Being alone can be such a bastard. At our age, four or more decades into your life, finding that you are genuinely alone can be confronting, morale-destroying, ego-smashing, and just fucking crappy on every level. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it?
Once you feel like you’re in the Cave of Loneliness, it can become more and more difficult to edge back out into the world to reconnect with friends or family, let alone to meet new people. Your negative headspace stops your metaphorical feet moving but your feet need to move to get away from this horrible mental space. The famous vicious circle.
A Lifeline survey in 2016 found 60 per cent of surveyed Australians felt lonely at times and, while that was for adults over 18, the reasons given for such loneliness are often ones that can resonate with the GiantsAmongMen demographic.
For example, an Australian Red Cross survey in 2017 found the major reasons people gave for suffering that enforced, shitful, not-chosen version of loneliness (my technical definition, not theirs) included:
– death of a loved one (34 per cent),
– moving away from friends/family (31 per cent),
– isolation at school or work (22 per cent),
– divorce or separation (21 per cent) and
– losing a job (17 per cent).
Any of those sound familiar?
The BBC recently dived headlong into this whole issue, by becoming involved in a large online survey relating to loneliness, how we perceive it and how we view people who are lonely. I did the survey and, be warned, it took a while – it’s no ‘just click multi-choice on these five questions’ kind of thing.
The survey seems to be turning out some interesting results, presented as the five myths of loneliness, such as the fact that the majority of old people are not lonely, that adolescents also have a spike in loneliness issues, and the non-surprising result that you can be profoundly and unhealthily lonely in a crowded room, in a marriage or in a busy life. I like that the BBC’s pitch is that yes, loneliness causes a lot of unhappiness, but it’s not always a bad thing and let’s keep perspective and look for ways to help those who aren’t happy being lonely.
The BBC has also drilled into another online worldwide survey relating to rest, and whether being alone and rest are connected. It won’t shock you that 68 per cent of 18,000 people from 134 countries wished they got more rest, but what the survey also showed is that how people defined ‘rest’ as activities that mostly didn’t involve other people, such as reading, spending time alone, doing nothing, or meditating.
The article asks, ‘Could it be that what we really want, in order to rest, is respite from other people?’
It also makes the point that wanting time alone is a very different thing to enforced loneliness, which brings us right back to the top of this story.
You can be alone or you can be lonely. You can enjoy time alone, or you can feel despair at having not a friend in the world.
If you’re struggling with that second, shitty form of loneliness in Australia, there are many resources.
A good place to start is here: Reach Out is dedicated to this subject and has some fantastic practical advice, and support networks.
There’s also Lifeline, BeyondBlue, Men’s Sheds and local community activities (check the website of your council, or community groups in your area).
One man finally exited the Cave of Loneliness by actually volunteering at the Red Cross, and found himself surrounded by a committed, caring group of potential friends and supporters that way. By trying to help others, he helped himself.
But look, we get it. We understand that what when you’re stuck in that cave, what we’re asking feels big.
Getting out the door or picking up the phone, admitting your struggle, is a huge and difficult move.
But understand, you’re not alone. Even if you feel like you are.
And there is a way out of feeling lonely. Click the links above and take that first step.