I recently found myself sitting in a small room in central London being interviewed for a local radio show (click here to check out my guest appearance on Shoreditch Radio. You’ll find me from 36:18!). Not my average day by any means! During the interview, the radio host asked me if I thought London was a lonely place to live.
I’ve suffered from great waves of loneliness over the last few years. Lockdown has certainly heightened those feelings of loneliness, but I don’t believe for one minute that living in London has anything to do with it.
I do, however, believe that some of the expectations and experiences of living in the capital city can have a detrimental impact on our ability to meet and make new friends.
I’ve been living in London for 5 years, and until recently, I found myself in a challenging job role, which resulted in long, stressful working hours. I would work late to try to keep my head above water. Combined with evening committee meetings and hours spent travelling across London on busy public transport, life pretty much consisted of Work, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.
Working long hours meant that I spent a lot of time with colleagues, many of whom were also feeling the pressure to work late.
I wasn’t lonely in the sense of not having people around me. I was lonely because all I had in my life at that point was work. My job had become an unwanted, unsociable curse.
I would regularly walk across London’s parks over sunny weekends, and as much as the sun would always raise my spirits, seeing groups of friends relaxing and having fun in the sun made me feel even more lonely.
You could argue that I had time to meet and make new friends over the weekends. However, for some reason, I chose to spend my weekends going on dates rather than looking for friends.
I think the first lockdown was a little bit of a novelty for many of us. That sounds a bit twisted, but we were all thrown into a new situation, where events were changing daily. There was a sense of feeling scared but there was also a strange sense of excitement as we adjusted to a ‘new normal’. In some ways, I guess it felt like a new adventure.
The weather during the first lockdown was beautiful, and work was quiet. Despite being separated from family and friends from home, I made the most out of the first lockdown. I spent hours digesting the news, working out, and sitting on my terrace enjoying the sun. I loved being away from the office and getting to spend more time focusing on my health and wellbeing.
When Disaster Strikes
In August, I was in between flats after deciding to move to suburbia, when life took an unexpected twist. After being reassured for months by the CEO that financially, the company wasn’t at risk, my job was now at risk of redundancy.
Moving house and trying to decide what I was going to do about my job during a global pandemic was insane looking back on it.
At the time, everything kind of made sense:
A) I was moving to a flat with cheaper rent which with job uncertainty was a godsend
B) Would I ever be handed a better opportunity to get out of a job that had taken its toll on my mental health and wellbeing over the last few years and to find something which would bring me much more happiness?
After deciding to leave my company and not reapply for any new roles on offer, I decided to take a leap of faith and become self-employed.
When I made this decision, we were on our way out of a second lockdown. I was super excited at the thought of following my passion as a writer for a living, and the fact I would be able to work anywhere filled me with so much excitement. Whether I wanted to work in a coffee shop by the river, in Northampton as I visited friends and family, or even in another country, I would be able to take my work and work anywhere I liked.
What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the prospect of heading into a third lockdown and spending the first 4+ months of my freelance career staring at the four blank walls of my rented suburban flat.
The loneliness was real. I had the company of my very patient boyfriend, but he wasn’t here to amuse me every day. Whilst he was with me, I would feel far from lonely. However, the moment he left, I felt a sense of loneliness like never before.
Looking back now, I think there was also a sense of resentment as his life looked a lot more ‘normal’ than mine did. He was able to go into his office if he needed or wanted to. Other aspects of his job meant he was able to get back out and see people, and other than wearing a mask and having to socially distance, his life was very much getting back on track.
Throughout the third lockdown, we were able to go out and meet one other person outdoors. Yet, I found myself with nobody to meet as travel across the country was still limited. On top of this sense of loneliness, I felt trapped and claustrophobic.
The last couple of weeks have been a bit of an eye-opener for me as I’ve realised the following:
- Making new friends is no longer an option. It’s a necessity
- Although I love to spend time by myself, I also need to be around people
- I’m the best version of myself when I have options. I hate to feel trapped and I need the freedom to be impulsive if I have my brave pants on that day
- Freelancing is awesome until you’re amid a pandemic, and then it really can suck.
I’m aware that the title of this post is ‘How to overcome loneliness‘, and I know I haven’t provided you with any magic answers. But what I have discovered over the last couple of weeks is that life is so much better with people in it. Being able to meet family members again, and even attending a small outdoor event and meeting some lovely new people, it’s given me some of me back.
And going back to the radio hosts question, ‘Can London be a lonely place to live?‘, the answer is, yes, it can be. But not because it’s London. I’ve made London a lonely place for myself. Working long unsociable hours, and not putting myself out there to meet new like-minded people has made me feel lonely.
So here’s to life returning to some normality, a new, flexible career, and a desire to meet new people. I’m excited to see where this new chapter leads.
I’d love to hear about your experience on this subject. Have you ever suffered from loneliness? What did you do to overcome this?