L is for Loneliness

IMG_0114.JPG

The media has been awash with articles and research on millennial loneliness for the last year and we now have our own MP for loneliness. People are now talking about this issue in the context of younger people, and not just the elderly generation. I was inspired to talk about my own journey with loneliness and where I am now along the road.

For well over 23 years of my life, I lived with an unhelpful fear of being by myself. I didn’t recognise this at the time, but it was dictating my plans, behaviour, and ultimately my physical and mental health. Whilst the desire to always be with people does not appear sinister on first impression, I now can see just how devastating this was to my quality of life.

Growing up, I was rarely without plans. Whether at my part time jobs, or with friends. I was convinced that this was just what teenagers did - out having fun. Never did I spend a weekend night in - to do so would be incomprehensible. I told myself this was my prime, and that I was never going to spend it alone. I never questioned that there would be another reason behind this.

It wasn't until I was studying at University and living with friends, that it became glaringly obvious. This desire to be out and with company all day every day wasn't from a rational angle. It was coming from an avoidance, a concern, an uneasiness with my own mind and the thoughts within it. It wasn't fear of missing out I was experiencing - I was running away from accepting that such dread wasn't normal and I probably needed some help overcoming it. An awful lot for a 20 year old to accept whilst caught up in a whirl of excess and everyone telling you these are the times of your life. I was having fun, but the daily challenge of planning your time in order to not be alone was exhausting. I got to the point where I was sharing beds with friends just to avoid dark thoughts at night.

Something clicked and I finally went to the doctors. I was diagnosed with depression and I've been on antidepressants ever since. The fog lifted, and I found a way to manoeuvre the rest of university. When I moved to London with friends, I was able to navigate my jitters about being alone but it was always a relationship that I had to juggle at the back of my mind when looking ahead. Time alone would still just be watching something in my room, which in a large shared house could be quite an isolating experience. It deeply bothered me that I was struggling with this, when people around me did not seem to.

Last year I came to terms with some issues that would go on to change my life, and many of my relationships forever. What followed was close to a month signed off work, numerous knock on physical effects and six months that feel like a blur. At this point I was living in a two bedroom flat with one of my friends. The weeks I was signed off coincided with a three week holiday she had.

The timing of this ended up being the best thing that could have ever happened to me in regards with tackling my fear head first. When you're feeling how I felt, small tasks were difficult. I had to face whole days and often nights in my own company. I was forced to come to terms with some of the thoughts running through my head. I couldn't run away from it anymore - I had absolutely nowhere to run. As each day passed, I gradually began to face the fear that had run my entire life. The constant planning, the avoidance, the always knowing what I was doing next. It's the first time in my life that I've told myself that the only thing I have to do today is just do what I want to do. I explored cafes, I rediscovered a love of reading, I taught myself to knit. I didn't go to bed thinking how I'd keep myself busy the next day even though I'd try to. After all, when you do something for that long it becomes a habit that takes time to break.

I'm not saying that good old solitude is the only treatment required for mental health issue and cases of loneliness - I have dealt with it alongside both medication, therapy, and opening up to my support network around  me. However what I do know is that those three weeks of being forced in my own company were immeasurable in determining how I am today.

I have learnt that you can be a truly social person but love time alone. I have a wide network of friends that I love spending time with, but I now relish in experiencing things on my own. In the last year I have found the joy in going to the cinema, stand up comedy, galleries, cafes and exploring areas in London on my own. I have learnt so much about what I like and what I don't like, and the sort of things I want to do in my spare time. Since I've let go of the hold the fear of loneliness had on me, I have become more adaptable and self assured.

I still get days where I experience FOMO and worry I should be doing something better with my time. But the avoidance and the incessant planning isn't there. Some of the best times I've had have been from spontaneous experiences, whether with friends or by myself. I am proud and amazed of the person I am today and my relationship with myself. I still have work to do on self acceptance, but I know i’ll get there.

Article by Gina Chapman