Monday, June 27

‘My thoughts became poisonous’: the price of confinement when you live alone | Life and Style

When the first headlines about the coronavirus began to appear in January 2020, they had little impact on South London, 25-year-old TJ. “It seems outrageous now, but I thought, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, I’ll be fine. ‘”By the time the first closure was announced, his mindset had begun to change. He had been single “forever” and his roommate was locked up with his parents, but he felt the same optimism that many did in the era of weekly applause and Zoom tests. “But that first weekend, the silence of the house and all the hours to fill, I had this hint… mentally, I don’t know where I’ll be at the end of this. Four weeks later, I was really freaked out for my sanity, I wasn’t doing it at all. “

TJ is one of approximately 7.7 million people in the UK who lived alone for most or all of the past year. “It’s not a Top Trumps game, it’s not that my anxiety runs deeper,” he says. “But it’s different when you experience it on your own.” In November 2020, the Office for National Statistics released findings showing acute loneliness had risen to record levels, with 8% of adults (about 4.2 million people) feeling “always or often lonely”, and 16-29 year olds twice as likely as those over 70 to experience loneliness in the pandemic. “You would never think that the fear of missing something would exist when we are all stuck at home,” says TJ. “But I would scroll through Instagram, see friends with their boyfriends or housemates and think: ‘I wish I had someone. I feel so lonely.'”

Even those who had previously enjoyed life for themselves found that the absence of companionship almost took on a physical quality. “It felt suffocating,” says Carl, 56, of Derbyshire. He has been single for five years and enjoyed the freedom and spontaneity it gave him. He agreed to voluntary layoff from his IT job in June, and while it was a welcome respite at first, the novelty of empty days began to wear off. “It comes in waves, for two weeks I’ll be fine, then I’ll wake up one day and feel totally alone.”

Losing the distraction of company has forced some people into deep self-reflection. Brenda, 71, found herself waking up in the night. “I am not the type of person who thinks about dying, but suddenly I found myself wanting to clean up my papers and get rid of the clutter, as it would not be fair to my daughters if I passed away. All the things that I had ignored when surrounding myself with others came to mind. “

This uneasy feeling was difficult to eliminate, even when there was a chance of mixing. “What I found strange, having been very sociable before, was that you almost lost the art. A friend turned 70 last summer and her daughter threw a party; 15 people were allowed. I really wanted to do it, but the day felt strange. “She had always liked living alone, in a remote town in Scotland, but” total isolation from society is something completely different, “she says,” As the year, I missed people so much and fell into a real depression. “

Long-term social isolation is known to entail increased risk of mortality comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and lonely people are more likely to choose coping mechanisms that are not good for their health. TJ started drinking more. “I got to the point where I was thinking about bottles: ‘Would another bottle of wine make me feel better or worse?’ During the week it was fine, I was still working [as an editor for a magazine]So I would talk to my colleagues, whom I love. But as soon as they arrived at 6pm on Friday and I turned off the laptop, I was facing a weekend with nothing. I’d mop the floor, watch TV, listen to Donna Summer, or lie on the couch with my eyes closed trying to relax. But my thoughts were poisonous, stupid things like a fight I’d had years before or bad decisions I’d made, and the temptation to drink was always there. “

As the months passed, the discomfort of loneliness forced some to prioritize their mental health despite orders to stay home. “I broke the rules a couple of times,” says Sarah, 29, who has lived alone for two years and has been single since December 2019. She met friends abroad and at their homes. But it put strain on their relationships. “Some friends said he was selfish and irresponsible. I could understand their anger, but those locked in pairs had no idea what it was like to spend 23 hours alone, watching WhatsApp or Zoom. “

Carl visited an elderly family friend throughout the year to offer support. “I heard the deterioration in her voice, from being so lonely, and I thought, ‘Damn, I’m going to see her.’ But he found that even this attracted censorship and began to distance himself from his acquaintances. and even family. “I got tired of people judging. All they did was look at their own situation … often sitting in a house with a partner and two children. ”

For some, loneliness and self-reflection eventually turned out to be a gift. After two months, TJ stopped drinking. “I woke up one morning and thought, ‘Well, no one is coming to rescue me, I need to learn to be alone, with my own thoughts.’ That made it tougher, he says. “I focused on small goals, ran my first 5K, learned to think until the end of the day instead of worrying about what might be happening a year from now.”

The initial pressure to find a mate also eased. “Don’t get me wrong, I miss going on a date and kissing someone, but I don’t necessarily need a relationship,” says TJ. “The way I see it, in the LGBT + community, we have been repressed for a long time. Therefore, these spaces to be free and enjoy each other are very important. “

Lauren is in her early 30s, lives alone and had been single for three years when the pandemic struck. She had a similar epiphany: While she loved meeting new people, the pressure of each encounter to lead to something more serious had been making her miserable. Near the end of the first confinement, she had a walk date in a London cemetery with a polyamorous sex addict. “In normal times, it would never have happened, because I always looked for a monogamous relationship,” he says. Instead, they continued to casually connect all summer. It was fun and liberating, but she broke it when new restrictions appeared: “Either that or I was bubbling with him and his other two girlfriends.”

For Carl, loneliness has also been productive. “It has forced me to think carefully about what I want for my future. Before the pandemic, I was a very lively person at the time and some found me a bit distant. But I know that’s not what I really am. “Now he would like to be more open to a relationship.” It would be nice to have someone to wake up with or walk with, hold a hand, give a hug. “

Last March, Brenda was due to move in with her oldest daughter before the birth of her second child. “We kept waiting to see what would happen, so of course I missed the birth and never met my new grandson.” She says it’s one of the most painful parts of the confinement experience, but adds, “I really want to stay positive.” Last year the husband of a close friend died. “I was very afraid of Covid. That is not why he passed away, but it saddened me to think that fear was such an important part of the last year of his life. It brought home the fact that I’m 71 years old and I don’t have those years to lose. That is what I am focusing on now. I’ve been walking by the sea, experiencing every part of nature, just living as much as I can. ”

Some names have been changed.

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