I’m sat on a train with a very long journey ahead of me (albeit with a dog at the end so very much worth it) and I thought I would finally write this post that I’ve been meaning to for weeks. So here goes.
For anyone unlucky enough to follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been harping on about loneliness for a few months now. It all started with an article in Refinery 29 which garnered quite a lot of attention resulting in various media requests including radio interviews, online and print interviews and a documentary. As well as all the media interest, I received a litany of emails and social media messages from people all around the world empathising and telling me about their own experiences of loneliness. I won’t lie, it felt good. I was incredibly flattered that people wanted to talk to me and had took the time to get in touch. Rocking up to Broadcasting House multiple times and sharing a lift with Martina Navratilova was very exciting, especially given working at the BBC had always been a childhood dream of mine. Seeing my face on the front of the BBC News website was definitely not something I had ever envisaged, but there I was. My followers multiplied and as someone who always thinks everyone hates her, it was nice to have an inbox full of people saying nice things; it was quite the buzz. But of course once the adrenaline wavered and the insecurities crept in, I was left feeling like the worst person in the world again.
Here’s the thing, talking about being lonely when you broke off an engagement is hard, talking about being lonely when you have a supportive family is hard and talking about being lonely when you have friends is hard. Feeling “lonely” is an incredibly difficult thing to articulate – it’s a complex emotion that can be both pronounced and intangible, it can be both floating on the surface and deeply rooted, manifesting itself secretly. Yet society’s understanding of loneliness is somewhat two dimensional and flippant, a notion perfectly summed up by a message I received on Instagram “there’s no excuse to be lonely in the 21st century”.
Whilst I feel very privileged to have been given the platform to talk about loneliness and unpack some of the misconceptions, the truth is on most occasions, the narrative has been written for me and they just needed soundbites to fit their story. It was never my intention to focus on, what I feel, are the very superficial aspects of my loneliness – being in my 30’s and being single, but that’s seemingly where the story is for most people. I was featured in a celeb gossip magazine this week, and whilst I agreed to the story, I was incredibly disappointed by how they portrayed me. They didn’t necessarily lie but they packaged what I said in a really basic way; leading with what I said about not wanting to date casually or have a series of one night stands to cure my loneliness and more annoyingly they used the word FOMO, which I categorically would never use! Of course I shouldn’t have been shocked given the nature of such publications, but it made me feel embarrassed and fraudulent and gave the impression that I’m dining out on my relationship status and looking for sympathy.
I’ve only ever wanted to talk about any of my mental health issues to help other people. I spent a long time hiding mine and feeling like a weirdo and what helped me be more open about it was seeing others be open. Perhaps I’ve been naive in thinking that sharing some of these things would help me too, when actually they’ve made me feel worse as I’ve started scrutinising what people must think of me. Deep down I know that it doesn’t really matter what other people think of me and my motivations as long as I know the truth, but I can’t help feeling that in trying to do good, I’ve actually diluted the message I was trying to get across.
I suppose it all really goes back to something I said in my last post; people find the real truth about mental health quite unpalatable. No-one wants to open a magazine or tune in to the radio and hear a girl talking about the weird rituals and routines she has to drown out the deafening silence of an empty flat. Neither do they really want you to talk about how you’ve spent multiple evenings alone in a Wetherspoons drinking double whiskies just so you don’t have to go home. And they definitely do not want to know about how passive aggressive you can become when you crave attention from someone who isn’t replying to your texts. They want you to talk about how you use mindfulness and meditation to calm your crippling anxieties and how you join a local club or start a new hobby to cure your loneliness. Of course these things can work, but not for everyone and we need to acknowledge that. Mental health is messy, loneliness is messy and those of us experiencing it are not always that nice, we behave selfishly and act irrationally and deplorably to try and fill those voids and pretending otherwise and painting us as the victims isn’t always that helpful.