At 24, I made the decision to fly the nest and move into my very first apartment and needless to say I was a bucket of emotions – nervous, excited and equally bricking it at the thought of having to handle rent, council tax and everything else that comes with being a full-grown adult that meant I’d have to pretty much say my goodbyes to at least 80% of my monthly income.
But one thing that I didn’t expect to suffer from – apart from my lack of tea bags and coffee – was loneliness. Unlike most people I knew, I’d never been to university or college and spent very little time alone.
Living with my parents all the time meant that I’d always have someone to welcome me home and to talk to if I’d had a bit of a rough day, but it felt like the whole element of that was ripped away from me the moment I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad.
Loneliness isn’t something that people ever expect young adults to experience, but a recent study from the Office for National Statistics revealed that people aged between 16 to 24 are actually more likely to feel more lonely than those in an older age group. But like mental health in younger people, it was something that I felt – and still feel – the Government is choosing to brush under the carpet.
The subject seems to be something that has always been heavily linked to the older generation, but the fact of the matter is, loneliness isn’t defined by age. The survey revealed that 10% of young adults experience loneliness, especially if they’re single and living alone. So there I was, single, 24 and living alone in my tiny apartment – ticking every single box the survey has to offer because I’m an all or nothing type of gal.
Of course, everyone’s experience with loneliness is different, it can hit within days, weeks, months or sometimes even years. My loneliness built up over the course of the few months that I thought I was finally ‘settling in’ to life by myself.
I spent a lot of time telling people that I enjoyed my own company; I had friends who were all within walking distance and my family only a short train ride away, but that didn’t ease the huge hole that was deeply affecting my mental health.
While most people get into their beds on a Friday night knowing that they didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn the next day, I on the other hand, simply couldn’t wait to get out my apartment and on a train back to the countryside where I could sit with my parents and have dinner.
The truth was I was living off next to nothing and struggling to get by, which left me pretty much bound to my box apartment in the centre of Birmingham – and that really sucked.
The thought of telling my parents, or anyone for that matter, that I was consumed with loneliness terrified me, so I went with sticking on a brave face and simply hoping that that would be enough to mask it. One day, I cracked and it hit me like a tonne of bricks, I dreaded being alone and found myself calling friends and family more and more to gain some sense of company.
Just because you’re in your 20s doesn’t mean that finding happiness, keeping distant friendships and maintaining a constantly upbeat personality has to be easy.
Social media didn’t exactly help the situation, either. While I had a bunch of friends across everything from Facebook to Twitter, my loneliness had enabled me to feel more cut off than I ever thought possible, which is slightly concerning considering we live in a time where people are more connected to each other than they ever have been before, but there are ways of feeling lonely even if you’re far from being completely alone.
And while going outside for a walk would’ve probably eased it off, by this point my anxiety had kicked in, so leaving the house didn’t feel like much of an option.
I guess the thing is is that we all just need to be a little more caring and compassionate. It took a complete breakdown for me to admit that I needed help because my mind had tricked me into thinking that by admitting to others that I was lonely and that made me a failure. I had a full-time job and plenty of passion, but as soon as I walked through my front door it all seemed to dissolve.
Living alone taught me so much about myself. My friends and family always told me that what I was doing was something I should be proud of and I was, but I would’ve given anything to have someone to turn to in that little box when times got a bit too tough.
Spotting loneliness in someone isn’t always easy, especially when they’re doing everything in their power to mask it, but if you feel like you have a friend or family member that’s showing signs of it, then there are things you can do to help.
Invite them out for coffee, pay them a visit, take up their offers of dinner and a movie night, or even just give them a call or send them a text so they don’t feel shut off or confined by the four walls that surround them. It might not sound like much, but you have no idea the amount of good it will do. Whether they’re a parent, carer, work colleague, friend, being the person that you need them to be is such a powerful thing to someone when they need it most.
Battling loneliness in my early 20s is something that I never thought would happen to me, but here I am, two years later with a smile on my face and learning that it’s perfectly fine to let someone know if I need a bit of company. It’s a step-by-step process, but with a little work and trust, it will get better.
If you’re still feeling like you’re struggling and need to reach out, there are plenty of charities with people who are there to offer help and support including Mind, a national charity that aims to break the stigma of mental health.