Embarrassing confessional moment: the first tape I ever bought was ‘Nobody wants to be lonely’ by Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera. I think I still have it somewhere, although the tape deck is less accessible. Of course I only owned the one tape so it was on repeat and I knew all the words. It is somewhat apt that this was the first music I owned, as I hate the idea of being lonely. I love being surrounded by people, it’s where I thrive.
The eldest of four siblings, I don’t remember that brief period of only childhood. There was always someone around – not always a good thing – and there was always someone to talk to or play with. One of my fears in going to University was that I would be alone in my room. Luckily on my corridor, fire doors were propped open and people were free to pop in and out. Even more fortunately, there was no fire…
In my third and fourth years my housemates were like family, eating meals together, watching Jeremy Kyle (yes, I know, I regret the time now), supporting one another through bereavements and crises. We hung out with the neighbours. I got married, and had constant companionship.
I was never alone, unless I wanted to be. I was never lonely.
Until my marriage broke down.
Being in a marriage where the other person no longer knows if they want to be there is lonely. It’s incredible just how lonely you can feel with someone who has shut themselves off. They are physically present but emotionally isolated. The dictionary definition of lonely is ‘sad because one has no friends or company’ or ‘without companions; solitary’. I think that the first word of this definition underpins it. It’s feeling sad, desolate even, that there is no company, no companionship. Combine this with the fact that it is your closest, dearest friend who is cutting themselves off from you. Deliberate or not, it is unimaginably isolating.
Now I had only my own thoughts and worries for company. Compounding this, was that the person I most wanted to talk with about it all, was the one person with whom I couldn’t. He was my confidante. No wonder the loneliness was agonising.
While I lived with my second family, their 5 children ensured I couldn’t spend all my time with my thoughts. Living with seven others was like tonic to me. There was homework to do, meals to cook, cakes to bake, and Phineas and Ferb to watch. I definitely wasn’t lonely, though I was sad for a myriad of other reasons.
But I alone had to deal with the situation I’d found myself placed in. Eventually, thanks to their looking after of me, I found the energy to move back home, and after 6 or so weeks, found myself living alone. Alone is slightly but crucially different from lonely. ‘Alone: having no one else present; on one’s own. Isolated and lonely.’ You can be lonely when you’re alone. But just because you are alone does not mean you’re lonely.
Having two of the most incredible LSAs (Learning Support Assistants) in the history of the world was life blood to me. Each and every working day they’d breeze in and shore me up. Venting was allowed, nay, encouraged, advice dispensed, group hugs a regular feature of the day. The ‘I need a hug’ announcement was met with the kind of long-lasting and restorative hugs only good friends and family can give. With them, I didn’t feel so alone in my troubles. They made sure I knew that I wasn’t on my own.
But living by myself was an incredible shock. Going home to my empty house. There was me and my thoughts.
I have never felt so alone and I have never felt so lonely.
Where once there were two, there was now only one to wash up, to lock the doors at night, to clean, to make the dinner. It required an energy I just didn’t have. Being alone can be exhausting. So can being married sometimes, and I have no doubt parenthood is too – I can’t even fathom how single parents do it all – but going from two down to one is hard, hard work.
Loneliness was as hard, and the two combined were an almost lethal combination. There was no one at home to offload to after a hard day, no one to share and halve a problem.
Thank goodness for those who were willing to shoulder those burdens with me, who stayed in contact every day, who looked after me with food and company and a flood of text messages about nothing at all.
If you know someone alone, just stay in touch. It makes the world of difference to know someone cares, just to feel less alone. Receiving the treat of some bubble bath, a card through the door or some flowers in the post meant that getting home was brightened. You feel less alone, less lonely.
I now live alone, but I’m rarely lonely. I don’t feel sad any more when I’m solitary. I’ve learnt to actually enjoy being by myself. I’m not even quite sure when or how this happened. I began to take ownership of the space around me, and spend my time wrapped up in yet another episode of Sherlock, until being alone became my normal.
I like being able to make my own decisions about what I do without answering to anyone. I now, unbelievably to my former self, look forward to a night in, alone. I’ve independently moved the bookcase without giving myself a hernia and there’s nothing like the sense of pride you feel from not needing anyone else to achieve a goal, however small. I recall the day I undid the car bonnet and refilled the screen wash, without assistance and without damaging my nail varnish as a personal highlight.
I still miss hugs.
It’s been a learning curve, learning not to be lonely when I am alone. Now, amazingly, I’m more apprehensive about not being alone anymore. In a now single figure countdown, I am looking forward to gaining a housemate and the new experiences and opportunities that will bring.
Another change, another new venture, and another exciting next step on a constantly unfolding journey.