My experience of loneliness in lockdown

Reflections By Sarah Herbert

Fri, Mar 05, 21

"Away from everything I thrive on, I am faced with myself, someone I haven’t sat with for a while." A community member reflects on the discomfort of pandemic loneliness.

As the hours, days and weeks keep moving on during this lockdown period, I have found myself stuck in a state of limbo between ‘bettering’ practices and an internal paralysis.

A certain pressure loomed over me to take this time of pause as a once in a lifetime opportunity to build up the person I ought to be. Though navigating that person became a maze in which I often found myself lost.

Creating space for myself, I returned to my practices in meditation, writing, I focussed on my acting and even found a new love for painting. Going into every day with a sense of hope and a high spirit for the future. Yet something did not feel right. I was still having irrational and irritable outbreaks at my partner, conversations made me exhausted, I was searching but not sure what I was searching for. I could feel a deeply uncomfortable place within me.

I didn’t feel good enough, I felt almost invisible at times. I felt alone.

Now? Alone? Really? I live with someone I love who nurtures and creates any spaces necessary for me. A solid community around me. I have my family and friends who I call and catch up with. I have so many means of connection. Feeling alone didn’t make any sense to me.

The obvious looked at me right in the face. Coronavirus has sent us all into this extreme pause. I am away from everything I thrive on, everything that fills me – my everyday activeness, my training as an actress, connections to my community, even connections to strangers. Instead, I am faced with myself, someone I haven’t sat with for a while.

I did some googling and found loneliness to be defined as “a gap between the connections that you need and the connections that you have.”

Dr Vivek Murthy defines three dimensions of loneliness as: intimate – longing for partner who you share an intimacy with; relational or social – quality friendships, social companionship and support; and thirdly a collective loneliness – a hunger for a network or community of people who share your interests. The lack of relationships in any of these dimensions can make us feel lonely.

I had the intimate, I had the community and relational to reach out to but isolating for such a long period of time has brought me away from the degrees of human connections that I was used to.

It’s a bizarre and painful feeling but points me towards the reflection of just how much we need others to thrive and how the quality of our relationships must inherit strong foundations.

I tried unpeeling loneliness further and unexpected memories came flooding in of a time when I was the popular girl at school laughing at the lunch table with my big girl group, a time when I would watch hundreds of likes come flooding in on social media, a time when I “had it all going for me”. I was always the pleaser, the performer, the good girl but this was a persona that wasn’t me at my most authentic. I was striving to be someone that wasn’t my core self and it caused a massive emotional tax, meaning I didn’t have a lot to give another person. I haven’t spoken with most of those girls around that table for many years now.

Loneliness isn’t the person sitting alone at a party. It can manifest in so many ways.

For me, it has come with irritability, anger and exhaustion. It flies under the radar, hitting us at a very deep level. It will also manifest when we are out of touch with ourselves, causing true human connection to not be present.

Brene Brown’s words really resonated; “The foundation for connecting with other people, is connecting with ourselves, true belonging cannot happen without other people unless you belong to yourself first.”

A lot of this comes back to ourselves. The world around us is so often chaotic. We must be able to let the noise settle, centre ourselves and be in a place of peace. So when we approach other people with this sense of rootedness and knowing our worth then we approach other people with a willingness to listen and an ability to be ourselves instead of trying to get something from them which, for me, was usually a sense of validation.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for us to recognise ourselves and our need for true human connection. COVID, although mighty in its separating force, does have some harmony in it. Our generations have never seen the world come together in unity like this on one particular issue. There’s something in that. No one is alone through all of this.

We are all at varying degrees of dealing with the pandemic and though connection is undoubtedly important throughout our lives and during this strange time, it’s also important to remember to take plenty of time for ourselves. Let’s be kind, be patient with ourselves and do what we need to do to stay sane.