16 October 2015

Being Alone

I know from past experience that there's no faster way to lose friends than to talk about your mental health; but I'm going to anyway. Because I just can't help but think how many of us would be less depressed or less afraid if our society was just... Better.

I mean there's the obvious: People who depend on help from the state are fucking terrified because social security is no longer secure.

But my anxiety/panic lately has been about way more than just money. And I just keep thinking "I wish I had someone to hold me and tell me everything will be alright." But I don't.

I don't necessarily mean a partner. It's perfectly possible for a platonic friend to hold you and make you feel safe.

I know the show was massively unrealistic in a number of ways; but I keep thinking of Friends. Let's use Phoebe as an example. If she'd had a weekend of panic attacks and needed someone to stay with her all night to make her feel safe; you know that one of the other 5 would have obliged. Because they were close friends.

I was incredibly lucky on Sunday when I was panicking that one of my neighbours was home so she sat and watched Downton Abbey with me for a little while. But a couple of days later my cat was ill again and I posted on Facebook asking, once again, if anyone was free and no-one replied. (Luckily after I got home from the vet I wasn't as anxious as I expected I would be when she first started pissing blood again.)

The reason I'm writing this isn't because I want pity. Or I want attention. Or anything about me really.

Surely I can't be alone in being alone.

There must be thousands of people - maybe hundreds of thousands of people - who are in my shoes: No partner, no children, no siblings, no mother, no friends they see regularly. People who got left out and left behind when their friends from the past all got careers, got married, started families. Or even people who have got careers, but see no-one outside of work.

And I'm writing this from the fairly privileged position of someone with an internet connection and quite a few social media contacts who've offered to be there for me via Skype. (Although today's been one of those days when I've felt like I'm Tweeting/Facebooking/blogging into a void and no-one's listening at all.)

How did people like me end up on the scrapheap of life? And how can we fix society so we aren't so alone?

How many people have to do what I did this week and see a doctor having a panic emergency; when we wouldn't have been in a state of panic if we only had people around us that made us feel safe? This time last week I was on the phone to The Samaritans just because I was terrified and didn't know who else to talk to.

Sure, maybe someone holding me and reassuring me wouldn't have made any difference and I'd still need medical help; mental illness isn't totally socially created. But our social structures matter in how we think and feel. Just like poor housing has a negative impact on your physical health; poor social networks have an impact on your mental health.

And I'm not talking about setting up some formal, professional, support group for those of us that society likes to avoid. Or some condescending befriending scheme based on pitying the poor lonely people. I mean real social change so people like me are seen as real human beings with value that are worth spending time with.

I know it's idealistic: But why can't we live in a world where a group as diverse as a waitress, a chef, a masseuse, a frequently unemployed actor, a data-something-or-other and a palaeontologist can all be besties?

You'll have to forgive me talking about TV a lot; but my TV and my cat are the only support networks that I physically encounter every day. I sometimes go weeks - even months - without seeing other humans in a friendship capacity. Yes I see humans in their professional capacity as doctors, doctors' receptionists, pharmacists, vets, staff in shops, etc. But there's that professional boundary between us.

I don't know where I'm going with this ramble. I just know I'm not alone in being alone. It's not just us benefit scroungers at the bottom of society: Throughout all walks of life some people are isolated by circumstance. Because our world is fucked up, and I wish it wasn't.


  1. I wrote about loneliness a couple of years ago - it's somewhere I've been and it's very hard to talk about. In fact, I think that communication is part of our problem - it's hard both to ask for company or to offer it, except in very general terms. And of course, generalities can seem empty - I think most people genuinely mean it when they say, "I'm here for you. Let me know if there's anything I can do." but when you're lonely, you feel unwanted by default, so it's hard to then say, "Actually, right now, I could do with being with you."

    And without such a request, it can be hard to make such an offer. Because we now largely respect the fact that not everyone who isn't partnered with children is living a wretch existence, there's often an assumption that folks who live alone *like* to be alone all the damn time. I've often heard this said of others, even when the speaker knows a person just undergone some trauma or crisis, "They probably prefer to be left alone. They won't want to be bothered." and so on. These might be excuses, but honestly, I think many folk are more afraid of imposing unwanted support than leaving someone alone in their time of need.

    I'm sorry you're in this situation, Lisa. I hope you know you are very well-liked, even if you don't have a local, easily accessible support network which would be so useful and comforting right now. I hope this situation changes very soon.

    1. But even when I do ask for help, no-one answers. Take Tuesday as an example. I clearly posted on Facebook that I could use some company and... nothing.

      I also can't help but notice that, with one exception, the only people that have said "let me know if you need anything," are the ones too far away to just pop round and actually help. (At least in response to needing help emotionally. When I broke my shoulder at Xmas lots of people were amazing because as a culture we're less squeamish about helping an injured person than a sad/anxious person.)

    2. I hope you know that's about geography rather that people offering something only because they're not really in a position to give it. I don't know about you, but for me the geography problem is a disability issue. In order to make friends off-line, you need to be in the same place as other people, on a regular basis. So folks often make friends at college and work - people occasionally click on first meeting, but usually it takes many casual, incidental conversations - and conversations get deeper with closer acquaintance (unlike on-line, when you can end up having a fairly deep conversation with someone you first spoke to a few days ago). So if you're not working, it's cafes, clubs, evening classes, religious communities, political movements and so forth, but you need to turn up and regularly. I have never managed to attend anything on a regular basis, so everywhere I've lived, I've learned a good number of local names and some superficial detail about people's lives, but it's rarely got approached the kind of friendship you could call on in a crisis. Since being ill, I have only established one close friendship with someone local to me who I first met in person (and I don't live there any more so he's on-line now too).

      In the biggest crisis of my life, the nearest friend in a position to help was 350 miles away. She did show up for me, but it took a few weeks to organise.

      Part of me feels that the only way to combat this may be something artificial, but I'm not sure what. But I do know it sucks. I'm so sorry about the saga with the vet and I can well imagine how you must be feeling about Betty. I hope this coming week is much better for you both.

  2. Roy Bard1:07 pm

    "why can't we live in a world where a group as diverse as a waitress, a chef, a masseuse, a frequently unemployed actor, a data-something-or-other and a palaeontologist can all be besties?"

    I think it would be nice to live in a world where we are seen as who we are, rather than what we do , or don't do (ie those without a job)

    1. God I wish we lived in that world too. I go for an emergency dentist trip and she says "what do you do?"

      Obviously I reply "nothing". And I feel about 3 inches tall.

  3. God today was horrible.

    On Tuesday the vet asked if I had enough Metacam left from the month before. (It's basically the veterinary equivalent of ibuprofen.)

    I foolishly said "yes."

    I ran out yesterday.

    Despite proffering it freely on Tuesday; today they wouldn't let me get some unless I brought Betty in for a check up.

    Problem: Unlike recent weeks' trips to the vet; Betty's really quite well now. Perfectly willing and able to put up a fight because she doesn't want to come out from under the bed. I *really* hurt my shoulder getting her out of there.

    Once we were at the vet it was just horrific. I saw two people go in as pet owners and come out in tears with an empty carrier. The couple who lost a bearded dragon seemed to take it quite well all things considered. But my heart just broke for the woman who lost her cat.

    The couple who lost their bearded dragon were a couple. They'd got each other for support. The woman who lost her cat might have been on her own at the vet, but I know from talking to her in the waiting room that she has a husband and kids to go home to.

    Betty might only be ill with a UTI right now. But she won't live forever. And I'll have to cope completely alone. For God's sake; I at least had my cat to come home to when I lost my mum. For a month she followed me everywhere I went and cried whenever she couldn't see me.

    And all this horror in my head because on Tuesday I didn't say "actually I will take some more Metacam."

  4. I find Facebook to be complicit in this issue also. I don't take naturally to people or friendship and Facebook is often the special hell I am trapped in when I'm too physically ill to do anything but need people. But since it becomes ever more so a revenue generator not a genuine social network, the less connection you can make. The way it measures importance and gives space to that special top of the news feed position is on number of likes, comments and shares. But if people are mostly posting chain mail, it brings all those likes, comments and shares on board, and once it falls into a group of people with similar interests at the top of their feed, they share it too, growing and ever more growing that traffic until the top of your feed is 6 friends sharing the same story which never dies because it has a million likes. I have chosen a small Facebook community and I can't even find my own posts in the news feed 10 minutes after I put them there, even when actively looking. Someone like me with just a few friends and most of them logging on a few times a week cannot begin to compete with those who have a big network and public followers who are driving a force like Star Wars or Walking Dead. No likes in the first 30 seconds? Your post is shit and needs to be downgraded behind the "more recent" addition of one more Like to that page with a Darth Vader joke on it.

    And I am tech savvy and have deliberately set my Facebook to try to find my friends in among the sea of crap and people who cannot spare a moment of thought or action to regionalise the "lost dog" posts. No, I haven't seen the lost dog of someone who is a friend of a friend of a (x50) and lives in SYDNEY AUSTRALIA.

    So it took me days to come across that post and by then I thought perhaps the sentiment that I'd come if I were not 400 miles away would seem empty, as if I were patting myself on the back for being a good person but not actually doing anything practical. On reflection it might have been better than nothing. But the more selective you are in your friendships and app blocking, the more Facebook's algorithm conspires to remind you that you're nobody because you don't have enough friends. Way to isolate already lonely people who wish they only knew how to chat about shallow things and general pep without feeling even worse. Facebook holds the irony of being the place I go when I'm lonely and the place which reminds me how much lonelier I am in a large group than I was alone.

  5. I have no siblings, have never had a partner and have acquaintances but no real friends. All I have are parents though I don't live in the same city as them and when they're gone I'll be even more alone.

  6. I don't thin you are along in being alone. Thanks to the internet you don't have to be. You can join meetups, go on dating sites and meet like-minded people easily thanks to the internet.

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