There was a time I was alone. I didn’t speak to anyone for months. Literally. Fast forward a few years and I was speaking to someone daily – be it in person, on the phone or via text/email. I was only lonely in one of those situations. The second one.
I’ve been asked to write about connectivity. After taking some time to think about it and what the word might mean, I concluded that it means being linked to things – projects, people, space, our selves… Then I got thinking about the lack of connectivity and concluded that the absence of connection must be loneliness. However, several abandoned versions of this writing later, I know that I was wrong. Or at least I know that the understanding I had doesn’t apply to my own experiences.
In the first scenario, when I was without connections, I was fairly content inside my own bubble. In fact, I feared connection from others, especially from anyone being paid to make a connection with me. I had established a routine, I had become practically nocturnal to further reduce possible interactions, I felt safe. Going to the shops I only went where there were self service check outs. I avoided walking on main roads. I eked out medication to avoid talking to GPs and pharmacists. Upon reflection it’s clear this was not a healthy way to live but my point is, I wasn’t lonely.
Over on the second scenario, I was living in a different place – a bedsit on a council estate. I had some friends, I had a boyfriend, I was volunteering for a couple of different organisations, and I had a working phone with the internet. I had a lot of connections. And yet I felt incredibly lonely. I would be spending most nights in accommodation where I didn’t feel safe, hearing things I would be better off forgetting, wondering if someone would be banging on my door or if there would be shouting in the stairwell.
The degree of connection/loneliness I felt was parallel to the amount of safety I perceived. Feeling alone in a crowded room happens when we feel self-conscious and therefore uncomfortable and unsafe. Going to somewhere new on your own can feel amazing despite the lack of connections, if you feel safe.
The first scenario was in the months leading up to becoming homeless. In the second, it was where I was housed after being homeless. My mental health was healthier, ultimately, in the second, as was my physical health to a certain degree. I was much better connected to everything following homelessness and I had a more enriched, happier life. But that loneliness only really ebbed away when I left that accommodation and found myself a home in 2021, after nearly six years of not feeling safe.
I’ll end this with a question – when we talk about a need for connection, is it that we are talking about or are we really talking about a need to be safe?