You’re not meant to publicly admit to loneliness, or so it seems. Why? I have thought about this a lot lately. I think it might be because such an admission about one’s interior life makes other people feel uncomfortable. In theory, everyone wants everyone else to be okay, except sometimes we are all not okay.
Loneliness is like fear. In the same way people respond in different ways to a spider – not bothered, quite bothered, very bothered – we also respond differently to being alone. That’s because we are all individuals. There is no one default setting for a person. As it happens, spiders don’t bother me at all. But loneliness has bothered me a lot this past year.
There have been many times in the past when I’ve felt lonely, but I’ve never experienced a more sustained period of loneliness than living alone throughout the weeks and months of lockdown this past year.
I am sick of my own company after months alone in lockdown. There's no choice involved in spending all this time by myself, and, entertaining and all as I am, I'd quite like a break from myself
Enjoying your own company, as I have always done, does not mean you never get lonely. But now, to be frank, I am sick of my own company after spending more weeks and months alone in lockdown than I can bear to count. There’s no choice involved in spending all this time by myself, and, entertaining and all as I am, I’d quite like a break from myself at this point.
At the start of all this, like many others, I used Zoom and FaceTime and WhatsApp to stay in touch with people. “In touch” is a misnomer, as of course we were not actually touching at all. Those video calls did help, and they still do, but not as much as you might think. The truth is, when the calls end, it’s still just me in the room, alone in my house.
Sometimes, these calls have made the loneliness worse: a reminder of how long it has been since I’ve met with the person in two dimensions glowing on my screen, with absolutely no idea when that will change. Technology can never be a substitute for hugging someone, or having them there at your dinner table, or being out and about in the world, having real adventures together, in the company of their real and solid selves instead of their virtual ones.
As for the trope that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, it’s unhelpful rubbish. I already was a strong and resilient person before this pandemic eroded so much of all our freedoms. I don’t need or want to be any “stronger”. I simply want company again. Seeing my friends again. Seeing my colleagues again. Dating in a meaningful way again, where you actually get to sit closer than two metres to someone. Attempting to date in a pandemic, as anyone who has tried it will know, is like trying to swim through concrete.
This is what loneliness during lockdown feels like for me. First, even by admitting to feeling lonely, I feel I’m failing in some way. Isn’t everyone else managing? Why can’t I? What’s wrong with me?
Being lonely when most of the country is asleep is a specific kind of loneliness. The hours pass so much more slowly. The inner hamster wheels in my head keep turning, wondering when this feeling of isolation will end
Loneliness during the daytime is easier to deal with. Light makes everything better for me. And yet the feeling can still whack me sideways from time to time. Lockdown, of course, has made loneliness much more profound. There is nowhere temporary to shelter from it. There are no restaurants, bars, shops, cinemas, or other people’s homes to seek refuge in. I’ve never felt lonely among strangers in crowds, let alone with friends. I just feel lonely when I am actually alone and don’t want to be: an involuntary isolation.
The lockdown nights are worse. Sometimes, I wake up wondering how long it would take for someone to find me if I unexpectedly died alone in my sleep, as, unthinkably, happened to a friend of mine some years back. A couple of days? A week? Being lonely when most of the country is asleep is a specific kind of loneliness. It seems to last much longer; the hours pass so much more slowly; the inner hamster wheels in my head keep turning, wondering: when will this feeling of isolation end?
It always does end eventually. But I cannot wait to reclaim the autonomy of normal life. This seemingly interminable third lockdown will end eventually, and all of us happenstance casualties of the pandemic will certainly be much less lonely when it does.