Clair Woodward
5 min readMay 5, 2020

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“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”

Honoré de Balzac

I often wonder if living alone eventually drives you mad, and today I woke up and realised it does. After staying up half the night, looking at old family documents on the web, and sleeping badly, I woke up from one of those freaky Technicolor lockdown dreams that involved dreadful people from the past and moving house, and realised I’d finally flipped; the combination of lockdown, the loss of my last job and long-term loneliness had changed me.

OK, I don’t think I’m quite mad yet, but I just don’t feel…anything any more. The experience of being by yourself for a long time affects you deeply, in ways that co-habiters will never understand.

It doesn’t even have the advantage of making Social Distancing easier; it just means that you get to do more of what you’ve been doing for ages. After living alone for 25 years, and being single forever, being Home Alone is really unexciting, unless you’re Macaulay Culkin. My parents are long-dead, and whilst I do have a lovely family and lots of great friends, I spend most of my time alone, even before the Great Lockdown.

In the last couple of years, I was made redundant from a job I’d had for nearly a decade, and before Christmas, I left a so-called ‘dream job’ because it was actually a bin fire. This means I’ve spent a lot of time at home, looking for another job — I could freelance, but that would mean I would spend all day working by myself, and all evening watching telly by myself, not much of a life. I also think my 55-year-old ideas don’t appeal to the bright young things on commissioning desks, and who needs another opinion on ‘The Top Netflix Shows You Should Be Watching Under Lockdown’, anyway?

Not having an office to go into every day has shone a hideous spotlight on solo living. Much as I used to moan about my long-standing job, I had the most wonderful colleagues, and we used to laugh far more than people working under pressure should. I miss my newspaper family there, and I miss the job I used to have — I enjoyed sharing my arts and entertainment passions with readers, writing comment pieces, and the camaraderie of working with a good team.

My last job was a nightmare. There were lots of problems, but the thing that really made me unhappy was that I always felt like an outsider. To go home to an empty house after a day in that office was awful, but it opened my eyes to something even worse — I didn’t actually feel anything any more. My emotions have become so blunted that I didn’t even cry (not until I resigned rather than get fired, anyway). I used to have emotions; quite a lot of them and often all at the same time. I’d go out with mates, have a great time, laugh until I ached; go to mad places, fall in love, and even if it wasn’t always picturesque, it felt like living.

As friends peeled off to get married, have kids, or go off and live abroad, their lives moved on as they got involved in partners and the emotional rollercoaster of family life. They went off and did family things, couply things, things that weren’t for me. I’m invited to things, of course, but I increasingly turn them down as I’m so weary of having to go to things by myself and pretending to be right vivacious. I think my intellectual capacity has atrophied too, as having nobody to play with has shrunk my brain and sense of humour. I used to be quite funny, but measuring my days by the 349th repeat run of Ramsays’s Kitchen Nightmares and 24-rolling-doom news have knocked that out of me. Twitter is quite good at keeping spontaneous wit alive, but if I see another GIF of a virtual hug, you’re blocked.

My life has become quite small now, especially as I no longer have somewhere to get up and go to every day. After my last day at work, just before Christmas, I felt like the most useless person on the planet; middle-aged and unemployed. I didn’t know how much I would miss having a voice as a journalist. My work meant that I could share opinions and ideas with many people; not the same as an intimate relationship, but it filled the gap. Now it’s not there, the gap looks like a chasm, and even writing this has been a major effort (probably because I’m not doing it for money).

I wanted a family, too — not just a baby, but the whole mum and dad and kids thing. Being a single parent is too hard. But that never happened. I had a dream last week where I woke up sobbing: “All I want to do is feel part of a family”, and that really hit home. Friends with kids say they can feel lonely, too, but that’s an entirely different thing.

Lockdown or no lockdown, nobody needs me for anything any more, and that’s what actually frightens me. I was in a pub with a mate a few weeks ago, having Sunday lunch. I was fascinated by a woman sitting in a booth by herself, nursing a pint of beer. As we shot the breeze for a couple of hours, the woman — 65, maybe? — sat by herself the whole time. My eyes kept darting away to see what she was doing. Just sitting, drinking, looking. I felt sad for her; I wondered why she was there by herself.

I knew really. She was just making the best of it, as I know everyone in my situation has to. I’m sure none of us ever felt we’d be left behind because we were too old, or too used to — and bloody sick of — our own company, but it happens.

It would be brilliant if, when All This is over, society could understand more how it feels to have to be on your own (and if I could get a useful job). But because loneliness, and the feeling of being nobody’s number one is so hideous, it’s something that nobody who doesn’t suffer from it can bear to think about. Us lonely people have to do something about our situation — so be kind to us whilst we try to figure it out.

FURTHER READING:

The Dangers of Loneliness

How Loneliness Begets Loneliness

Human Givens — Emotional Needs

Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs

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Clair Woodward

Journalist, editor. Writes about arts, entertainment, life. Follow and commission me — Twitter @clairywoowoo