Feeling lonely? You’re not alone.

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2018 Update: It’s so great to have so many of you getting in touch about this article, and it’s great to hear your personal stories. After receiving a very personal e-mail yesterday, I replied with some advice that might help others who were drawn to this post from September last year. Scroll to the very bottom of this post to read about what has helped me overcome the below and come out the other side. The good news? It passes, and it gets better. The catch? It requires a little bit of work. But it’s so worth it!

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Disclaimer: I posted the below blog post to lift the lid on a topic that is so rarely talked about, and I am touched at how many people have gotten in touch to share their stories. Although I am amazed that the blog post has gained so much publicity (from Glamour magazine to the Daily Mail and the Metro, and even reaching international newspapers), I also want to highlight what the original intention of my blog post was, as the main message seems to be getting lost along the way. 95% of the time I feel fulfilled and happy – I have a wonderful family, great friends, loving boyfriend and awesome little dog – but at times when I feel isolated or alone I find it hard to talk about because the term ‘lonely’ carries so much stigma and embarrassment. I wanted to write about the topic of loneliness because many people experience feelings of isolation or ‘aloneness’ at some point in their lives (for varying reasons), and it seems a shame that it’s not talked about more often. 

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Recently I experienced an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Sparked by a weekend of being bed-ridden with a cold and working from home, I came to realise that the topic of loneliness is so common amongst people yet so rarely spoken about.

Rather than dealing with my thoughts alone, like I usually do, I put myself out there on Twitter (and also my Instagram Stories).

It felt very vulnerable posting something like that online, in public, and immediately I felt like taking it down – until I noticed that people were starting to respond that they often experience the same.

Sometimes when we show vulnerability, we give others the chance to be vulnerable too.

Ironically, social media doesn’t feel like the right place to be open, honest, and, well, social. Instead of being used as a platform to connect with people, social media has become a way to project a filtered and edited reality – and I’m guilty of that too. It’s a place for posting pictures of coffees and memes to get likes, rather than actually connecting with people. (In fact, I’ve often experienced social media to be the opposite of social, with people using it to troll and cyber-bully.)

So it was in a way comforting to receive so many honest and open private messages on both Twitter and Instagram, from people who were experiencing similar things for a multitude of reasons. But in another way it also felt sad that something that is so common is also so rarely talked about. I heard from mums (some in relationships, some single) who spend their days alone with their children and have lost touch with their friends. I heard from professionals who have moved to different cities and are struggling to integrate, while feeling excluded from their past friendship circles. Other professionals felt lonely because they work long hours in a bitchy environment. I heard from people who have come from broken families or moved around a lot, and don’t feel like they have much of a support network around them, and from a few who have surrounded themselves with people that are toxic and make them feel crappy and empty.

I’m a freelancer, I work from home and often spend a whole week on my own – most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes it makes me feel very isolated. Also, where I’ve been physically living in London has also at times made me feel isolated as it’s disconnected (there are no train or underground links) and tricky to get to, which means that for the past year and a half people don’t often make the effort to visit me, and there have also been times where I haven’t been invited to things because people have assumed that I’m too far out and ‘probably won’t come anyway’. On top of that, I’m almost always the instigator, and unless I message people again and again and again, to arrange a coffee, drinks or dinner, then plans don’t seem happen, which can become exhausting and disheartening.

However, my personal loneliness tipping point came from a combination of factors; moving to a new city where I don’t know many people yet, my boyfriend being away for two weeks on business – plus I’ve had the cold from hell which probably hasn’t helped!

But although those low moments of loneliness can feel dark, they also make you so much stronger. In the words of Rabbi D. Abraham Twerski, “The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable.” Not sure what I’m talking about? Scroll to the bottom of this post for a lovely story about a lobster.

Often it’s when we’re feeling alone that we’re forced to go out of our comfort zone in order to meet new people. You have to put yourself out there. Get in touch with acquaintances that you like but maybe haven’t spoken to in a while. Make plans to see an old friend. Find a passion. Try a new hobby. Keep yourself busy. Push yourself to try new classes, and start doing thing that make you happy – whether that’s going to that exhibition or show you’ve always wanted to see, or that activity that you’ve always been curious about trying. When you’ve removed the toxic people from your life, you’re also making more space for the good ones to come in.

It’s also when we’re on our own that we learn how to truly be alone, and be comfortable with spending time alone. And it’s when you become fine with being on your own that you can start attracting the right people into your life, because you no longer feel like you have to fill your life with people just for the sake of being around others.

Of course, just because you are alone, doesn’t mean that you are lonely, and just because you are surrounded by people doesn’t mean that you can’t be lonely. The goal is to become fine with spending time on your own (or better still, enjoy it), so that you don’t have to surround yourself with people that aren’t genuine friends. And if the people around you leave you feeling empty and disconnected, then it’s time to reconsider who you’re spending time with. Because chances are that the reason you’re feeling lonely is because you don’t feel connected to the people around you, or feel that they don’t genuinely care about you.

When, like me, you’re not able to enjoy spending long periods of time on your own, you’re more likely to stay in these bad relationships, whether that is with a friend, or with a boyfriend / girlfriend. Temporarily it might make you happier to have someone to watch a film with or share a glass of wine with, but in the long run it’s better to be alone than to be surrounded by the wrong people.

Solitude is not only crucial to personal growth, but if you make it through the low moments and start enjoying your own company, you’re also much more likely to let the right people come in to your life.

In order to meet the right people, we also have to learn to be okay on our own and to enjoy our own company, and be our own best friend. So now is the time you started seeing how fun and awesome you are and to see your own value, because how much you enjoy spending time on your own is also a huge reflection of your own self esteem.

Stop focussing on what’s missing, and start focussing on what you can control and what you do have. Stop looking for what you need in other people, and start finding it within yourself.

Time will pass and one day you’ll find yourself in a room of people that you can call your dearest friends, and today will feel like a long time ago. You have to trust that there are people waiting for you for when you come out the other side.

If you’re reading this and feeling lonely, pour yourself a glass of wine and put on your favourite music. Put on a film, or your favourite show. Go to the cinema, or take yourself out for dinner. If you can’t enjoy your own company, how can you expect others to? Once you’re able to be your own best friend and have built that foundation within yourself and have already gone through periods of solitude and being alone, then no matter who walks in and out of your life, you’re invincible. There will 100% be times in your life that the people around you will completely disappoint you, but you’ll know that you can make it through because you know that you’ve always got yourself and can enjoy your own company and that you’re going to be just fine – on your own.

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Now here’s the story about lobsters:

“The lobster’s a soft mushy animal that lives inside of a rigid shell. That rigid shell does not expand.

Well, how can the lobster grow? Well, as the lobster grows, that shell becomes very confining, and the lobster feels itself under pressure and uncomfortable. It goes under a rock formation to protect itself from predatory fish, casts off the shell, and produces a new one. Well, eventually, that shell becomes very uncomfortable as it grows. Back under the rocks. The lobster repeats this numerous times.

The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable. Now, if lobsters had doctors, they would never grow because as soon as the lobster feels uncomfortable, goes to the doctor, gets a Valium, gets a Percocet, feels fine, never casts off his shell.

I think that we have to realise that times of stress are also times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.” – Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski.

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Are you relating to the above? Here’s my thoughts from where I am now.

I experienced overwhelming loneliness when I tried moving to Amsterdam last year. I was in a new-ish city and struggled to meet new people that I clicked with. I joined an expat group but didn’t feel like I had much in common with them and it only made me feel worse. If I had found work I think it would have helped massively but without the structure, routine and colleagues days trickled by slowly. Even then I was lucky as my boyfriend moved with me, and I have a big network in London that I tried to stay in touch with. Coming back home to London in November to start a new job totally changed everything. I’ve been too busy to think too much about things, days are long, and I’ve been much more proactive in meeting people and building on my network, making sure I do something sociable every day after work. All the wine and food is taking its toll on my skin and energy but I feel much happier than I was before. I think the two key things here were starting a new job, and building on the connections I have by meeting up with everyone I know and saying YES to everything, which in turn meant that I also got invited to more things, and met more people, getting a snowball effect going.

Two years ago I went through a similar dip. I had moved to a more remote area and found myself not being included or invited to things, friends were always cancelling and flaking, and the single friends I had stopped inviting me to drinks and nights out, as I was in a relationship. There were also a lot of fake people in my circle that I couldn’t trust. Those things made me feel isolated too. It took a while to get out of that rut, but it started by me building on each connection that I had. I ended up getting to know acquaintances who I never thought I’d be friends with, and I built deeper friendships with the many acquaintances I had that at the time still felt like superficial friendships.

In general, I’ve met a lot of people through reeling (Scottish dancing, strange but funny!!). A lot of the people I’ve met are all part of the same network, called PGT (it’s a Facebook group too I think) and Pont street reels. It’s great for networking but it depends on what sort of person you gravitate to and get on with. Members clubs are also very sociable. I used to be a Lansdowne club member which used to have a lot of socials. I’ve also met a lot of boys who are members of the Saville club, and many of them are Masons, and say that they meet a lot of people through Masonry. Then I’ve got a lot of active friends who have formed a big network by joining running clubs, like the Clapham Chasers. I think trying avenues like these are a great way to get a ball rolling, plus being generally up for stuff. Saying yes to things, meeting new people and trying to create almost like a spiders web will eventually lead you to finding your core people.

Separately, I love my new job and it’s helped loads. I don’t have any colleagues at the moment (I’m a one woman band!) and I go the whole day without even chatting to anyone, but as I’m surrounded by people and kept busy it doesn’t bother me. Starting a new job of some sort really helps, or even just joining a co-working space like WeWork or similar means that at least you’ll be surrounded by other freelancers and entrepreneurs. I checked out the WeWork in Amsterdam and they accepted membership from just €100 per month, and also offered weekly talks, seminars, drinks and networking events!

I spoke to friends last year who experienced similar loneliness and their remedy was volunteering at things like soup kitchens, dog charities, Therapaws etc and old people’s homes. Old people are often lonely and love nothing more than a chat. They are also interesting, have interesting stories and good, impartial advice.

Plus, having a dog really does help loads when I feel down. She’s my whole world. If you’re in a position to foster a rescue dog even if just for a little while, you may find that it’ll make a big positive difference – not just the companionship, but also having to think about and look after someone other than yourself. It’ll also be a good reason to get out of the house and for some fresh air. Get in touch with an organisation like the Wild At Heart Foundation to register as a foster home.

Many of the people I’ve been hearing from are going through breakups, and the breakups have triggered a loneliness. Breakups are the worst and only accentuate and emphasise the loneliness through there being an additional void, so those situations can be extra tough. My personal advice would be to dip your toe in the dating pool and join apps like Happn, Bumble, Tinder, Inner Circle etc. I’ve found dating to be the best medicine for breakups, as it’s helped me rebuild my confidence again.

Finally, If you’re reading this and are in a bad place, if it’s any consolation, I was where you are now, just six months ago. And things look very different now. Just hold on to the fact that “this too shall pass”. But it just requires a little bit of work to get there. It will be so worth it. 🙂

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