Monday, June 27

Life after loneliness: ‘I was homeless, hungry, scruffy and isolated. Then I found the secret of reconnection ‘| Loneliness

I We have dealt with ostracism since early childhood. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) do not benefit from confinement in a classroom, where bouncing off walls is frowned upon. In other words, I was expelled from almost every school I attended. They even kicked me out of a special school, which I consider to be something of an achievement. Surely getting kicked out of a naughty kid’s school for being a naughty kid deserves some kind of recognition?

But I was also barred from my home and bounced around foster homes and children’s homes like I was caught up in the most depressing pinball game in the world. Inevitably, exclusion tends to make one feel left out. Solitaire can also be my last name.

However, the feeling peaked in early adulthood, when social services thought I could take care of myself. The relentless displacement of my childhood meant that I had no reliable support network, few friends, and little contact with my immediate family. So when the crisis hit, I was left at the mercy of the nation’s safety net, which has more holes than a bun.

My inability to fit in and comply had followed me into adulthood. I was fired from my first job, even though it lasted just over a year, a minor miracle. It was a supermarket gig, and the metronomic monotony of stacking shelves finally broke my spirit. I started spending more time playing Snake on my phone in the locker room than in the workshop. My manager did not like this. I went back to the stop queue, I went.

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It was shortly before Christmas 2008. Obama was president-elect. Hope, change and a “yes we can” spirit prevailed. But for me, a section 21 eviction notice landed on my door and soon after, I had my first, but not my last, proof of homelessness.

A lucky encounter with a former social worker meant that I avoided sleeping on a doorway and instead got an emergency room at a hotel. I spent that Christmas alone, seedy and hungry, contemplating the sad direction my life had taken. Most of my classmates were in higher education or beginning their careers; they had sex lives, social circles, relationships, vacations, and love. I had accumulated failure on top of failure, self-pity, and self-loathing.

I finally came out of this emotional cavern in the new year. The misery I got from the benefits meant I had to choose between warming up and eating. I chose the latter, so I had to seek comfort away from my digs. I ended up spending my days in the last place I thought I would be: the library. The library had a constant supply of central heating, but it also had books, many of them. After playing with my thumbs for a while, I took one and it changed my life.

Suddenly, even though I was alone, the novels brought me closer to people. They allowed me to see the world through other people’s eyes. Non-fiction allowed me to connect with the world from which I had felt so far away. History books told me the human history of my environment, science books helped me understand how it works, and philosophy books guided me on how I should feel about it.

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I still feel loneliness, I think we all feel it. During the pandemic, I lived in a tiny room in South London with four walls for company and little to do except reflect on how lonely I was. What I learned from this was that loneliness, for me at least, is the result of living in your head. Reconnecting with the world around you can help you escape from yourself. I do this by reaching for a book. But it can be achieved by paying attention to something, anything, other than the noise between the ears.

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