These words are roaming around my mind right now, prompting my fingers to search out letters on the keyboard.
I don’t know in what order to put the words. I don’t know where this blog will lead. All I know is that I need to write something down, so here goes …..
Some of you will be feeling exceptionally lonely at this time. You’ll be missing hugs, touch and closeness. Some of you may be feeling starved of physical contact and hungry for human connection.
I get it. I’ve been there.
I’m not there now because, thankfully, I’m sharing lockdown with my husband, but I remember long periods of time, during my single years, when I ached to be touched in a caring or loving way, when I longed for closeness and intimacy, despite being scared of it.
Massages helped – I’d often cry on the rare occasion when I followed through on my promise to myself to have a massage, moved to tears by a stranger’s gentle touch. Hugs from friends helped too. But they didn’t go all the way to satisfy that longing, that yearning.
And right now, if you’re single and living alone, you can’t have massages and you can’t have hugs, and that’s beyond tough. And if you’re childless too, not by choice, you’re going to feel the longing even more – especially at this time when we’re reminded daily to stay at home with our families or to mix only with people from our households.
What if you have no family? And what if your household consists of one? The messaging from governments around the world is consistently tactless, exclusive and alienating, exacerbating the sense of isolation felt by many single people who live alone, as Australian journalist Jill Stark writes in this article.
So if you’re hurting, if you’re aching and if you feel ignored or invisible, I’d like to say that I see you. I acknowledge you. We see you. We acknowledge you. And you are not alone.
But where do we go from here?
Sadly, I don’t have any fixes. There are no magic bullets. I only have some suggestions, which I accept might not cut it at this time, but I’ll offer a few of them anyway as they’re all I’ve got.
Feel your feelings
Allow yourself to go there. Feel the pain. Get in touch with the hunger, the yearning and the loss. For me, the act of honouring, accepting and feeling all of my feelings has proved transformative. Something shifts deep inside. Something changes. I am changed by the process.
By feeling your true feelings about the current situation, you may get in touch with much deeper feelings about your past – memories of feeling lonely, alone, isolated, invisible, unseen, forgotten, afraid or unsupported. Allow yourself to go there too if you can – if it’s not too painful.
This, as I say to my coaching clients, is the gold dust. This is where the transformation happens. In the dark places. In the tears. In the pain.
Share your feelings
It’s especially powerful if you can share your feelings with someone else, with someone who’ll understand – someone who’ll see you, hear you, acknowledge you, empathise with you and support you, ideally with someone who can identify with how you’re feeling. Clearly, it’s best to avoid people who might shame you for being ‘over-emotional’, selfish or who might be intolerant of your sensitivity (something that might have happened in your past and left scars).
As you feel your feelings and share them, make sure that you love yourself – that you love yourself through the pain. Take care of yourself. Hug yourself. Soothe yourself. Identify the longing or the craving and then try to figure out if there’s anything that you can do to meet that longing or to satisfy that craving in a healthy way, even if you only manage to touch the tip of the iceberg. This is a start. A tiny start. (If you need support with this, watch How to Self-Soothe in Healthy Ways – an hour-long webinar I recorded recently in which I share some tools that have helped me to heal from decades of overeating and other forms of self-harm).
Creativity is one thing that helped me recently to soothe my sky-high anxiety around my mum, who’s in lockdown in a care home 300 miles away and who turned 80 yesterday. I got creative and I made a card (you can watch a 6-min video about the process here).
To be clear, it doesn’t come naturally to me to manage my anxiety by creating something, or by gardening, baking, writing, meditating or going on mindful walks – all those things that we know are good for us. My default is to think and worry obsessively, and then to work, work and work. The more anxious I am, the harder I work. Over-working might be marginally better for me than binge eating, which I did in the past and thankfully no longer do, but it still isn’t healthy.
The key is to be really kind and loving towards ourselves as well as to practise gentle discipline when we see that we’re overworking or overeating or over-doing something else.
Let nature nurture you
In addition, if you can, get outdoors. Get away from screens and tech and into nature. Notice the leaves and the breeze. Feel the soil and the stones. Turn your face to the sun. Imagine you’re standing beneath a waterfall.
Connect, if you want to
And, of course, connect to others, which I appreciate may mean returning to tech and to screens, but if this is your only means of connection, it’s likely the upsides outweigh the downsides.
That said, notice if you’re using on screen time. I sometimes feel like I need to connect with others, that I need to be at the party that’s happening on my laptop or phone, when really I need to sit quietly and connect with myself.
This is about self-awareness – about identifying our real needs, not what we think we should be doing because everyone else is doing it.
But I didn’t intend this to be a ‘how to’ post or a ’10 steps to …’ article.
I started writing this blog today because I wanted to tell my truth.
It strikes me as odd that I haven’t written here for over a month – odd because I’ve had so many feelings going on and this is one of the first places I go to work through them. But perhaps I didn’t know where to start. Perhaps I had too much to say. Or perhaps I was scared of my truth. This blog, right from its origins, has demanded absolute, rigorous honesty, a form of nakedness. Maybe I was feeling too delicate – until now. Or maybe I procrastinated.
Of course, my truth is that I do have too much to say, at least for one post. I have learned so much about myself since the coronavirus pandemic began.
I’ve learned how much I fear illness and death and how illness triggers painful memories from my past. When my husband had a bad bout of what was probably coronavirus a few weeks ago and his breathing became laboured, I recalled the night I slept on the floor in the back room of my dad’s house on the eve of his death, listening to his breath rattle through his lungs – an experience I wish I hadn’t had and I especially wish I hadn’t had alone. I can see myself. Lying there. In the dark. Scared. Grieving.
I’ve learned more too about my anxiety around people (which I hide well beneath a confident, sociable exterior) and about how I manage my fear and anxiety about being in groups by leading them, by creating a space or a barrier between me and everyone else. I’ve learned that going forwards, I’d like to be part of groups on more occasions, not just lead them. I’d like to belong. I’d like more friends and more shared experiences.
Finally, this Easter weekend, I learned more about my loneliness, which is why I wanted to write this blog.
I felt painfully lonely this weekend – especially on Saturday, despite having the wonderful company of my husband. Now, this isn’t about feeling lonely in my relationship (I know that can happen and it’s really sad when it does, but that’s not what I’m talking about). I love my relationship and my husband, and I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be locked down with.
Rather it’s about a deep loneliness, something I carry and have always carried and perhaps will always carry. I sense it’s connected to my early wounds, to those early scars.
It’s heavy. It’s big. It’s a void. An abyss. And it aches.
I could call it existential loneliness and explain it away as part of the human condition, but that sounds too high-brow, too intellectual. For me, it’s a rupture.
I feel it more on national holidays – Christmas and especially Easter. When it arrives, my first thought is that it’s connected to not having children. Under normal circumstances, Christmas and Easter are times when extended families gather – times when women who are childless not by choice feel their loss and their difference more acutely than ever. And although we’re in lockdown, there are families staying at home all around our neighbourhood, so this would be a fair explanation – my Easter blues were related to not having kids and to seeing families play in the sunshine.
And maybe that’s part of it. But I just know it goes deeper than that. I know, or I think I know, that it would still be there whether I had one child or six – and maybe I hope that would be true as it’d mean I hadn’t made the worst choice ever by not having children (even though it wasn’t exactly a choice; it was more of a non-choice, born out of ambivalence).
Perhaps it was there at the start. Perhaps it began inside the womb or just after I emerged from it – a breaking, a separation, a need unmet, a longing unfulfilled, a something that I don’t have the words to describe. A hole in the soul, as the saying goes.
And then I spent decades trying to fill that hole and escape that emptiness, but none of it worked and I ended up in a much darker place than before, until I began my climb out.
Healing has happened since that moment. So much healing, especially in terms of my relationship with myself and with men. Without that healing, I wouldn’t be married. Hurt happens in relationship and healing happens there too and I have healed so many wounds.
But that doesn’t mean the darkness has gone away. The void is still there, and it shows up sometimes, as it did this Easter Saturday.
And what if I accept that it’ll always be there? Perhaps that would make my life easier? Because I know I’m still trying to escape it in one way or another – by working too hard, achieving too much, by trying to please too many people, by being scared to be entirely myself.
Like me. Love me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t judge me. Don’t leave me. Please.
What if I could just give up all the striving and trying and accept that it’ll always be there – that it’s part of me, an important part of me, part of my uniqueness, my Katherineness?
As I write this, I’m still trying to figure out whether that’s comforting or not; whether I’m OK with it being there all the time or whether that’s frightening or depressing.
I think I’m OK with it. We’ll see.
But what I’d love to know is do you feel it too? Have you always felt it? Did you feel it in the past or did a relationship or a child or both make it go away? Do you now have that relationship and/or that child and does it still linger?
Or do you think that a relationship and/or a child will make it go away, and how is it to feel that way? Does that belief lead to a state of desperately seeking – desperately seeking that relationship or that child, to your own detriment? (I did this in the past). And does desperately seeking lead to constant disappointment? How would it be if you desperately sought and found that relationship and/or that child and the void still hadn’t gone away? Would that be bearable? Intolerable? Disappointing?
Finally, how would it be to desperately seek yourself?
I’d love to know.
This blog has always been about connection – connection through shared experiences and the incredible power of identification with others to help us to feel less alone. So if you feel minded to, please comment below or drop me a message.
Your comments and messages have always helped me to feel less alone and I thank you for that.
Further Reading, Viewing & Resources
Read my lockdown blogs for Psychologies magazine Life Labs: How to stay sane during lockdown and How to date at a distance: Finding Love During Lockdown
Watch my lockdown webinar recordings: How to date at a distance and How to manage anxiety, fear and pain in healthy ways.
Lockdown Course Offer: Use the code soothe20 at checkout for 20 percent off either of these two online courses:
Step Inside – Reconnect with your true self – 7-Day Course
How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations– 5-Week Self-Paced Course
Lockdown book discount: How to Fall in Love is on offer right now over on Amazon.
Great post, Katherine! My hole gaped open up Easter Sunday afternoon and all kinds of pain came out. I also wonder if it is there as a result of early childhood wounding and if will always be there, even if I were to find a happy long-term relationship.
Accepting and not striving, falling back into grace, grace for myself and for others – I need to relax into that again.
Thank you for sharing, Michele, as it helps me to feel less alone. I’m sorry to hear your hole opened up on Sunday and that you were in pain. Well done for having the courage to feel your feelings. I love the idea of falling back into grace. Of accepting and not striving. More of that, please. Take care x
In all charity here…would it be honest to say that you might have (partly) had a difficult time writing this blog precisely because you are no longer a household of one? Yes, I read the whole blog and the points about existential loneliness, and I’m truly glad for you to have found your mate. But the advice to just feel the pain and trust that there’ll be a shift…we’ll, doesn’t happen for a lot of us. What works for me is to try to think of someone I can help who’s worse off than me, even from a distance somehow. I’m lucky in that creating something helps too. And music of all kind is great therapy. Please don’t take my comment the wrong way. It’s great that you advocate for households of one, but to validate all the pain and then say you don’t have great answers…well it falls a bit flat.
Thank you for reading my blog and for sharing your perspective here. It’s interesting and has got me thinking. It felt important to me to ‘see’ people who are single and childless during this crisis, to notice them. And to acknowledge my own feelings that having a partner doesn’t feel the same as having a ‘family’ – I still feel outside the traditional idea of family and the combination of lockdown plus Easter plus families playing all around reopened my wound around not having children, which I know is the case for others too. But it’s true that I am only experiencing the ‘childless’ side of the ‘single and childless’ combination so it may make it harder to write about.
I’ve re-read my post, though, and noticed that I do offer some helpful suggestions (not quick fixes or magic bullets but steps that could help): not just feeling the feelings but sharing the pain with people who can relate and identify (so important in order to process and heal our pain); self-soothing in healthy ways (my Youtube webinar, which I’ve linked to in the piece, is 70 mins long and has some great resources for anyone who is struggling with aloneness and difficult feelings – please do check it out if that’s you); creativity (I agree – so helpful); nature; and connection to others. Thank you for sharing the point on offering help to others. I agree this can help us to shift how we’re feeling and get out of our own heads. However, I also know that advising people who are in a lot of grief and pain to reach out and help others can be triggering for some as it can sound like we’re not ‘seeing’ their pain – that we’re trying to fix it rather than allowing them to have it. I think it depends on the circumstance and the individual. Great that this works for you.
Thanks again for engaging with the blog and taking the time to comment. You’ve also given me an idea for another blog!
Best wishes, Katherine