I’ve been listening to Radio 2 a lot this week whilst I’ve been commuting and travelling to meetings.
They are using this week to highlight loneliness, and to explore what it is exactly that is causing this silent epidemic that seems to be gripping so many British adults these days.
The theme has really struck a chord with me, as loneliness is a feeling that I’m all too familiar with, sadly – a feeling that I first experienced when I started University back in 2002.
I had gone from a small town in Lancashire, where I’d spent the past 7 years with pretty much the same people every day of my life to the comparatively huge city of Liverpool where I knew no one and felt like a complete fish out of water.
I felt so lost that my friends could have been a million miles away (they were actually just in Lancaster and Leeds – but still!). I felt like I’d been dumped on Mars and there was no one I could talk to. My flatmates were lovely – they really were. But they weren’t my friends and I wasn’t at home.
I spent my days wondering if I’d made the right decision and my nights wondering why I didn’t feel like going out like everyone else did. Everyone else was having a great time, they were making loads of new friends, they were brilliant. Was I an oddball? Why couldn’t I enjoy myself? Why couldn’t I make any friends? I decided that it just wasn’t for me. The loneliness I felt, even in a crowded room, used to swallow me up and I would often cry myself to sleep.
How I got through those first six months I don’t really know (my poor mother’s phone bill must have been huge!). But I did get through it, and after that first Christmas I snapped myself out of it and I started going out and having fun. Making a real effort. Making friends on my course and getting to know my flatmates – who I was certain thought I was a complete weirdo by that point, but who made me laugh and helped me overcome my loneliness.
One thing I often regret is not talking to anyone about how I felt back then. I kept lots of things to myself and I think that probably stopped me making friends more than anything else.
I often think that, because I didn’t really talk to people much, they must have thought I was such a moody sod. That I didn’t want to join in or that I was boring (reality hits: perhaps I was!). When really, all I wanted was someone to talk to me properly. To laugh with me and to be my friend.
It was good to hear on one of Jeremy Vine‘s show’s this week that I wasn’t alone in how I felt back then. So many students go through the same thing. We didn’t have Social Media back then (just MSN Messenger and some crazy new fangled website called MySpace!) so keeping in touch with friends was much more difficult than it is now – but I caught trains and traveled all over the country to catch up and re-connect whenever possible. And it was like we’d never been away from each other. Loneliness gone.
I’m thankful now that I can say that I haven’t really experienced loneliness on that level since those early days of University.
There have been times, especially in those long winter months after having Ruby (being at home all day with a baby, no adult company and no family or friends close by to call on or help out), when it all became a little too much and loneliness began to creep in again…but that’s when I would get out, send a message to one of my new NCT group friends and head out for cake.
Glorious cake! Cake solves lots of problems.
I was still lonely (almost 1/4 of first-time mothers in the UK admit that they feel lonely after having a baby), and there were days when it was really difficult but the difference this time was that I talked to people about how I was feeling – I spoke to people who told me that they felt the same!
And a problem shared became a problem halved, literally.
So…I guess what I am trying to say is that feeling lonely does not make you unusual. This week has definitely taught me that. Finally. After all these years.
No one should ever feel like they can’t admit that they feel lonely.
And what I want you to know is that if you ever feel lonely, let me know and we’ll sort that right out!