Loneliness… It’s a dirty word right? Something we never dare to utter out loud through fear of appearing feeble or pathetic. The idea that anyone should feel sorry for us is unbearable.
I think I was around twenty three when I felt my first pang. Like a dead weight in the pit of my stomach, I couldn’t seem to shift it.
Other than my desire to work in publishing, another reason why I moved away was because I could see the people in my life ‘settling down’ – we weren’t at uni anymore and lots of friends were coupling up, which was totally natural. The social scene in Bolton wasn’t up to much either and I felt like an outsider in my own home town. Where had all my friends gone? We should be hanging out in a McDonalds somewhere or lay on a couch hungover! Had we grown out of that so fast?
So I did the rational thing and moved to London… and then I was really freaking lonely! In the sense that I was alone and didn’t know anyone, (except my beautifully outrageous Essex housemate Lou, who went on benders worthy of Kate Moss)! One Monday I came downstairs at 7am and there was this random topless dude in the kitchen, doing shots while Lou danced on the kitchen table… seriously she was on the table… and not a strong table either, I think we got it from IKEA! “D’ya wanna hit gorgeous?” He asked, offering me a shot glass. “Me?! Oh no I’m good thanks. All set!” I squeaked. Fortunately the toaster popped and I quickly buttered my round and headed off to work.
But as usual, I digress. I didn’t know anyone in London. My weekends had gone from being filled to completely empty, just like my evenings. It was a novelty at first, as I love a bit of down time. Having the time to make extravagant lunches, go on long walks and read books in one sitting was bliss. But after a few weeks this once again shifted to cold, heavy loneliness. Even the option to have an impromptu natter with my mum in the kitchen was gone now… because I’d bloody well moved two hundred miles away!
“You’ll make friends at work,” people told me… forgetting it was ME they were talking to. I’ve had the same friends for over a decade! Being socially anxious makes it difficult to meet new people. I had such a fear of making a fool of myself, or looking like an idiot that I often retreated, (sometimes literally, I can move really fast when I need to)!
Unfortunately, this came across in the below undesirable ways:
- I seemed aloof or moody. Fact: If I fancy you, think you’re cool, or think you’re a really interesting person that I’d like to get to know…. Then I’ll definitely act this way the first few times we meet. It’s a default response that I can’t control. Some of my closest friends thought that I hated them the first time we met.
- I didn’t speak in meetings, even if I had something valid to contribute. Too much of risk.
- If I saw someone I knew in a local place I’d automatically hide or run off. I once walked/shuffled out of a coffee shop sideways to avoid a colleague… it was a small coffee shop too AND I’m pretty sure they saw me anyway.
- I didn’t go to after work drinks because I was too afraid or looking like a freak who had nothing funny or even interesting to say.
It was crushing for me because I so badly wanted to reach out and have ‘normal’ conversations with people. But I just couldn’t, particularly when the tremors and heart palpitations kicked in. Social Anxiety is an isolating condition and if left unchecked it will continue to get worse.
- TELL SOMEONE – I repeat this piece of advice a lot because it’s important. Keeping a worry or secret to yourself is a heavy burden to bear. Once you get past the embarrassment of admitting that you’re “feeling a little lonely at the moment and could you perhaps make a few plans with X person” you’d be surprised by how accommodating they can be. Your friends/family aren’t mind readers! At least give them the opportunity to help.
If you don’t want to tell someone close to you then maybe ring The Samaritans They offer a free phone service 24 hours a day.
- Baby steps – If Social Anxiety is holding you back then try Exposure Therapy, E.g. Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable a little at a time. Read more about this here.
- Look at local groups – Many charities organise local activities with the intention of getting people to socialise. Both Mind and Rethink list various groups on their websites.
- Hobbies – This one sounds obvious, but having a hobby doesn’t mean stamp collecting or train watching anymore. Think bigger! Do you like knitting, playing a sport, or are you passionate about a cause? There’s a chance that other people will have similar interests. Look out for local classes, groups or events that you can attend. Social media is really good for this.
- Manage your expectations – As with romantic relationships, you’re not going to connect with every person that you meet.. and that’s ok. The point is that you’re engaging with someone.
For example, when I was in the early stages of recovery I asked someone out to lunch. She worked in a different department and from previous interactions I had a feeling that we’d get on. So I sent an email (after agonising about the wording for two hours of course). “Hi, would you ever like to grab lunch sometime? I don’t really know that many people in the company yet, so I’m hoping you’ll take pity on me!” To my surprise she emailed back straight away and said yes. I won’t lie, my anxiety went into over drive and for the first ten minutes I was incredibly nervous. But after a while my brain began to relax and I had fun. It felt good to be social. Did she and I become good friends? No. But I enjoyed our lunch and it fed me emotionally, (sounds weird but you know what I mean)..
It’s a fact of life that some periods may be more solitary than others. But that doesn’t mean it will last forever. Feeling lonely is nothing to be ashamed of. So keep your head up, always be on the lookout for new opportunities and take things one day at a time.