At the time of writing this I have not had a face to face conversation with another human being for almost five days. I have had a deliciously long chat with an old friend, caught up with my brother and checked in with my parents but all by phone or, in the case of my children who are away with their father, FaceTime and text.
Now I have written it down in black and white I am quite embarrassed. Does it make me seem like some billy no-mates saddo? A lonely recluse with only a spaniel for company? The truth is that public holidays are hard when you are on your own. In normal day-to-day life we are carried along from one necessity to the next – school run to work to supermarket to after school clubs etc. etc. etc. Everyone is buzzing around doing their own thing, bumping into each other for a chat, arranging a sneaky coffee or night out. Take the structure out of the scenario and it all falls apart. To begin with, holidays like Easter are family times. Your friends who are usually up for a chat or a dog walk are all holed up roasting lamb and hunting Easter eggs. If my children were here I would probably be doing exactly that. But they are not and so I am alone in the house in deafening silence (who’d have thought I would actually yearn for the sound of a slammed door?) trying to be productive but actually feeling pretty gloomy.
It seems I am not alone in feeling alone, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron. In July 2014 the Office for National Statistics released the results of a survey that showed Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe – the benchmarks being having someone to rely on in a crisis and knowing, or being friendly with, your neighbours. In the same year the University of Chicago conducted some research and discovered that in elderly people loneliness is almost twice as bad for health as obesity, and, according to Age UK two fifths of older people in the UK (about 3.9 million) count the television as their main form of company. The University College London tells us that elderly people who are lonely are also almost 50% more likely to die before their more gregarious contemporaries. Great. It’s looking like I’m doing to die young and fat whilst sitting in front of the telly. Lucky me.
The younger generation are not excluded from this equation. Even though life is increasingly governed by social media, the average 18-24 year old can’t fart without posting it online to hundreds of ‘friends’, the valuable soul food of face to face contact is diminishing rapidly and, in 2010, the Mental Health Foundation declared loneliness to be an even greater concern among young people than the elderly. The 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55.
So, it turns out I am nothing special. There are lonely people all over the place, all hidden away behind closed front doors thinking that they are the only ones. If someone else had written this post and I was reading it I would probably come over all no-nonsense agony aunt and suggest taking up a hobby or doing some voluntary work. But, actually, when it is you sitting and wondering how you seem to have gone from social butterfly to social recluse it is not quite so easy.