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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 17-Jun-19 12:39:27

Guest post: “I had never been lonelier in my entire life and I had no idea what to do about it.”

Lucy Foster is a journalist who is currently working on the ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ campaign, which aims to break down the stigma surrounding loneliness and encourage us all to talk about it.

Lucy Foster

Posted on: Mon 17-Jun-19 12:39:27

(61 comments )

Lead photo

“We don’t want to talk about it, because it sets off a large flashing beacon above our heads that we’re potential social cyanide”.

It’s a really hard thing to do, to admit you’re lonely. ‘Admit’ being the operative word in that sentence. You admit blame. You admit defeat. You admit eating the last chocolate Hobnob. It’s a shameful act, to admit something. And to admit that you haven’t been able to foster human connections, for whatever reasons, is no different.

And so, last year, in the fourth hottest summer on record, I sat in my new house in a new town, with my new baby and my two-year-old son, and wept. For I had never been lonelier in my entire life and I had no idea what to do about it. But I certainly wasn’t going to say anything.

Loneliness is a pernicious emotion. The one thing you need is a meaningful human connection, someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling. And yet the shame and embarrassment of revealing that you don’t have that connection drives you to mask the problem. For me, it was also pride (“I’ve always had friends,” I said to myself. “I don’t want people to think I don’t have friends.”), not wanting to burden mates who have their life own pressures, not wanting to worry parents who live 300 miles away, and not wanting to add to the stresses of a husband who was already commuting three hours a day to support our tiny family. And on top of all that, it was simply too hot to leave the house.

The one thing you need is a meaningful human connection, someone you can talk to about how you're feeling, yet the shame and embarrassment of revealing that you don't have that connection drives you to mask the problem.


So, instead, I sat on the floor of our lounge with a red-faced breastfeeding baby and an unbiddable, sweaty toddler in crippling 32 degree heat and I sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed.

Little did I know then that loneliness is actually incredibly common across every section of society and affects most of us at some point in our lives. And, that while I felt hideously alone, ironically, I belonged to a very large group. Research has shown that over nine million people in the UK (that’s nearly 14% of the population) report to be lonely. Statistically, that means that around 15 people in your train carriage, about 13,000 people in a packed Wembley stadium, and perhaps most alarmingly, someone in your close circle of family and friends.

The trouble is that we don’t talk about it. And we don’t want to talk about it, because it sets off a large flashing beacon above our heads that we’re potential social cyanide, someone to be avoided, already clearly rejected by the rest of society. So people suffer for weeks, months, sometimes years, and the problem exacerbates.

The late Jo Cox felt that loneliness was a problem that desperately needed addressing, and it’s off the back of recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness that the Government published its loneliness strategy. It was appointed a Minister for Loneliness, Mims Davies MP, and set in motion the ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ campaign together with a whole host of charities including Mind, the British Red Cross, the Marmalade Trust, and the Co-Op Foundation.

It’s launching this week, to tie in with Loneliness Awareness Week (17-21 June), and its primary aim is to neutralise loneliness, to show it for what it is - a human emotion as normal and natural as joy, frustration and excitement - and by doing so, make it a more comfortable topic for people to talk about. Because by sharing our stories, using the hashtag #letstalkloneliness, we can see, if nothing else, that we’re not on our own no matter how alone we feel.

And, for me? Well, one day, I galvanised myself, smothered my two tiny, heat-rashed children in SPF50 and went to the park. And there was another woman there with two, tiny heat-rashed children smothered in SPF50. We moaned about the heat. We swapped numbers. We now hang out most weeks. That day was a good day.

By Lucy Foster

Twitter: @Lucy__Foster

Orangeballon Mon 17-Jun-19 14:59:58

I always say, if you sit in the house alone, you will meet no one, go for a walk and say hello to people, they will generally talk back.

MsVestibule Mon 17-Jun-19 15:03:07

Although I had moderate PND, I'm pretty sure it was caused by loneliness. After DC1, I could happily go to baby groups and feed my baby while chatting to other new mums who I became good friends with.

Twenty months later, most of those friends had gone back to work and I was looking after a newborn and an extremely clingy and demanding toddler. Baby groups just weren't an option - toddler demanded I played with her, baby demanded feeding... So I mainly stayed in the house (it was winter so prolonged trips to the playground weren't an option), becoming lower and lower, watching the clock until DH came home.

LadyGodivasCat Mon 17-Jun-19 17:06:16

The description of loneliness as social cyanide is so accurate. I feel like a total outcast most of the time. I volunteer, go to the gym, etc but they haven’t led to friendships. Visa restrictions mean I cannot work in the country in which I live. My husband works long hours and is constantly tired. The loneliness is so bad it is physically painful at times.

SupermassiveBlackHo Mon 17-Jun-19 18:34:08

I suffer with incredible loneliness. I have a husband, but he's at work all day, every day. The trouble is, I have disabilities and PTSD which manifests in agoraphobia, so I can't get out to meet anyone new. It's crippling.

mumto2babyboys Mon 17-Jun-19 19:11:25

Join meet up and just go to some events from not a dating view point but just to meet some people.

Download Bubble babysitting app and meet up app

If bubble isn't in your area use childcare.co.uk for an evening babysitter

I know exactly how you feel x

LynetteScavo Mon 17-Jun-19 19:25:07

The most lonely I have ever been is at toddler groups.

I'm not a particularly shy person, but it is hard to join in conversations with people who already seem to know each other.

I went every Thursday for a year to one @mother and toddler" group, and sat alone. Every bloody Thursday morning for a year. Eventually I found a friend to come with me. And if we saw someone sitting alone we'd damn well go over and make small talk.

mumto2babyboys Mon 17-Jun-19 19:35:10

Yeah. I agree I tired to go to the local toddler groups with 2 babies and I was clearly struggling but none of the other mums ever helped me. They were all so cliquey only the staff ever tried to help me when both babies cried at the same time, and I heard many times oh you have your hands full but no one ever offered to actually help me

Even just to hold open the door for my double buggy, it was more hassle than it was worth

But then lots of us do get pnd so maybe they were just trying to get through the day at times also

I did find it very cliquey though and the nct also was very fake

everyone at the nct always had the most amazing husband who they could boast about and it was a weekly boasting competition of 'my husband does all the night feeds etc' whilst my ex husband never once did a night feed unfortunately

mumto2babyboys Mon 17-Jun-19 19:36:18

Tried

Mummoomoocow Mon 17-Jun-19 21:40:44

I’m so tired of thinking about how lonely I am and never having the words reach anybody (or when they have actually heard me and awkwardly pretend they didn’t)

I dream about volunteering at care homes to chat with lonely people there but I don’t know where to start and I know that if I was them they’d just see me as some weirdo that gets some kind of kick out of other people’s misery

Beesandcheese Mon 17-Jun-19 21:42:57

Kids = loneliness conversationally. Getting out with kids = being lonely in public.

10brokengreenbottles Mon 17-Jun-19 21:59:51

There are times I feel incredibly lonely. I have a DH, DC, friends (though over the years many have drifted away as they do when you have disabled DC) so often feel I shouldn't feel that way. For me some of the loneliest times are the times people expect everyone to be happy (Christmas, weddings etc.) and when there are lots of people around.

Hotterthanahotthing Mon 17-Jun-19 23:44:46

I separated from my ExH 3 years ago.During our marriage he separated me from all my friends and prevented new friendships.I get on well with colleges at work but don't socialise with them.
I stayed in the area so that my DD could see her dad and school/friendships were not disrupted.Once we settled he moved,it's over 1.5 hours drive,no public transport.I am stuck here until my DD goes to uni.I would have moved nearer family had I know he would move so far.
I live rurally do making friends is difficult,nearest night school is 25 miles away,meet up groups the same and I have to drive there and back.
I feel I have regained part of myself back but am missing the friendships I had to be whole again and don't know how to restart.

ZaZathecat Tue 18-Jun-19 07:47:08

mummoomoocow, people really wouldn't think that! My local Age UK is crying out for more Befriending volunteers and people to go into Homes and help with activities. Look up your local Age UK online and give them a call. There are thousands of people who need you.

Whydoesitalwaysdothis Tue 18-Jun-19 08:14:52

Loneliness is such an epidemic among all ages, I don’t know why there aren’t real initiatives to do something about it.
Frome have introduced ‘friendship cafes’ I think to try to combat loneliness.
I remember well the isolation of being a SAHM with young kids. It was dreadful. I never found that sisterhood everyone talks about. I was moving all the time too which didn’t help.
I really feel for everyone who is isolated. I think a lot of young people are very lonely too. Meet-up groups are often poorly attended or fold quickly. It’s really hard.

SnuggyBuggy Tue 18-Jun-19 09:55:30

I totally agree about the social cyanide of admitting to being lonely. I got lucky and baby groups worked well for me and I've got some nice friends now but I've had other times in my life where I really tried getting out to social groups but it just always felt like the wrong people.

It's hard, many of us have to move a lot, many of us aren't living near family or where we grew up. People aren't interchangeable and being in the wrong company can feel more lonely than being alone.

Beautiful3 Tue 18-Jun-19 10:41:47

@LynetteScavo I think you're awesome. Wish more people are friendly like you.

Mamalicious16 Tue 18-Jun-19 11:04:51

I think it would be a great idea for an app that puts you in touch with people similar to you. I know there are MN meet up groups but it's not a one size fits all. You could message on the chat ( group) and then possibly meet up with like minded people

purpleme12 Tue 18-Jun-19 11:37:33

So then why when you try to be friendly and give off good vibes etc does no one really respond?! I think people aren't bothered about making new friends

Mamalicious16 Tue 18-Jun-19 12:46:17

Anyone want to be MY friend? Feel free to Pm me me

SnuggyBuggy Tue 18-Jun-19 12:50:11

@purpleme12 I agree totally, you can put yourself "out there" and even try to improve your social skills but it means nothing if other people don't want to know.

SupermassiveBlackHo Tue 18-Jun-19 13:41:45

I think perhaps some people are like me. Suffer with crippling loneliness but can't go out, or do anything about it, so meeting up with others would be completely pointless. A lot of us lonely people are lonely because of disability or illness, so better support services are necessary.

If it wasn't for DH, I wouldn't see another human being, ever.

Mamalicious16 Tue 18-Jun-19 13:55:27

Well. Guess that backfired.....

Babdoc Tue 18-Jun-19 14:13:14

I’m autistic, so have difficulty with purely social stuff. I’d never cope with attending something that involved small talk with strangers, particularly if its sole purpose was alleviating loneliness.
I get round it by attending things that have a different purpose, where we talk about the activity itself, or simply perform it in silence.
For me, this meant joining my local bridge club, where I enjoy playing the hands, and slowly got to know the other players enough to chat during the short tea break.
Initially, I stuck to just discussing the hands, but now know them well enough to talk about their lives or local politics etc.
Confidence buoyed a little by that, I then joined a table tennis club - again, it’s mostly playing the game, with a wee tea break, and the other players are very welcoming of beginners and happy to chat.
I’d recommend starting something similar yourselves, so there’s no social stress or even having to admit to loneliness- just go and enjoy a sport or pastime that gets you out of the house and in the company of other people. It will cheer you up, and may be the start of more social things if you want them.
My second suggestion is to join your local church. It’s a supportive community, you get a good sing, and there’s usually coffee and chat after the service, where you can meet people, hear the local gossip, and have the chance to join volunteer groups etc. Your DC can go to the Sunday school or church crèche (depending on age) and make some new friends too, while you have an hour’s break from them!
The hardest bit is taking that first step out of your house, but give it a try- you have nothing to lose and a much happier life to gain.

SupermassiveBlackHo Tue 18-Jun-19 14:17:52

Mama, I think on Mumsnet people prefer to remain anonymous, so it's not really a great place to make friends. If I didn't want to stay anon, I'd PM you, but I do.

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