You know what? Last Saturday I bought (the most enjoyable, thrilling, and heart-warming read I’ve ever held in my two hands) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and I’ll tell ya, there are things I want to say about that book that I feel completely underqualified to articulate. I’ll definitely write a review on it at some point, get back to the roots of my degree. But for now, there’s something else, that’s still relevant to mentioning this that I want to talk about - Loneliness, and the rise in cases of it in young people especially.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine starts off as a novel about a woman working in admin whose real true joy of the week is the Friday trip to Tesco Express for vodka and pizza… Something I, and many others, don’t find too difficult to relate to. But, the reader quickly learns that, sometimes, Eleanor will leave work on a Friday evening, and not speak to another human being until the following Monday morning when she returns to the office. It kind of struck a chord, because I realised that that’s somewhat of a reality for so many of us, and it’s not particularly a choice.
We – the free-thinking, creative, ambitious millennials we are – have everything ahead of us… you know, life wise but also of course climate change, austerity, and the-world-going-to-shit wise as well, but that’s another story. We spend our weekdays in work, 9am to 5pm (Thanks, Dolly), with the occasional “quick bevvy after EOP?” skype message, go home, cook, bed. We live in a world where communication is so simple, instant, and easy. Our weekends are either spent on life-min, R+R, or socialising - We’re constantly surrounded by PEOPLE, so why are we all so bloody lonely?
I can hear it now, “It’s because you spend too much time on your phones”, “It’s because none of you are able to develop meaningful relationships”, “You live online, what do you expect?” etc. No. Loneliness is an epidemic and, to be fair, I can’t say that it only affects one generation or group, nobody is completely immune to it. But, a recent study showed that 40% of younger people experienced high levels of loneliness.
According to the survey, the five main characteristics of loneliness are:
· Having nobody to talk to
· Feeling disconnected from the world
· Feeling left out
· Not feeling understood
The feeling of being lonely is an intense one, and it’s a frighteningly common issue amongst the younger generation than it first appears to be. I don’t think it particularly matters either how at-home you can feel being by yourself. Today, I woke up with a that old, unnerving ache of loneliness, and I’ve spent the entire day by myself contemplating how I could possibly feel like this when I’ve literally spent the last week surrounded by people, colleagues, strangers, friends, family even. And even as I write this, in a coffee shop (Caramel latte if you want to know), being the last person in the house aside from the lovely pair of baristas who served me earlier, the ache’s still there, like a little apricot pit at the bottom of my stomach.
Loneliness is a special kind of longing. Longing for human interaction, for the warmth of a hug, or just the feeling that someone actually wants to talk to YOU. The cliché that you can be in a sea of people and still feel completely alone is hauntingly familiar, not just to me on the odd occasion, but to a heck of a lot of people I know, more than they would care to admit. And still, there’s a certain amount of guilt, or maybe shame, attached to feeling lonely. We question ourselves and our feelings because we’ve got family, friends, partners who should be the exact reason we DON’T feel this way.
Here’s a few ways to beat that lonely little cloud over your head:
- Take a book to a coffee shop, grab your favourite brew and watch the world go by from the window. It can help to be around the chit chat of other people and to feel the energy of a place full of them.
- Try and make your living space a little cosier. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to feel at home where you live. Turn the place that can sometimes confine you into a kind of sanctuary. I’m talking candles with scents that remind you of happy times, nice cushions and throws for your furniture, soft lighting, and a comfy pair of slippers.
- Practice gratitude. Every night, write down 3 things you’re grateful for in your life, and 3 things you did for yourself/enjoyed/achieved that day.
- Be KIND to yourself!
- Have the radio on in the background while you go about your day, or even better, get into a podcast on a topic you’re really interested in.
- Take up a new hobby to get you out of the house and surrounded by other people, go along to a yoga class, a craft group, or even a Meet Up event!
- Remember that things weren’t always like this, and they won’t be like this forever either.
- Take yourself on a date – go to the cinema and watch that film that nobody would appreciate as much as you would anyway, go for dinner at your favourite restaurant and take a book along with you, or even head for a picnic in the park.
- Reach out to someone. You can guarantee that you’re not alone in the way you feel, and there’s someone else close by that knows how it feels, and may be glad of the knowledge that they aren’t alone either.