Dean's story: my mental health took a hit during the pandemic as my feelings of loneliness grew

This content mentions depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation, which some people may find triggering.

Dean tells us how, even though he was surrounded by his loving family and living life to the full, being furloughed during the pandemic, his feelings of loneliness started to grow and his mental health "took a hit".

I’m Dean and I live with my wife and eldest son near Nottingham. I was furloughed for 18 months during the pandemic from my job at a farm park. Even surrounded by his family, I experienced severe loneliness and felt very low.

I live with my wonderful wife and our eldest son. I have a busy, full life. We work at a farm park near to where I live. My wife and I work together on the reception and my son helps to look after the animals. It’s a great place, we’ve made a lot of friends there.

When lockdown happened and I was furloughed from work, I felt incredibly lonely, even though I was at home with my family and it didn’t take long for my mental health to take a hit.

It’s not just people on their own who get lonely. It’s a massive misconception and something I want to make really clear.

The days were long

At first, when we went into lockdown and were furloughed it was fine. My wife and I have been married for 27 years. We get on well and we communicate, we have a good relationship. Initially, that time was wonderful because there was so much we could do together.

But as the pandemic continued, the conversation dried up. We were together all of the time and getting under each other’s feet. Even though we were together I felt lonely and on my own.

I started spending time in the garage. I felt extremely low and my mental health really did take a battering. I had a nervous breakdown many years ago, and I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, but this didn’t feel right at all. I didn’t feel myself. I didn’t feel like I fit in and I didn’t feel part of the world I was in.

Photo of Dean

The days were long and the days were boring. Everything felt like a huge effort and I felt as though I just wanted to go outside and shout and scream at the world. It was a horrible feeling. And because of the lockdown, we were trapped. I couldn’t go out anywhere, I couldn’t just pop to the shops. In the past when I’ve felt lonely, I’ve gone for a walk or done something to get myself out. But this time I was a prisoner and couldn’t do anything or go anywhere. It was a lot worse.

Feeling lonely also made me feel incredibly guilty and sad. My wife has been an absolute rock throughout our marriage, she is everything to me, totally brilliant and with me every step of the way. But there I was, feeling not part of her anymore. I felt so lonely even though she was just next door. That feeling really did play with my mind and upset me and made things feel ten times worse.

I wish I hadn’t felt that way about my wife who I love so much. It really hurts and saddens me. Sometimes I feel as though I’m not in control of my mind and it’s frightening.

Body and mind

I was in a rut I didn’t know how to get out of.

I bought myself an exercise bike and a radio which I set up in the garage. I went out there every morning, seven days a week for 30 minutes. I pounded that bike. I made myself sweat and shattered myself and it really did help. I woke up every day and knew what I was going to do - my mind was made up and it really helped. I lost nearly 3 stone, that’s how hard I worked.

I’ve never really exercised before, but I’ve still got the bike now and I still use it today. Exercise has helped in so many ways, it was a good thing to come out of that period of loneliness for me.

In the past, if someone had told me to give exercise a try - especially to help my mental health - I’d have walked off and thought to myself, ‘what an idiot’.

But now I realise how beneficial exercise is not just for your body, but for your mind.

I want to sing it from the treetops. I want to tell people to exercise and just to do something to occupy their minds. Keeping my mind occupied has worked wonders for me.

Just do it. Make the effort

Top of my list for anyone feeling lonely is to exercise!

But loneliness can take lots of different forms and you’ve got to work at it. If you let it, loneliness can fester into more serious problems.

Do something, try to get out. Have a walk in your local park or by a brook or river. Be near nature, be among trees and flowing water. It really does help to settle your mind and to take your mind off the things that are bothering you or dragging you down.

From my past experience, I know that when you’re lonely and you don’t feel like doing anything it’s easy to think, ‘well, this is it, this is how I’ll feel for the rest of my life’, but you’ve really got to make the effort and take that big step forward.

It’s hard, I know, but I promise you that when you do take that step you will really appreciate it and you really will feel a lot better once you’ve made that effort. It makes a big difference.

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