Loneliness in lockdown: ‘I’ve never been alone for so long in my life’
Some readers are enjoying the freedom of isolation but others are feeling the strain
Many people are experiencing prolonged isolation for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien
We asked readers who live alone to tell us about their experiences of the shutdown in Ireland during the past couple of months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is a selection of the responses.
“I’ve been living alone for more than 10 years, which has never been a problem to me. But this lockdown has become a horrible experience. I’ve never been alone for so long in my life. The first two weeks were fine: I would work in my regular schedule, do my activities. Dance a lot, watch movies, cooking and exchanging messages with my family and friends. Then the loneliness started to hit me and all I want now is for time to pass by really fast. I work and go to sleep, day after day. In the weekends, I browse the internet, then go to sleep. I am really thankful that I’m still being able to work. I miss my family, my friends, going out to eat and drink.”
“I rent a house in the middle of Dundalk with a friend. Since lockdown, he has been staying at his girlfriend’s house. This has left me with a spacious, if somewhat rickety, three-bedroom house to myself. At first, this was wonderful. I work as a freelance marketing writer, spending a lot of time alone is no big deal. However, the looming economic downturn means the work has dried up, so now I’m left alone all day with my thoughts.
“One of the most effective ways to keep sane is to adhere to a strict routine. I go for runs, eat home-cooked meals, and make sure I change tracksuit bottoms every couple of days. I have what I describe as chronic news poisoning. In better times, the news is a source of cathartic outrage for Twitter, but with Covid-19’s domination of the headlines, it has become a source of hot and cold running anxiety. The solution to this, as I see it, is to sequester myself away from the mind-virus of 24/7 rolling news the same way I have from the actual virus.”
“Everyone is worried about coronavirus, about the elderly, the vulnerable. But it seems that those of us that are not elderly, yet still live alone, have been forgotten. On the news I hear the reminder, only exercise with your household, I see families everywhere enjoying time together. But what about us, who don’t have a household? We are lucky to have comforts and a roof over our heads, but human interaction is the biggest need of all. The other day I thanked a lady for moving out of my way whilst on a walk, as there was a hedge and I could go no further. Instead of smiling and moving on, she shouted at me that I could have moved. She was the first physical person I had spoken to in two weeks, and I cried when I got home. Whilst it is a hard time for everyone, I wish people would remember that they may be the first person you have seen today, and at least try to be nice.”
“It’s a real struggle. One day I am weeping and the next I’m steady. I work in the arts so have very little to do at the moment. Luckily I have some savings so can manage for a while, but can’t begin to think about what’s next. I found the Arts Council’s offering to artists pitiful. Keeping the house tidy seems a bit pointless. I have no garden but a few pots. None contain a single weed and all are in danger of drowning. Zoom and phone calls are essential but I avoid them when feeling vulnerable.
“This for me is profound loneliness. I have returned to examining the significant break ups in my life, endlessly scrutinising certain situations that were out of my hands, and blaming myself for being alone, particularly after my daily walk in the park or shopping. It makes me doubt the choices I have made. There is only so much Netflix and yoga one can take for distraction or recovery. Considered a strong, confident professional in my ‘normal’ life, I feel like I am being hollowed out, slowly.”
“Objectively, there are people in much more difficult circumstances than me. On the radio I’ve heard stories of people with underlying conditions, people living with alcoholics, the homeless, those in direct provision, the couple whose IVF has been put on hold and so on. I have a house, a garden, am healthy, and have friends so I almost feel guilty for feeling sorry for myself. But life as a single, childless man in his late 40s living alone can be very lonely, even when there is no lockdown. As you go through your day’s activities alone, it can be hard to listen to people saying how tough they find it being stuck in house with spouse and kids.”
“As I am a musician who teaches between 3pm and 8pm every evening, morning time is therefore my time for socialising; meeting friends for coffee, playing golf or taking the golf club choir for weekly practice. Every morning, I walk my little pooch up and down the village and chat to the chemist, the florist, the newsagent, the barista. Rather, I used to do all of these things. Now, most businesses have closed their doors and any outing now is for essential shopping only, or for limited exercise. I am meeting virtually nobody. Teaching by Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp was tried and tested at the beginning of isolation but doesn’t work for me or my singers, as the time lag and bad sound quality is highly frustrating.
“Now, I make videos for my ‘faceless’ students or create audio lessons for them. I miss them. Though this has kept me focused each day, the concentration levels required to record successfully have left me mentally and emotionally drained. Though my little dog is a joy and a sweet distraction, I miss conversation and company and simple banter when out and about. I have no family within a 45km radius.”
“I have always been a bit of a loner. It took me a long time to come to terms with it but the events of the past two years took that self-observation from a place of embarrassment to a place of acceptance. The days of being a people-pleaser were behind me. I am going to furrow my own path. Do things on my terms. I don’t need anyone else and they can keep their opinions to themselves. Then, the world stopped. And it hit me. I need others more than ever. For the past year, I’ve lived alone. And having observed lockdown for the past six weeks, the folly of this ‘new me’ has completely been exposed.
“Pre-isolation, my diary was relatively full. Mainly split between work, commuting, meeting friends for food/coffee, the gym, podcasts, shouting at 22 lads in their mid-20s on a television (they can’t hear you!) and of course, staring mindlessly at my phone. Now, work is at home. My commute is 25 steps. Friends are ‘met’ virtually, via Zoom or WhatsApp. The gym involves infrequently following video sessions in the livingroom whenever the urge takes me to move the coffee/dining table. Podcasts are either all Covid or talk of an era I can no longer relate to, ie February. Football is suspended and my 30-year obsession is starting to erode. I’m still getting a good four hours of screen time out of the phone, the one constant from my previous life.
“Zoom is the new going out. It reminds me how lucky I am that so many people value my company, virtually anyway. Even though I am alone for this lockdown, I am not on my own. I could not get through this without the virtual contact of other human beings. There’s less to talk about but we all have more to say. More frank and honest conversations. People are opening up. We are struggling in our own way. But we can help each other adapt to this new normal. I will treasure that next handshake. That next embrace. As important as reconciling the relationship with yourself is, it is the relationships you form with others that provides so much of the joy in life. I plan not to take them for granted again.”
Karen J McDonnell
“I live in Ballyvaughan, a small village where the Burren meets the sea. As a writer, living alone, I’ve joked more than once that I live a bit of a Covid life anyway. I feel privileged these days: I have nature around me, and wildlife; a wide open sky; a changing landscape as spring arrives, and the light moves across the limestone. I have food, fuel, a warm bed, and – here I become a cliche – a cat. I get to drive out into the primrose-filled countryside to do the ‘big shop’, for myself and cocooning relatives and friends. Doing the messages gives a chance for short, socially distanced encounters. I don’t have Netflix or Skype. I have books. Right now I’m going to bed early, to hang out with Thomas Cromwell, as I’m reading the perfect lockdown novel: Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light.
“What do I miss? Choice. The ability to make a date with friends for coffee or the weekly catch-up. Dropping into my parents in Ennis. Driving into Galway to the cinema. Poetry readings. I miss hugs. I’ve lost work, the chance to push myself at a workshop. I should be at a writing desk in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre now; working on my next collection. But I’m writing this instead. Emails bring stories of cumulative small kindnesses to my sister, working as a paramedic in the UK. One brother and his family share their Come Dine With Me menus every Friday, and hilarious themed tableaus every evening. Favourites so far include Bollywood, and Home Schooling. My other brother has just broadcast the first family miscellany from his shed that included a video poem, emailed limericks, and archive video photos. I love my mad family.”
“My three housemates have been let go. They rushed off to family homes to isolate together, leaving me free to revert to my teenage years of blasting music to the early hours of the morning. The others being gone is its own blessing. We never socialised together anyway, and now the bathroom is always free. At first, I was looking forward to it. I’ve always been independent and happy in my own company. Monday to Friday, I would normally only see colleagues, bar the monthly pay day dinner with old friends. The weekends dragged and bled into weekdays. Now the little flat feels smothering and claustrophobic. It’s been seven weeks since I saw my family. My parents are still visiting my sister to help with childcare.
“When we all video chat and my mam mentions popping over to her it breaks my heart. I’ve missed my nephew’s first steps and words. I worry he won’t recognise me when I get back. My partner lives with his grandmother and has to take extra precautions. My friends joke and moan about being trapped with their other halves. I just want a hug. For now, I just have to remind myself it’s for the best and it won’t be forever.”
“I live alone, and I am loving this lockdown. I thought I would at least miss the contact at work. I have found living alone harder during other times, like holidays or being snowed in. But this is easier. Maybe because everyone is getting a taste of what enforced isolation is like. After all, I didn’t choose to be alone. It just happened this way. Maybe it’s because I live in the countryside, which is now teeming with people. In fact, I feel less isolated than I ever have before. I know who my friends are. I am useful to my family.
“I am also fortunate because I am an artist; not only have I developed numerous tools for spending my time, it has allowed me to understand my rhythms–- as erratic as they are – and be gentle with my own foibles and shortcomings. I don’t envy anyone who is coming to aloneness or creativity for the first time. I don’t envy anyone stuck in a house with someone who they don’t like or even love. Or even someone they do love. Love is never easy. For those who are new to this, I would say, be kind to yourself. Just breathe. Just be. All else follows.”
“Is it bad that I’m really enjoying the Covid-19 lockdown? I live alone and have done for most of my adult life, I’m lucky in that I enjoy my own company and I have two dogs and a cat to look after, so they keep me in a routine of twice daily walks and feeds. I’m in regular contact with my family and friends by WhatsApp and Skype, so I don’t feel lonely at all. It’s actually great having time off work (closed since March 28th) as I’m getting a lot of work done in my garden which would have taken all spring and summer to get done on the weekends. I moved house last year so have a huge new garden to whip into shape, and there is still decorating I can do when it’s too cold or wet for gardening.
“I look forward to being able to go for a wander around the DIY stores again picking up bits and pieces as I need them. I do worry a little that my dogs will be confused when I have to go back to work and leave them alone for the day, but hopefully they’ll soon adjust.”
If you are feeling lonely or anxious and would like to talk to someone about it, you can contact The Samaritans: 24 hour telephone helpline on 116123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or Alone: Telephone 0818 222 024, or email email@example.com