“Would you please lend me your ear?
I promise I won’t complain,
I just need you to acknowledge I am here.”
I realised that I missed a trick last week as it was Mental Health Awareness week. The theme was Loneliness and, as someone who lives alone and spent long periods of time without any human company over lockdown, I thought it would make sense to share my thoughts.
Crucially, being alone is not the same as being lonely. You can be lonely in a crowd and content when alone. Mental health charity Mind have a good description for loneliness:
“One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met.”About loneliness – Mind
I’m an introvert which can be defined as getting my energy from being on my own. When I’m amongst people for long periods (and my tolerance is far lower than it used to be!) I feel drained and I need to spend some time alone to recoup that energy. Extroverts will experience the opposite – feeling low on energy when alone and filling up on the energy of other people. There’s often a point in a social event where I will happily blend into the background. It’s a comfortable invisibility.
I like the inclusion of “rewarding” in Mind’s definition too. Not all social contact is equal and often, the good quality company of a few is better than a more superficial company of many. The definition also very firmly plants the parameters with the individual. This is very much about needs and our needs are all different.
Generally through lockdown, I did pretty well. It was weird when, in July, I realised I hadn’t had any physical contact with another human being for over 3 months. But I cannot deny that I did feel genuine loneliness. For me it was a feeling of being invisible. I’m an introvert but I’m a confident and occasionally attention-seeking introvert. (Some of my friends will dispute the inclusion of ‘occasionally’ in that sentence). My loneliness was an uncomfortable invisibility. The sense that, if I never emerged from this house, would anyone notice?
Being alone is fine when you have someone to reach out to in times of need, and I am confident that I have friends and family who I could send a message to and say, “I’m feeling a bit lonely, have you got time for a chat?” Even a message chat can warm the soul and remind you that people do care about you. But I think there is a very human need to be noticed that comes with loneliness. Not in an attention seeking way, just to be acknowledged.
So this is why this was a brilliant choice for Mental Health Awareness Week. Yes, I have people who I can contact when I need some company, even remotely. But no-one wants to feel like we need to tap our friends on the shoulder to remind them we exist. So it’s a good reminder to reach out to your friends who may be feeling lonely. And that could be anyone. Even living in a bustling household can be a lonely experience.