The Long Journey of Learning How to Overpower Loneliness
Each year on March 17th St.Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland and across the world. 2021 marks the second St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland where parades have been cancelled, bars shut and streets empty. At the start of March last year Ireland felt the global pandemic and inevitable lockdowns looming but none of us ever expected that a year on we’d have to spend our most notable public holiday at home again.
Over the past year, I have learned to adjust to a different way of living. I accepted the situation, tried to make the most of what I had, and of where restrictions allowed me to go but almost a year into lockdown I felt lonelier than ever and unsure what to do.
I am an extrovert who was forced to become an introvert. In 24 hours I went from sitting in an office with colleagues daily, meeting friends for food and drinks weekly, and exploring new places at home and abroad monthly to being asked to stay within the four walls of my one-bedroom apartment for the foreseeable future. For the most part, I adapted, however, as fear lessened and my fiancé returned to work that May I was left working at home alone.
I did myself proud getting through 2020 but as the new year started I felt unmotivated, lacked focus, and had crippling guilt from not getting through my work fast enough. I would work long hours in order to feel more accomplished and rarely left the house as when my fiancé arrived home each evening I wanted to spend time with him and not be walking around the same housing estates in the dark, wet January weather.
If there is one thing I pride myself on it is knowing when something is wrong and finding a way to do something about it. I needed to learn how to cope with feeling lonely while spending 12 hours a day alone.
Here are some ways I started the journey of learning how to overpower loneliness.
I Accepted My Emotions
For a long time, I felt guilty about feeling lonely. I have my partner who comes home every evening and who I spend my weekends with, my parents essentially live down the road and I can still see some friends occasionally outdoors. I thought that in order to be lonely you had to be completely alone. How were the single people who were out of work due to the pandemic surviving? Surely they are the lonely people?
This was an unhealthy way of thinking and an excuse to not process my emotions. Even the people surrounded by friends and family can feel alone. I allowed myself to understand that I was feeling lonely and that it was okay. By accepting the emotions I was able to consider how I could best deal with them.
I Shared my Feelings with Others
Loneliness is not something I had ever talked to friends and colleagues about. I feared that many would not understand — how could I feel lonely when I’m seeing people through video calls? The truth is that I find video calls to be draining. They are hard work. Sure the occasional quiz can be fun but trying to catch up with more than three people is near impossible. Between the awkward pauses and speaking over each other, I find I’m often happier to sit in silence than to contribute.
I even found it trying to text friends back. It’s difficult to send updates on your life when all you’ve done for a month is sit and watch Netflix. I decided to open up and describe how I was feeling. It was a relief to learn that many of my peers felt the same, even though our circumstances were often very different. One friend immediately asked if he could call me and we chatted through our feelings from different sides of the world. Opening up and sharing my feelings has truly helped me to work through them.
I Recognised the Main Trigger
January is a hard month any year — the weather is unpleasant, money is tight and you’re coming down off the Christmas high. Still, January 2021 felt worse than ever before and I wanted to understand why I was feeling so terribly.
I soon realised that a lot of my thoughts were focused on how I was coming up to a year since I had done a specific activity. It has almost been a year since I had travelled abroad, one year since working with colleagues in an office, one year since being in a bar with friends, and one year since being with a group of people and not having to worry that you could make each other ill.
I had to change my frame of mind and start focusing on the positives. The end may not be in sight just yet for all of us but there are a lot of positive changes happening and we may soon start to recognise parts of the life we once had. I can’t start planning my wedding yet, but I have the hope that by this summer it might be a different story and that is keeping me going.
I Started to Slowly Challenge Myself More
I had no interest in pushing myself to lose weight for the summer when the highlight of my week is my weekend meals so instead, I decided to start giving myself small challenges to help fill the day and increase motivation. I went all-in for January running 10km a day, every day. I felt great but knew it wasn’t something I could sustain long-term so I switched to ensuring I went for a daily walk or at least spent some time outside getting fresh air.
I also gave myself some reading goals. I love books so it was an achievable transition from spending an hour mindlessly scrolling through TikTok to reading instead. I won’t diss TikTok, that app has brought me so many much-needed laughs this year, but it also feels amazing to get through books that have been on my reading list for years. I started painting by numbers kits while listening to audiobooks and have found it truly therapeutic.
By setting small achievable goals I have managed to increase my motivation and look forward to starting new habits even if they are only short-term.
I Fostered a Dog who Brings Me Joy Every Day
This was a big one and something that is not for everyone. I knew that I needed companionship so I looked into fostering. It took a few weeks to get set up but eventually, I took in a gorgeous 15-month-old German Shepherd. It took him a few days to settle but within a week he became like a child to me. German Shepherds are extremely loyal dogs so he lays by my feet after his morning walk while I get through my emails.
I talk to him constantly and we really have become good buddies. I’ll be devastated when he finds his forever home but it is very fulfilling to know that by taking him in there is one more space at the animal shelter for another pup. I now have someone other than myself to look after but by caring for him I have inadvertently started to care more for myself too. I look forward to getting up each morning and starting the day with a walk together around the block.
It’s not easy to admit something is wrong. It’s even harder when you’re aware of your own privileges. Everyone’s problems are relative and if you are feeling lonely then you should be okay with accepting it and being aware that it is a universal human emotion.
The real problems happen when we ignore our feelings. Go easy on yourself and try to think of small ways in which you can improve your situation. There are better days to come and if there are any future pandemics (*touch wood never again*), at least we’ll be more mentally prepared.