Humans

I’ve always been happy in my own company. As a kid, my next door neighbour would knock for me to come out and play and I’d often say no because I was happy enough dicking about on my own. At uni, some of the girls in my halls of residence thought I was odd because I’d take myself off to watch TV on my own while they were all in a room together watching the same show. I just liked the space.

Recently though, after quite a lot of isolation, I realised I’m lonely. It’s a new experience for me and one I’m not massively comfortable with. I wrote The L Word thinking that everyone would think I’m a complete weirdo and so I was shocked by the response. It turns out that LOTS of people feel the same way and people aren’t just lonely because they are physically alone, they are lonely in marriages, in families, in groups of friends, in jobs, in life in general. Loneliness is a very real thing which seems ridiculous on paper given that we live in an age where we are “connected” 24/7 via that little square thing we carry around with us.

So what have I been doing about my loneliness? Well, quite a lot actually:

Work – I mentioned I travel a lot for work. Well, travel has slowed down which means I’m working from home. I love my flat but I get cabin fever. To combat that, I’ve been leaving the house (shock horror) and working from cafes/bars. My neighbour also works from home so sometimes the two of us will go and sit in a coffee shop and work together. She’s hilarious and it’s nice to have such fun energy around. Also, while working alone in a bar one lunch time I ended up talking to a lad who is opening a co working space for people exactly like me which is 5 minutes from my house. So, long term, the work isolation problem is pretty much solved.

Volunteering – You all know I am (in the words of my sister), “a fucking do-gooder” and LOVE volunteering…. well I’ve been doing more of that. As well as all the normal Lewis Foundation and Age UK stuff, I recently stumbled across a fantastic website, Nene Collective, who were looking for writers. Oh Hey! I’m over here! So I met a bunch of cool as fuck women and I’ve hung out with them a couple of times. Also, the lad from the co work space was looking for people to help out with the building project in preparation for opening. Given I’m doing Sober October, (which is a whole other blog post), it’s been a bloody godsend to don the painting gear and be distracted in the evenings. Turns out the co work lad also knows lots of lovely people – winner.

Saying Yes – I’m up for anything (steady!) and I’m pretty good at making the effort to see people and go places but there are times when I might over think situations and end up not doing something. For example with the Nene Collective group – I was anxious to meet new people and almost completely cancelled. But, I put my big girl pants on and did something that was a little scary. Within seconds the anxiety disappeared as I realised they were all just like me.

I arranged a street party back in August for my road and in September some of the neighbours wanted to do drinks. It was a Friday, I was tired and I was going to be out with three couples. I wasn’t sure if it’d be fun 7th wheeling and again, almost bailed. It was loads of fun, in fact too much fun. The kind of fun that ends up with me hugging the toilet bowl all night. Despite the hangover, it was worth it.

I went out one evening to have a quiet drink (on my own) and to write letters for From Me to You Letters. I like a pub setting, having humans around me as well as a glass of wine on the go is perfect. A couple of lads walked in who I know of on a surface level from a different pub in the town (yes, I do go to pubs a lot and no, I’m not sure if it’s a problem…) Anyway, normally I would say hi and go back to what I was doing. Instead I was brave and asked if they wanted to sit with me. One pub led to another and it was 3:00am by the time I got home.

So yeah, I’ve been putting myself out there and things are slowly but surely shifting. It’s amazing how one action creates another and it snowballs. I’m not saying I don’t still feel lonely, of course I do.  BUT I definitely feel less so because I’m building up a network of people, of meaningful connections with humans that I like, in the town that I live. You can’t say fairer than that.

How old are you?

“Excuse me! How old are you?” This simple question sparks fierce debate and involves 5 or 6 of the Venton Wellbeing Centre’s clients. I invite guesses and I’m pretty fucking delighted with the answers that range from 16 to 23. I’ll take that all day long! It’s a Friday and I’m volunteering for Age UK. I haven’t met this group of 25 clients before and I’m assuming they are being kind (or possibly in need of new glasses). “I’m 33” I announce. The gasps and comments of disbelief make me smile. Then the roles reverse and we place bets on the various ages of the people in the room. I’m genuinely surprised at the responses, everyone looks so young for their age.

My company offer community days each year where we can volunteer and be paid at the same time. This is my second visit to the centre and I’m in no doubt that it is much harder work than my paid job. The day consists of making lots of tea and coffee, acting as compere for two games of flower bingo (most I’ve never heard of or can actually pronounce), setting up and serving lunch, offering an arm to lean on as clients move round the centre and talking to people. Not hard work on paper but being on my feet all day is new.

The staff at the centre, who do this every day, are absolutely brilliant and I have soooo much admiration for them. They are literally non-stop and provide a well organised, welcoming and inclusive service. The clients are able to visit the onsite hair dresser, take a bath, play games, enjoy entertainment and have a 2 course hot lunch. The staff know the clients well and have real affection for them. “Watch out for these three.” one of the staff members tells me. “They’re trouble!” she says loud enough for the three ladies to hear. They giggle and play up to their naughty label. The exchanges between the staff and clients and between the clients themselves are easy and friendly. It feels like a family.

After lunch most of the clients watch a singer perform in the other room. A few people stay behind to continue working on a jig saw or to read the newspaper. I sit next to a Jamaican couple affectionately referred to as Helen and Mr Helen. They are smartly dressed. Mr Helen wears a shirt, slacks and braces. I discover they have been married 20 years. “What’s the secret?” I ask. They look at me like I’ve asked them the hardest question in the world (I guess I have). “Work together” Helen answers. Mutually satisfied by the answer we talk about our families, my job, Helen’s health. They are warm and engaging. I sit with another lady who is busily crocheting. “I’m making blankets for the old people” she explains with a chuckle. I ask her what she enjoys about coming to the centre and she explains she likes the company and listening to people. We agree on a love of people watching and I let her continue in peace.

The day goes fast and it’s soon time for the buses to collect the clients and take them home. I walk back to my flat and wonder what the older people would have done today if they hadn’t attended the centre. Watch TV? Maybe a neighbour would visit? They say loneliness is one of the biggest problems facing older people. I’ve mentioned before I know the feeling well and I’m out and about a lot more than the Venton Centre clients are….. The services Age UK are providing definitely lengthening lives, I’ve no doubt of that and I’m proud to be a tiny part of it.

The L Word

Right, I’ve got a confession to make, I’ve been a bit naughty. So you know how I’m this self proclaimed “positivity blogger” and life is fucking amazing and we should all be grateful for every second, even the shit times? Well, that’s not all true. Not right now anyway. Life isn’t always amazing and sometimes I want the shit times to just fuck right off.

I went to the seaside for bank holiday weekend with my sister and my two nieces. The weather was amazing, I got tan lines and swam in the sea. For the end of summer in notoriously rainy Blighty, that was an out and out win. I did have a lovely time, don’t get me wrong, what’s not to love about ice cream and sand between your toes? I posted photos on my blog and personal instagram accounts of what a great time we were having but what I didn’t post was the melt down I had where I sobbed and snotted on my sister’s shoulder. In fact I haven’t posted about the last 4 meltdowns I’ve had. Why is that? Why am I so quick to tell everyone about what I’ve come through and not so quick to explain what I’m going through? Well, I guess I’m just human after all. No one really wants to admit when things are difficult.

I’m not even really that sure what I’m miserable about. On paper, life is perfect. I have a decent job, my own house and car, no debts (except my mortgage), I travel the world, I write, I volunteer, I have amazing friends and family, I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want. I have so many things to be grateful for. I literally feel like a brat for even writing this post. That’s the thing about mental ill health, there is no rhyme and reason to it.

The main thing I can think of which is causing this melancholy is loneliness.

I just deleted that line twice. Literally admitting I feel lonely is giving me anxiety, like I’m the biggest loser ever. I’m 34, how can I be lonely? No one my age is lonely. Loneliness is only a thing for old people, right? I guess not if I feel it.

I’ve lived alone for 3 years in a town I didn’t go to school/college in. I have no family here and just a couple of good friends in the town who I hardly see because I travel for work so much. The rest of my friends are spread across the UK and abroad. 95% of them are married with children and I’m single so I travel alone, I come home to an empty house, I eat dinner alone, I watch TV alone, I wake up alone (well….not always, wink wink!)

A lot of my time is spent in my own head. One of my married-with-two-kids friends commented on how she wants my life, like it’s somehow easier or better than hers. It probably is easier to some extent, I can’t imagine how hard being a Mum is, but it’s not easier in a lot of ways. When I have bad news, I have no one to give me a hug and tell me it’ll be ok. When I have a problem, I have no one to talk it out with. When I’m sat in a hotel room in Norwich on a Thursday evening, bored out of my brain, I have no one to laugh with about how scabby the room is. Yes, I could pick up the phone but it’s not the same as an actual human being being there. And this isn’t about having a partner or not, this is just general social isolation.

***Takes a little break to demolish bag of popcorn in hopes of immediate cure***

Right, so moany self pity part done, I guess I should talk about how to fix the problem before I well and truly lose my positivity label. Well, writing this post has helped. Acknowledging and working through to the realization of loneliness as “a thing” is a good start. The next thing is to probably leave the house seeing as I’ve been on my own all day. Ugh can’t be bothered to do that. After that, I’m not sure and actually, that’s ok.