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Journey to Mental Health Recovery

These True Stories Of Loneliness Reflect A Hidden Pandemic.

Published 2 months ago • 4 min read

Over the years, when I worked as a Police Officer and a volunteer on a suicide helpline, I heard many gut-wrenching experiences of loneliness. These experiences mirror my feelings when I was younger and at the mercy of bullies and fear that I didn’t understand.

I decided to give some of these experiences a voice through this article in the hope that others will find comfort in the fact that they aren’t as alone as they think.

I don’t promise happy endings or straightforward solutions in these stories — only the resolution of shared human experience.

Mary was a 40-year-old woman with a good job, happily married, and three children. To outsiders, she seems to have a perfect life. Some would call her lucky.

But deep inside, Mary suffers the kind of loneliness that makes her heart ache.

She moved to the UK from Ireland 20 years ago, met her husband, and had a large group of friends. Two years ago, she and her husband decided to return to Ireland to be closer to family. She realized she had never felt at home in the UK.

However, she now suffers the agony of loneliness. She has left all her female friends behind, works full time, and has no hobbies.

Sometimes she will be outside, see a group of women talking or having a good time, and be hit by a tidal wave of pain. She has no other women to do little things with, like go for a walk. Just telling this story made her cry.

At her age, she has no idea how to make new friends — everyone else seems well-established in this regard. She knows the only solution is to put herself out there, expose her vulnerability and confront her fear of rejection, but this is easier said than done.

John is 34. He has a group of male and female friends and a large circle of acquaintances. So what does he have to complain about?

Well, many of his friendship group are getting married and having children. John is single and feeling increasingly left behind.

Several years ago, John suffered a crippling bout of depression. If he sent a group text and got no reply, he would wonder if everyone was out and purposely excluding him.

Thankfully John has recovered from his depression but still gets lonely at weekends. He gets on well with his workmates, but his job isn’t friendly. He lives in a small town and feels too self-conscious to go out alone.

Life has evolved, and John feels left behind.

How can you be married and lonely? This is the stigma that Claire wrestles with daily. It stems from the uniquely painful loneliness of being married to someone who doesn’t love you.

This kind of loneliness doesn’t creep up on you, wash over you at night, or the type that manifests when your spouse dies.

Instead, this is constant loneliness that offers no respite. It haunts her every waking hour — even in her dreams. It threatens to suffocate her when she shares her deepest feelings, only to suffer mockery and ridicule.

The pain has made Claire desperate for any tiny sign of love. She described taking the odd smile and trying to turn it into an embrace.

When Claire attends a dinner party, she plays her part perfectly — half of a unified, happy couple. Inside, she desperately hopes life will imitate art, but ultimately she knows better.

She cannot openly talk about her pain due to shame. Claire feels other types of loneliness are legitimate, and she is a phony. How can you be lonely and married?

So she tries to ignore it. One morning she describes waking up and realizing she has given so much of her away that only a shell remains.

Now she mourns the loss of herself — the old Claire who has been squeezed out of herself by loneliness.

Ironically, there is only one cure for this loneliness — to be alone.

Kate is in her forties with a large family and four children. She has a loving husband, three sisters, and loads of friends. Yet again, loneliness is not obvious.

Her father died six years ago, and she misses him so much that she gets lonely despite her family's love.

Perhaps she sees someone walking with the same gait as her father or watching an elderly man fumble in the supermarket. Even the tilt of a head or meeting eyes in a traffic jam with someone dark and black-haired.

Kate’s pain hits her in the stomach with an awful, gut-wrenching feeling. If it were a color, she describes it as grey and slimy — the grey reflects the barren landscape of depression.

Kate always thought loneliness happened to others — those who lived alone with no one around. She now feels that loneliness is more acute when in a crowded place. No one knows how you feel, and they go about their daily life without knowing how much she is suffering.

Kate’s message is to be kind to others. No one knows the turmoil in other people. When you ask, “how are you,” actually stop and listen to the answer. You might help someone more than you ever imagined from the simple act of active listening.

Peter is 13, and his greatest fear is his sexuality. He agonizes over it, particularly when his classmates call him disgusting slurs — you get the idea.

As a result, Peter isolates himself and has no idea how others can so easily recognize his homosexuality when he doesn’t even admit it to himself.

Peter only has two frames of reference — a book about a pop star that was forcibly outed and a subtitled movie on TV.

As the bullying worsened, he would wait at school to avoid a group of boys by pretending he had forgotten something in his locker. During an afternoon walk, someone throws a can at his head and shouts “Queer” in a passing car. He never tells people because he fears people knowing he is gay more than he fears to bully.

One of his teachers calls boys “faggots” in class, and in science, they teach “the natural order of things” — men and women. No one protests any of these remarks.

Peter grows more anxious, and the anxiety feeds depression. He doesn’t know anyone who is gay and feels completely alone. He knows other gay people exist through the internet, but he feels they may as well be on another planet. He says they live in an abstract way, like gravity — there but invisible.

Loneliness exists for all ages, walks of life, and circumstances. It should never be trivialized or stigmatized. The solutions are complex — easier said than done is a quote that comes up time and again.

With the obsession with social media, we are paradoxically more isolated than ever. We must address the pandemic of loneliness before it overwhelms us.

I hope my stories show you are not as alone as you think.

>>> Sign up for a free 5-day Email Course to learn how to make the most of your experience on Medium. Taught by top writer Sinem Günel.

Journey to Mental Health Recovery

Leon Macfayden

Schizophrenia and PTSD survivor sharing my journey to recovery. Join over 800 subscribers learning to improve their mental health. Every week, I share personal stories and effective tips to help you and your loved ones live the life you deserve.

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