take time to forge. So I guess putting myself out there is no quick fix but is part of playing the long-game of trust and friendship. This is where my word for the year comes in ‘do’ – just do it. Just text, just ask, just invite.
- I tried to think outside of myself – now this doesn’t come natural as I feel things deeply and so tend to get a bit entrenched by what I’m feeling. But on this rare occasion I reflected on who might be lonelier than myself and so I volunteered to help at a social drop-in for the elderly, run by my church on Friday mornings.
It’s potent when you choose to reflect on who you could reach out to instead of simply hoping to be reached.
4. Talk about it – Brendan Cox (the husband of the late MP, Jo Cox) was on All in the Mind’s show about loneliness and he spoke of the loneliness you feel from the absence of a specific person and that relationship. There is loneliness in grief when you can be surrounded by others and feel very supported and connected, but be desperately lonely without that significant other and the role they played in your life. There’s certainly no fix for that, but being able to talk about it and have someone hear, understand and acknowledge that pain is hugely comforting.
BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind show are conducting The Loneliness Experiment where they are gathering responses to a questionnaire from people across the nation to get a picture of the prevalence of loneliness and to try and discern how to tackle it. Read about it and take part here.
What’s your experience of loneliness? Do you inwardly cringe at the thought of admitting to it?