I’ve been thinking about covering the issue of ‘loneliness’ for a while, but haven’t quite found the words to do so, or at least to get the message across that I want to convey. Recently I watched the BBC documentary, ‘The age of loneliness’ and parts of it really struck a chord with me and hit home. We are, as the documentary conveys, living in a time when being lonely is becoming more common than ever- yet few are able to talk about it. The word ‘loneliness’ has so many connotations. We often view being lonely as living in solitude, not seeing another person for days, being older and left without a partner and feeling sad or depressed. We can also be surrounded by many people and still be lonely, just as we can be alone and perfectly happy. Being ‘alone’ certainly doesn’t equal sadness. The documentary showed someone thriving and being more happy than she’d ever been in her own solitude. Many people can experience these feelings of loneliness; young, old, students, those with successful careers, new mothers, disabled or not. We can all be there.
I’ve been alone many times but as a young woman in my 20’s I’ve also felt lonely, both growing up and more recently. Growing up as a young person with Dyspraxia or any other SpLd can be a very lonely place- once I’d hit my teenage years, it became particularly hard. Although I am young, I have a wonderful family, lovely siblings and caring friends around me. Yet I still feel lonely. How can that be? I’m writing this blog post now, because I’ve realised that the adjective to describe all those feelings that I’ve experienced for years is in fact, that I have been ‘lonely’.
This year on New Years Eve, I went to a gig with my parents- when both my siblings were out at their respected friends parties. I had a good night and really enjoyed my time there but it also made me reflect and as we were on our way home, I felt lonely, and probably slightly jealous of everyone around me- I’m not afraid to admit that now. It gets to a point when on New Years Eve, I have to turn Facebook off because it gets too much for me. However this year, I wanted it to be different- I didn’t want to feel alone on new year, so naturally I went to where all the people were. It didn’t work.
My Dyspraxia and associated anxiety makes it ten times harder for me to interpret social situations or even to get there in the first place- and I know that I’m not the only one who has struggled to make friends. Most of my contact with my friends now is online, because many live at least a three hour train ride away. School was particularly hard, as we were all meant to conform and coincide with the norm- I was also the only vegetarian in the class, so naturally I stuck out more than ever. I wasn’t just different because I had a disability, I also had a different diet. This made me a clear target, and people were more likely to avoid the veggie, slightly hippy, clumsy girl in the class. I remember people waving bacon flavour crisps in my face- as if it was meant to scare me. I fought back though, with my endless lectures on vegetarianism and animal rights leaflets. Not the wisest of moves, as it just earned me more ridicule and didn’t help to overcome the obstacle of making friends. I learned very quickly that you can’t be different, have values and morals- and go to school. At least you shouldn’t share them as widely as I did, if you have any hope of being liked. I remember when I was twelve, during an art lesson, we were asked to bring in a CD so that we could paint the cover. This was just before I had discovered folk music, and at the time I didn’t own many CD’s so I brought in Vivaldi’s four seasons- I bet you can imagine the comments that ensued. ‘er what’s that?’ ‘Why don’t you have Eminem?’ (or whatever was cool back in the day.) I had essentially walked into a lions lair and willingly fed myself to the lions. Fitting in is an odd battle to fight and one that I am still fighting (just in a different way.) Although I hope I don’t have to worry about my choice of music or being vegetarian now.
As you get older, at least in my experience there is even more expectation for you to ‘fit’ and ‘belong.’ Although I don’t have people waving bacon crisps in my face now, but I do have people waving ‘being social’ at me- in the form of social media. I honestly think, if I didn’t use social media, I wouldn’t feel as lonely. We see time and time again people advertising their life and in some ways (whether they mean to or not) showing off on social media. I must admit I’m guilty of this too. With Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at our fingertips, we can compete to have the most social and desirable world, and to show this off to our friends and followers. A night out for many, seems to amount to making sure you get a good photo for Instagram or tagging yourself somewhere exciting so that your Facebook friends can see you having a good time. How have we, as a society amounted to this? For many of us who struggle socially and feel lonely, this can be hard viewing. My Dyspraxia makes keeping and making friends challenging- I have lost count of how many people come and go from my life, or had not been as genuine as I’d first thought they would be. I prefer people to be up front and to the point with me- making me read between the lines has caused so many problems and confusion in the past. I also find the practical aspects of going out difficult, I’m the total opposite of the young adult stereotype. I don’t drink a lot, I can’t stand clubbing and I’m often in bed by 10 o’clock (although more recently that’s been more like 2 am because of all of the writing I’ve been doing.) I also find busy crowds a nightmare, making most city centres a highly stressful experience- an average visit to the pub is often more worrying for me than most people. I’ve sometimes avoided friends parties because of anxiety attacks, but not due to a lack of trying.
I have a select few friends and despite them being some of the best people I could have in my life, I still feel lonely- and on New Years Eve I feel more lonely than ever. I don’t know the answer, or even if there is one but I do know that social media definitely contributes to some of my loneliness. However It has also become a valuable part of my life in many ways, it helps to deal with the isolation I often feel and gives me closeness to many of my friends who live far away. It’s also given me the opportunity to connect with others who understand the feelings associated with Dyspraxia, that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. The world has changed so much since I was twelve sitting in that art lesson- I don’t have the solution that could have helped me to feel a sense of belonging back then, but I have learned that social media makes it so much harder for people to ‘fit in.’ You certainly know that you’re different as you gain insights from your friends lives on Facebook and Twitter. When I am invited anywhere, even just for coffee, I’m over the moon- it means more to me than anyone can ever imagine. As the documentary expressed “To describe loneliness is one of the hardest things in the world, you can’t see it, you can’t smell it and you can’t touch it- you can only feel it when you’ve got it.” I know that I’m not alone, as many people experience these feelings too but few have the confidence or empowerment to talk about them, so that others can understand.