Last week I took myself out for a coffee. As I sat down to my cappuccino, I wondered, how many people close to my age feel lonely just as I do? And why do we never hear about it? So I decided to write about it…
One thing that is rarely talked about and should be discussed more is being young, with your life ahead of you, opportunities at your feet… and lonely. I have felt loneliness in varying degrees throughout my adolescence and 20’s, some times were more difficult than others. There has also been times when I haven’t felt lonely at all. No one wants to talk about it because it’s hard to say to a friend “I’m feeling a bit lonely today”, probably much harder than telling someone you’ve just had an anxiety attack or you’re having a bad mental health day. Loneliness seems to be such an alien concept.
Young people feeling lonely is almost forgotten, like it shouldn’t exist, but it should be talked about more – on social media and in person. 18-35 year olds are more likely to experience depression due to loneliness than the over 55’s. Yet we feel ashamed to speak these statistics. I always remember going to a doctor worried about my mental health aged 16, to be told I’m “too young to be depressed.” It’s no surprise why it took me years to get help after this. We’re too young to experience depression and too young to feel lonely. So who are we meant to be? I recently read an article about a study revealing that one in four girls are diagnosed with depression before they turn 14, and sadly you can see why, given the mixed messages we receive about who we should be or become, and the overwhelming pressure put on young people.
I’m at the stage now, when I’ve finished a second masters, everyone I met at uni are a distant memory, most of my ‘local’ friends along with both siblings have now moved away and I’m still living at home with parents. There is so many stereotypes about young people, who we are, who we should be, what we should do and where we should be by a certain age. The list is endless. “So are you going out tonight?” a taxi driver recently asked me, (on a rare occasion when I wasn’t asked why I’m don’t drive – but that’s another blog for another day…) As if a 20 something is only defined by wild nights out on the town. I forget the last time I stayed out past 11. “No” I replied. “Just staying in tonight.” The conversation then moved on to an interrogation about my job, why taxi drivers choose this tactic to make conversation I will never understand. I’ve heard many similar stories to mine.
The majority of friends live two hours or more away from me, and like most things visiting takes planning. Even when I can visit, train tickets are expensive and unaffordable to many. The days of ringing someone up and popping out for a quick coffee are long gone. Going from seeing people everyday at uni, to this suddenly not being there is a transition we are rarely prepared for. This feels like a different kind of loneliness to before, now it feels more profound. As if the decisions I make in the next few months mean more.
Above all being in your 20’s can be utterly confusing. You have to decide on a career, that often takes a few go’s to get right. You can’t afford to move out, or to live where the well paid jobs are or at least jobs in your field. And if you’re like me you can’t get ‘filler in’ jobs to get by. You have friendship groups from different parts of your life and deal with the constant comparison this ensues. If you haven’t chosen the settle down and have babies route yet, you find yourself fending off a barrage of questions as to why. Of course there are some exciting things to being 20 something too – being in the position when you can still make decisions that can reflect the direction of your future. As scary as this also seems.
There are campaigns in the media to ‘end the stigma of mental health’ that I really do support but rarely conversation about the affect loneliness has on young people. Loneliness is silent. Rarely talked about or understood – but it should be. Having days when you feel particularly lonely should be something you feel able to share. Not feeling awkward that you’re not a typical young person or that you’re not living up to the expectations of society or random taxi drivers. When I was a student, I was asked if I go out every night or ‘just’ study. As if the latter is perceived as boring or dull. That you’re not a proper student if you don’t live the lifestyle everyone expects. The most I did was have a couple of glasses of wine at home in front of a film, the reality of the pressures of an intense Masters degree.
I have realised after feeling the most lost I’ve ever felt in the last couple of weeks, periods of adjustment are something we all deal with to varying degrees throughout our lives. The difficult times post university are sometimes clouded in the exciting, new opportunities and people that student life brings. You’re so engrossed in the student bubble, that when this time comes it’s more of a shock to the system. My time since university has been made easier with Twitter and friends being helpful several hundreds of miles away over the phone. I’m lucky, as I know so many people don’t have that. My loneliness and anyones loneliness would be made easier if more of us talk about it, that we’re prepared earlier for feeling lost and confused, and that most of all we understand that young people can feel lonely too. And probably more so than older generations because we are expected to always be out and about, enjoying what is said to be ‘the best time of our life.’ And we are often perceived as odd when we’re not.