When April talked to us, she described her feelings of loneliness, both as a child and as an adult. It felt almost natural to feel that way. Then, after a few weeks of lockdown, she felt the 'novelty' of lockdown was replaced with a sense of deprivation or a "fog". Having a dog is a great excuse for betting outside and April found it was a good conversation starter.
I’m April* and I live with my husband in Southampton. During the initial lockdown, I was furloughed while my partner continued to work as a key worker. I’d describe myself as naturally introverted but extreme loneliness affected my mental wellbeing.
It’s hard to imagine feeling lonely during your school days. You’re with other children and teachers nearly all the time. But looking back, there were periods of my childhood when I felt really quite isolated.
I felt lonely as an adult too when I was out of work for a period of time and more recently during the pandemic. Loneliness isn’t just about people or not feeling connected. For me, I feel most isolated and alone when there is a loneliness in my mind.
A total lack of anything
I like being on my own, and I’m happy with my own company. I would describe myself as an introvert and I don’t always need to be around other people to feel energised or content. But during the lockdown, experiencing what I would describe as extreme isolation was really difficult, and too much even for me.
It was a total lack of anything - it felt almost like sensory deprivation. It was hard to make plans, to imagine what the future might look like. And the whole experience was made so much harder because all the things I’d normally do to help look after my mental wellness were things we were specifically told not to do during the pandemic - ‘Don’t go outside. Don’t have physical contact. Avoid meeting up’.
It really did feel like a fog.
Initially, when I was furloughed it felt exciting. All this free time, while I was being paid, and opportunities to get into my hobbies. I love drawing and doodling and painting and every morning I’d sit down and create. But after four weeks I felt completely numb, and extremely bored. I lost all motivation and the days blended into one another. It was hard to function and I missed having the routine.
There is such a lack of anything. Sitting with the same four walls each day and with little opportunity for interaction. I felt like I was driven to isolation by boredom. And because I’m naturally happy being on my own this made it harder to spot the signs that my mental health was failing.
Loads of chat but little connection
I did try to reach out when I was lonely and feeling unwell. I’m part of lots of group chats. But often they’re so big, with so many people and so many messages, it’s hard to keep up with the pace of things, and difficult to feel like you’ve made a real connection. And if you’re struggling, you don’t necessarily want to announce that to ten people all at once.
I found it much harder to connect with people over screens. You miss out on all of the body language so you don’t get the whole story. It’s difficult to put into words. In the past, I’ve been able to improve my mental health by getting outside and into nature. But during the lockdown, I was living in the city centre. It was harder to get out and into green spaces and there was limited opportunity to be outside.
There were some weeks I’d see my partner when he wasn’t working and do a food shop and the conversation at the check out would be the only interaction I’d have all week. It was difficult to get out and connect, and at times I felt really sad that I couldn’t just get out and physically see people.
A teaspoon of sugar
Making connections and having a reason to go out every day is huge. It doesn’t just give you structure for your day, it gives you a purpose. Now I’m back at work a couple of days a week, I really value the conversations and interactions I have with colleagues. I don’t want peoples’ lives to be difficult, but hearing from colleagues about bumps in the road, or challenges, and realising it’s not just me, helps to make me feel less alone and makes me feel like I can share my difficulties too. It’s hard to put into words how important it is to be able to connect with people. It’s almost like a teaspoon of sugar - you get a huge boost, a rush from it.
If you’re in a position to be able to, I’d massively recommend getting a pet, especially a dog. Having a dog is a fantastic excuse to get outside, and in my experience - they are a magnet for conversations! If you’re walking a dog and you pass another dog walker it’s a given that you’ll stop and say hello. Pets are so unconditionally happy to see you. There’s no social pressure to behave a certain way or to have a full-blown conversation. Similarly, if you’re looking for interactions and to be among people, but don’t feel like talking, just being around people is a good thing.
I feel better and less lonely just by spending time in a coffee shop, surrounded by other people. Or going for a walk in the park and observing people - you pick up on people living their lives around you and it’s fun. We’re all different and can all take part in the world in different ways. Being among other people is an excuse to be outside and a way of experiencing the world, it’s a good place to start.
*To protect their confidentiality, April is an alias.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 took place from 9 to 15 May with the theme being Loneliness. Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, know that you're not alone. There are a number of organisations you can get help and support from. Visit our 'Get Help' page for more information on where to go to get mental health advice and support.