For most people, March the 23rd 2020 will be the day of the pandemic they remember – the day that Boris shuffled up to his podium and announced that the UK was in an immediate national lockdown.
I however, remember a different day. I remember the 19th of June. It was the day the Welsh Government announced the easing of lockdown restrictions. Non-essential shops could start to re-open, and outdoor sport could re-start. There finally seemed a light at the end of the tunnel.
I remember crying. The 19th of June marked 105 days since I had been near or touched another human being. I was getting all my shopping delivered as I was in a vulnerable group so I didn’t even have a trip to the supermarket to look forward to. All I wanted was a hug – but there was nothing in that announcement for me, or any other person who had been living all alone for the past three months.
I had to wait another 16 days until ‘extended households’ (what we now term social bubbles) were made official. It was excruciating – during this time I could have gone on a shopping spree or even attended a wedding, but I would have given anything to just have a hug from my nearest and dearest.
The pandemic and loneliness
For me, what lockdown starkly demonstrated was that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.
I would by no means call myself an introvert, but I am one of those people who do need alone time in order to function. And when the pandemic hit, I was only four months in to living on my own FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER after my divorce, so I already felt a bit ‘wobbly’ adapting to this dramatic change in living.
But for the first two months off the lockdown I did okay at being alone. Yes, I had some bad days like everyone had, but I threw myself into my work and blogging. Sometimes I was even grateful for being alone. I had friends with newborn babies struggling by themselves, and social media was plastered with tales of people annoyed at having to spend 24/7 with their family with no respite. I was secretly thankful that the only person I had to look after was me.
That changed around the 10-week mark. I started to feel bitter towards the people complaining about how loudly their spouse was breathing, wishing I could wake up in bed with someone by my side. I started to feel angry watching the TV, where every ad seemed to yell ‘celebrate this time together – keep your loved ones close’. I started to feel forgotten by the government, as it became more apparent they were more concerned about re-opening shops then the mental health of the 7.7 million UK residents who live alone. And, I started to feel lonely.
The different types of loneliness
I think living through the pandemic on my own has given me a different viewpoint on the impact it has had – including the overwhelming feeling of loneliness felt by many.
I think the majority of people felt the effect of social loneliness. Humans are by their nature social creatures. When your interactions are limited to the people in your household and a few hours of Zoom quizzes per week, its only natural you are going to miss and crave your wider social circle and the settings that enabled you to meet people, like work or the gym.
I also think in the first few weeks a lot of us felt what is termed existential loneliness. I remember spending the first few weeks of lockdown in what I can only describe as a stunned state, unable to comprehend what was happening to the world. It was all unfamiliar and unknown, and deep down you subconsciously feel alone, an insignificant speck in the universe.
What I really struggled with – and I feel confident in saying the majority of my fellow single-people households did too – was the physical loneliness. The feeling of not having someone near for an extended period of time really got to me. I was getting my social interaction via Zoom, but it was that physical touch I was craving. That 2 metre rule might as well have been 100 metres, because that was how far it felt to me.
The government isn’t helping
I do feel that, for obvious reasons, it is more likely for someone living by themselves to feel lonely – especially now. The pandemic cut off the vast majority of physical interactions for us. I’ve also had to stop reading and watching the news.
There is an implication in the Government’s communications that households comprise of bustling, multi-member units – the traditional nuclear family – and its driving me CRAZY. As I write this post, it was only days ago that the political parties were verbally sparring over ‘protecting family incomes’, silently inferring that the incomes of those not in a family unit matter less.
Until the support bubbles were introduced in the early summer, all the measures were based around households and families. When the support bubbles were finally announced, I jumped at the chance to bubble up with my sister and her brood. However, at the same time I felt incredibly guilty. My sister and brother-in-law could have bubbled up with another family, giving the children a chance to see their friends properly. Instead I felt she had drawn the short straw, and was stuck with single old me. Where was the benefit for her?
But the worst bit was by far when they first started lifting the rules, and realising we weren’t even a consideration in the strategy. I had stuck to the rules, and my reward was to be stuck inside by myself for even longer. I truly felt forgotten, and when rules around banning sex for people who didn’t live together started making an appearance, I even felt criminalised. Just by the virtue of living alone, I was expected to forego the chance of a relationship.
All these things make me feel forgotten by the government and society, and that in turn makes me feel even more lonely.
The need for empathy
As we endure lockdown 3.0 (or whatever version we are on now), understandably everyone is feeling the strain more. We have been living with the pandemic for almost a year, and whether you realised it or not we have all been under A LOT of stress. People are feeling lonelier than ever. They are also feeling more angry and frustrated.
Many people rightly feel they have lost a year of their life thanks to this pandemic. They feel they have lost opportunities, moments and memories. The best thing we can is take the time to acknowledge their plight, and not be dismissive just because we are in pain too.
During the first lockdown, I wrote a post about how it had realised my worst fears. I really want to find someone, and I would love to be a mother one day, but I’m realistic and realise that the pandemic is probably going to put a bit of a halt to that for a few years. I felt so alone and so depressed, so when I was met by the dismissive ‘you’ve got plenty of time’ from multiple people, I really felt like no one understood me. I still don’t.
In conclusion, we are all struggling with loneliness, but like other mental health issues it manifests and feels different in different people. Don’t be dismissive of people’s fears and concerns during this time, however alien they may seem to you and your situation, as for some people this will just reinforce their feelings of loneliness. And if you have a friend or family member living on their own at this time, PLEASE check in with them. I cannot tell you how many times a single text from a friend has stopped me sliding into a lonely, depressive episode.