At the start of 2021 we asked you to submit your story of loneliness, to raise awareness and reduce stigma.
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We know that talking about loneliness is just the first step. Click here for our handy list of services and resources that provide on-the-ground support for loneliness and social isolation.
There were many joyful moments in my first year with my son. It was so incredible to have this new being in my life! But at the same time, I hadn’t quite reckoned on how much becoming a mum was going to change all of my other relationships, with my close friends, my family and my partner. Motherhood for me came as one of a series of big life changes in short succession, and it took me a long time to work out who I was in the new life I’d found myself in, and for my relationships to reconfigure. It’s really only looking back that I can see there were moments of deep loneliness in that first year. If it were more normal to talk about loneliness, I’m sure I would’ve recognised it sooner and done things a little differently.
Salma (28, Darlington)
During the first lockdown of the pandemic, I struggled a lot as support bubbles weren't in place yet. I lived alone, was self-employed and was still trying to manage my mental health with antidepressants. I found comfort in the sound of my neighbours' TV (which would normally be too loud and a bit annoying at times) and the sound of their voices. It was different from being on the phone with someone or video calling because, once you hang up, you're alone again. Hearing my neighbours talking and having a seemingly normal day or evening helped me to feel less alone in my space. I'm quite introverted so it was nice to have my space and not have to engage, while also having the option to be part of their world in a small way. It also helped massively to have my cat, who will never understand her enormous role in my life and mental wellbeing. Her existence, affection and warmth got me through a lot of dark times, even before the pandemic hit.
Radhika (23, London)
Coming to terms with being gay felt really lonely. I felt like I couldn’t speak to anyone about my worries and silly things like having a crush (even though that’s all teenage girls seemed to talk about!). Despite knowing that my friends would be supportive, the fear of being rejected stopped me from approaching them about it. I found a lot of comfort watching coming out videos on YouTube, hoping that one day I’d have the courage to come out myself - and I did!
Hazel (18, Warwick)
The pandemic heightened my fears and the loneliness of starting university. It was ironic for so many of us to be in this new life transition together, but confined to our halls. I was anxious about making friends with my flatmates, as they were the only people I could actually meet - yet many didn't even move in. Freshers was my chance to make friends, but everything being online was strange and difficult. Virtual uni is incredibly isolating. There are periods where I don't leave my dorm for days.
Kim Leadbeater MBE
Jo had a tough time at university. As a working class girl from the North of England Cambridge was a very different world and she struggled to make sense of it, often feeling like she didn’t really belong. On top of this, having been extremely close throughout our childhood and doing everything together as kids, being apart was really hard and it’s fair to say there were some very lonely times for both of us. It’s really important to acknowledge that being at college or university can give rise to feelings of loneliness and isolation for many people and we shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it.
Stephen (55, Surrey)
I live by myself and I get extremely lonely. I have just been booked in for a colonoscopy examination, and been told that I have to have a swab test on Saturday, which they are coming to me for as I don't drive. I will then have to self-isolate until I get collected for the examination, so it's going to be extremely lonely for me not to be able to get out for anything.
Sarah (42, London)
Being widowed at 40 with three young kids is incredibly isolating - there are no peers in my immediate circle who have experienced what I was going through, though family and friends have been there for us all. Things that were easy to do when you have a co-parent rather than a babysitter suddenly become difficult, making socialising a challenge even when you feel up to it or are allowed to gather.
Children keep you busy, but don't necessarily keep you company. Evenings are long and weekends longer when both the good times and the bad times remind you that your person isn't there to share them with.
Being a solo parent is really tough, there is no one else who shares the responsibility for your most precious things with you and every parenting decision is yours, and yours alone. Support groups like @widowedandyoung, where you can find people who share the struggles, make a real difference - you still feel lonely in your grief but you know you're not alone.
Julia (25, London)
When the first lockdown hit, I started to avoid talking to friends and family as I was anxious about the fact that "I didn't have anything to say". Without realising it, I was cutting myself off from the opportunity to feel connected to others. Since January I have started to reach out more, and realise how lovely it is to just hear friends’ voices and talk about the smallest of things or the largest of struggles.
My dad suffered from severe depression, and my daughter has learning difficulties. While I've had some welcome support, I still sometimes feel isolated and apprehensive of others. I don't trust easily at all, mainly because of previous experiences. I do know that there are good people around, though.
Debbie (46, Leicester)
I am suffering from chronic loneliness and it has made me very ill. I have an autistic spectrum condition but have had no proper help since my Mum died, and have been left to cope on my own. Autism is an isolating impairment; I was lonely before the pandemic. I cannot socialise in groups and then in the flat I have no one to talk to.
Sheila (78, Cambridgeshire)
I live alone, but thankfully I am able to walk and I have a dog and a park in which to walk him close by. I would encourage anyone who can to rescue an animal. Take advice from the rehoming centre and wait for a suitable animal so you can enjoy each other’s company. Well behaved dogs are especially good for people talking to you when out on a walk.
I live on my own, and have been completely isolated in this 3rd lockdown and few human connections. I have some acquaintances and friends in the area but can’t see them. On a good day, I go out in my car for a 30-mile round trip to the nearest drive through Costa. I sit there in the parking lot, drinking coffee and eating a sandwich. I keep enrolling then cancelling or not attending online classes as I hate being on my own in my flat, especially in the afternoons. Another way I cope is by drinking approximately every other day.
I find it difficult to switch off the TV to go to bed, as I have to go from the lounge to the bedroom in the following silence. Sometimes I will ring my mobile from the landline to pretend someone is ringing.
Caroline (51, Northamptonshire)
To me, loneliness looks like a painting of a crowd; although the faces are warm and happy, they are empty and distant. Although I can’t see anyone I know I'm not alone, and I know my energy will touch others. Anything alive can reciprocate positive energy, and my plants never tire of my conversations! If we can experience loneliness in a room full of people, we can experience contentment and fulfillment in a solitary space.
Kathy (76, Liverpool)
I volunteer with the local CVS Befriender group and I ring three people who are alone every week. It's made me realise how people alone really need contact with others, even if they don't know and have never met them. This has been made even worse by the COVID-19 restrictions.
It's really good to speak to new people and they do appreciate the calls, one says that I'm the only one they talk to outside their family. I am in my 70s and each of them is also over 70. It has meant that I've learnt new things such as the meaning of 'pissabed' - a reference to the diuretic property of dandelions!
We all hope that after the restrictions are lifted we might be able to meet up and speak face to face over coffee and cakes. I hope this encourages others to do the same as I do, as this problem will not go away even after the pandemic.
Hazel (68, Huddersfield)
I am single and childless and have lived alone a long time, so am used to much quiet time in my own company. Nevertheless, I have been greatly affected by being much more isolated in the last year due to COVID. I am 68 and, though having no special health vulnerabilities, was very anxious about the prospect of being very ill with nobody in the house to care for me, so I have been very careful to mix little, even during the summer relaxation of rules.
Other than occasionally going for a walk with a friend, or sitting with a friend in a garden, I see few people. Even brief casual conversations with neighbours, or with acquaintances during a trip to buy food in our friendly village, have helped, as have phone calls and social media contact. Zoom meetings and events also help, but are not the same as being physically in the same room as people, and nothing replaces kisses and hugs. I sometimes long to put my arms around someone and to be held myself.
I was already chronically mildly depressed, and have become more so in the past year. Loneliness definitely makes depression worse, and depression makes it harder in turn to make contact with people in the ways that are still available. On the positive side, more people are talking openly about how they feel, and offering and receiving support for mental ill health. Being able to offer some of that support to others has also helped me. On the negative side, Covid stress is making some people including me more irritable and causing hurtful fall-outs which in easier times could have been more easily resolved, forgiven and forgotten. All in all I will be very relieved when it is again possible to meet up with people 'in the flesh' for real social occasions and interest groups.
Lesley Fisher, Founder of Dancing with Dementia (69)
Loneliness is like a long blue cape that wraps around your shoulders. Not the cape of the superheroes billowing magnificently behind they as they stand proud. More a sodden heavy weight that bears down on your shoulders and clutches to you so that you have not got the strength to lift your arms. Trying to walk with all the weight is difficult too. Of course, this cape is invisible and as you gaze into the mirror you see the reflection of someone who looks like you except there is no brightness in the eyes and no smile on the face. One morning in early spring I walked outside. In the garden was a single yellow crocus brave and valiant in the biting cold wind and rain. I thought to myself – what a brave thing this plant had done, it had weathered the storms of winter to shine through in the spring. It was an awakening for me – if this tiny bulb had created such beauty by the strength within itself, could I do the same? Could I find the strength to shine in the Spring? If I felt like this, maybe others did too. I needed to find others like me and once I started to look, I could see the mirror image of myself in others – the sadness surrounding them as it surrounded me. Reaching out to others with understanding is an uplifting thing. I have come to realise that if there is no sunshine in your life you must make the sunshine and share this with others. To make a positive from a negative. My cape of loneliness has gone. I reach out to others with warmth and friendship, and I hope that the world is a happier place because of it.
Donald (85, Dancing with Dementia beneficiary), as told by Trustee Jeannette
Just received this from a member of the trustees who is in regular contact with Donald -- This is his story -- or one of them!
Joyce was his wife.
Jeanette says ----
Just had a long chat with Donald , he enjoys telling me little stories , bless him . He loves to do nice things for people but the last year has been particularly hard , he lost Joyce September 2019 but has you know Joyce had been in a care home since about the January and a thought he often had was “ Did they leave me out “ when I asked him what he meant , he said he often wondered what other people was doing & could they have invited him , couldn’t quite get to the bottom of what he meant . The first Christmas Eve he was on his own after losing Joyce he didn’t want to spoil things his family wanted to do and didn’t want to “ burden his family “ so he invited a lady who was a neighbour in evening 8pm until 10pm , so they both had some company, although he was frightened what others might think. His moral is “ by doing others a favour he is doing himself a favour “ think he applies this to a lot of things he does , all for the right reason . During lockdown he said he struggled when you were told you could have a household bubble , because he has 2 sons he couldn’t choose , so chose to have neither, he sacrificed having company to not upset anyone . One of his son was doing his shopping but Donald made the decision to do his own so now goes out every morning for his newspaper , M&S once a week and Tesco Salford for his weekly shopping . He enjoys chatting to the supermarket staff otherwise he doesn’t speak to anyone . He obviously is lonely , and it’s tough but he is making the most of lockdown , eating well , taking care of his hygiene, doing his washing but no enthusiasm to do too much housework but at 85 think that’s acceptable.
Edith (86, Dancing with Dementia beneficiary), as told by Trustee Jeannette
Although Edith was a regular at our Dancing with Dementia , I only got to speak to her in January 2020 , Edith called me over on our January DWD afternoon , she was very lonely , could I help her . After a few phone calls I got her back in contact with the BeeHive Community group in Mosley Common . In February I took her to Hug in a mug for a complimentary lunch from DWD. Lockdown approached , the first 3 weeks we rang each other regular & Edith cried every night . We are in daily contact & a year on I have a lovely relationship with her & she is an inspirational lady at 86 .This is what she wrote :
2020 The lost year . Last March little did I realise when I saw the daffodils in my garden appear and thinking this was the start of another new year , but what really happened as we all know now this year was going to be different in every way. The last time I went our was March 13th 2020 that was with my friend to a local community centre for our lunch and now a full 12 months later I have only been out 7 times . The first 3 months were awful I had no one to talk to , no family near by , my daughter being in America and things were bad where she was , my WiFi went down and I couldn’t get in touch , could not sleep, and was not eating as I should have done . I had a cataract operation done in September 2019 and by July I could not read my books or read a newspaper so i was really down at this stage , later in October I have layer treatment and now I am able to see as well as before . When people found out that I was really lonely I started getting phone calls which really helped me out . Felt a bit better in August when my friend took me out three times , but then her husband took really ill and she had to look after him and since then we have not met just telephoned . Every year I book to go to Llandudno at Christmas so I am not on my own , but this year it was cancelled , so I spent Christmas Day on my own and crying . When we went into lockdown again in October I telephoned the doctor and said I am going to find it hard to be on my own and dark cold days. The day after I got 2 telephone calls from groups and since then I have been very busy rooming & Zooming , some of the sessions are general knowledge, gardening , games , yoga and a St Patrick’s Zoom party night last Wednesday . Morning and evening are still very lonely but hi, ho soon be summer . Cannot wait until everything is normal again - will there ever be a normal ? MAKES YOU THINK DOESN'T IT .
I have watched Edith’s journey through lockdown and to be greeted this morning with a lovely smile , telling me she is doing a Zoom cuppa conversation at 11 is wonderful . Inspirational lady at 86 xx
Vera (Dancing with Dementia)
Loneliness by Vera:
Getting up in a morning is hard as I have to get my mind to think of something to do. As I live on a main road I see people going out to work and the road is full of people in cars, at tea time people queue outside the chippy Going into the garden is good-- time goes more quickly there -- gardens are a good place to be. Sometimes it can be days before I actually speak any words. I think tomorrow is a new day -- it might be better.