Reflections on loneliness - Melanie Owen
12 May, 2022
The 9th - 15th of May is Mental Health Awareness week. Presenter and columnist Melanie Owen reflects on this years theme of lonliness.
“You’re so busy!”
“You’re never home!”
“You’re out so much!”
I get these said to me, a lot. And they’re true, to an extent. I work in the media in the daytime then do stand-up in the evenings, so by its very nature my career sends me on a chaotic race around the country (apologies to the planet for what must be a gargantuan carbon footprint). I have to schedule sleep into my diary, because there is no guarantee I will get a full eight hours on any evening. For instance, today I have had to schedule in a three hour nap in the afternoon to try and make up for the fact that I’ll only get four hours of sleep tonight.
It's crazy, but I am inherently lucky to have a career that I enjoy so much, so I try to whinge as little as possible (at least not out loud).
But with the variety and the travel comes a lot of alone time and not a lot of consistency. I am clutching onto the few vestiges of a daily routine that I can apply on a day-to-day basis, but ultimately that so-called routine comes to an end circa 8.30am when I’ve arrived home from the gym. The rest of the day could consist of anything.
With lack of consistency comes lack of availability, thus I am a nightmare friend. Making plans with me is like trying to book an appointment at the dentist – if you can’t make the two hour slot I have available three Tuesdays from now, then we’ll have to try again in a month’s time. The misconception with this kind of schedule, is that I’m unsociable because I am so in demand. When, in reality, I spend a lot of my time feeling quite lonely.
When I travel, I am alone in my car. After a gig, I get back to my home or my hotel room too late to chat to anybody because the rest of the world has gone to bed. It’s a cycle which quite often engulfs me, to the point where I feel completely disconnected from my loved ones and my friends. I can feel as though I am watching their lives through Instagram stories or Whatsapp videos, without getting to be with them in the flesh myself.
It is not only the physical loneliness of rarely seeing your loved ones that can feel painful, but also the emotional loneliness of thinking nobody understands what’s going on in your mind. When I hear “wow you’re never home!”, I want to remind that person how much I love nights in with my housemates watching Married At First Sight, or nights back with my family teaching the puppy to roll over. Never being home is not as glamorous as social media would have us believe.
Whilst my career is a fairly unusual one, there will be many others who also feel emotionally lonely, with a feeling that very few people around them truly understand the reality of their mental health situation. Experiencing a trauma can lead to loneliness, because as much as your loved ones want to support you, ultimately they cannot feel the way you are feeling because they have not endured the same experience. Surviving depression can feel profoundly lonely, as you watch the rest of the world keep turning whilst you battle the darkness, seemingly alone.
Loneliness is far more common than many would think. In fact, if you’re under 26 in the UK you are as likely to feel as lonely as somebody over 651. So why then, do we feel so embarrassed about it?
With all the good that has come with social media, there is also the element of exaggerated truth which allows us to boast an online version of our experiences which are, in truth, very different to the reality. As viewers, we begin to judge our own lives against these exaggerated versions, leaving us feeling as though we are missing out, or failing to live fun-filled lives like those who we follow. That is why it is inherently important to monitor whose online content is making us feel miserable, then cut out those accounts. Get familiar with the ‘Unfollow’ and ‘Mute’ buttons, until you feel in a better place to be engaging with those accounts again.
On a practical note, it’s important to surround yourself with people whose presence makes you feel less lonely. For me, I have developed a good friend group of people who work in the same industry as me or similar, who will understand and empathise with what it is I am going through on a daily basis. We can share problems and speak openly without embarrassment, thus our friendship alleviates a lot of the loneliness that can creep up from time to time. That is not to say I do not socialise with anybody outside of my industry – if anything it means I am a better friend to those people who can’t relate, because I’ve already aired my professional feelings with those who do understand.
Sometimes, however, the lack of a friendship group can itself be the trigger of the loneliness. As somebody who has been there, done that and sobbed hysterically into the T-shirt, I cannot recommend with enough verve, the wonders of professional support. For me, counselling changed my life. I used to bear the weight of so much shame because of my need for counselling, but by now I shout it from the rooftops. With no hyperbole, the day I sought professional support was the day my life changed forever. I even have a little star next to the date in my diary so I can remember it every year…kind of like celebrating a little anniversary (any excuse for a cupcake).
If loneliness is something that you need to overcome, don’t feel embarrassed. There are so many people out there feeling exactly the same way that you do. Speak up, seek support and look forward to the better days that are to come. Because they are coming.
Written by Melanie Owen
- Mind Your Head campaign, 2022