Loneliness. Something that approximately 9 million people struggle with in the UK.
London based multidisciplinary creative Lucy shares her own experience on feeling alone while talking us through ways that helped her to overcome a very difficult time.
Moving to London to study fashion. Sounds glamorous, right? Since a child I had pictured it and toyed with the idea, creating different versions of what my life would be like. It was a dream that I had managed to achieve. Surely, I should have felt on top of the world. I should have felt like I could do anything. But this was not the case.
The day that I moved to London, merely 18, having never been away from home for a long period of time, I was thrilled. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I might be making a ‘bad decision’. I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. But as soon as my parents left, having unloaded the car of my things, the dread hit. I was alone. Alone in a city that was home to 8.7 million people.
Having applied late to attend uni, there weren’t many options left for accommodation. My institution didn’t have student halls either, so I ended up living in a flat share with 4 strangers that attended different universities, all whom were master’s degree students. Nobody ever left their room, and I was isolated. I had envisaged spending evenings in the living room with my flatmates, exploring London, finding cool spots to hang out (you get the picture). However, after the first week, I had already got a train home. My degree involved a large amount of independent study from the beginning. I had 7 days a week to spend alone in my bedroom.
I was suddenly invaded by anxiety, something I had never really experienced before. By the end of that month, I developed a disorder called ‘Globus’. I didn’t know what it was at the time, it just felt like I had a huge lump in my throat. After many trips to my GP, trying out various medications, I was diagnosed. Globus is entirely psychological (an anxiety condition) – but with psychological disorders come physical symptoms. If I ever got stressed or upset, my throat would just close up and I’d start choking, and the panic attacks began. They started to become daily occurrences. It was something I had to learn to control on my own and I had it indefinitely. It was terrifying.
I gradually made friends, but I couldn’t help feeling as if they were more like acquaintances than people I’d actually spend time with outside of my educational environment. I was yet to establish a connection with anyone. With my mental health rapidly deteriorating, I was conflicted on what to do. I wanted to carry on with my course and complete my degree, but I hated being so secluded.
Being lonely began to manifest itself in other forms; I began struggling with alcohol abuse. I don’t mean going to the pub a few times a week, I had literally started to replace my dinner with a bottle of wine every night. I would sit in my bed and just get drunk on my own just to fill the void. I started skipping lectures more and more often. By the end of my first year, my grades were awful. I was barely passing. That summer I went back to my parents’ house for our 4-month break and seriously considered dropping out. It was such an uncomfortable, disappointing feeling. What else would I do with my life if it wasn’t going to be this? This was all I had ever wanted. I decided to give it some thought. I got a summer job and made a lot of friends. This was a good distraction from myself.
I made the decision to give second year a shot. I went back to London and moved in with some friends. I thought things would be different, having company. And it did help. But my anxiety was the worst it had ever been. I was yet again getting the train back and forth from London to Brighton. I remember getting to a point when I didn’t go outside for weeks on end. I had no energy and all I did was cry constantly, and that in itself was exhausting. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. The thought of even going to the local shop was too much to comprehend. I was still drinking very heavily. My parents didn’t know what do to help me. I was intentionally isolating myself at this point. I had finally started to make really close friends at University but was making excuses not to attend things because of my mental health. I felt like nobody understood what was going on. I didn’t even understand myself.
Things gradually got easier. I had been put on some medication to help relieve my anxiety. I actually found myself to be quite happy by the end of that academic year. I was working in the fashion industry for a magazine and everything suddenly seemed to be working out. I stayed in the same house with my friends and the trips back home were becoming less frequent. I was starting to enjoy living in London after much perseverance. I felt like the life I had pictured was starting to unfold. However, the alcohol abuse was worsening. I was getting drunk in the day for something to do. And my friends had started to become concerned. I was downing bottles of wine. I insisted that I just enjoyed having a ‘good time’.
Third year soon came around, and the same thing happened. It was winter and I was starting to dip again. I was experiencing depression on a level that I hadn’t before. I was dealing with a lot of personal stuff alongside working 3 jobs. The time I had spare was spent in the library. This coping mechanism soon wore thin. I suddenly stopped everything. I crashed.
I was suicidal.
I had been doing well at uni until this point. I remember sitting in bed with the curtains shut in the middle of the day and writing an email to my course leader to say I wouldn’t be submitting for an approaching deadline. I had just started taking anti-depressants and the side effects were vile. My appetite had disappeared. I was vomiting. I had headaches. I just felt empty. I couldn’t see myself completing third year. All I could think about was taking my own life.
But I didn’t. I even got a first in my dissertation. I had sought help. I spoke about how I was feeling every single day. I wrote everything down. I forced myself to go outside and simply breathe. I surrounded myself with people after pushing them away for months. I got counselling. I stopped drinking. I somehow pulled any remaining strength together and got through those vital weeks. Giving up didn’t seem like an option although I had thought it was the only one. Fortunately, I had an incredible support network, and I finished my degree.
Those 3 years were the most challenging period I hope to ever face. The determination I spoke about in the beginning kept me going somehow. And of course, it isn’t as easy as I have just made it sound. But since finishing university and talking about it with my friends, I have come to find that most of them had been going through the same thing as me on some level.
I encourage everyone to talk. To have those conversations. I’m not sure I would be writing this now If I hadn’t. I’m still taking medication. I still experience Globus disorder. I still get low days, but they aren’t as formidable now. I let them come and go, instead of allowing them to be all encompassing. Admitting that I needed help was the key to starting the process of understanding myself and my needs.
If you feel like you have nobody to talk to, I urge you to visit either your university/college/school counselling service (if applicable to you), or alternatively get in touch with one of the links I have attached below.
The main thing that has helped me to manage my thoughts and feelings is meditating and practicing breathing. I joined the Buddhist Centre in East London and gradually started to learn to deal with my emotions healthily. I started to invest time listening to podcasts, too. There are many podcasts that exist that surround the topic of mental health – my personal favourites include Happy Place by Fearne Cotton, Under the Skin by Russell Brand and The Gurls Talk Podcast by Adwoa Aboah. It is a great way to alleviate any false pretences that you are the only one experiencing something difficult (even though it definitely can feel that way.) I have also changed who and what I followed on social media. As an avid Instagram user, it has been important to realise that I am responsible for what I consume. I would encourage you to follow more of what you love – for me that included artists and creators whom I found inspiring. Question whether you are digesting information that is beneficial to you. (I would definitely recommend watching Annie Tarasova’s YouTube videos and following her on Instagram. She truly is a regular source of positivity and a ray of sunshine.)
Remember that everyone’s journey is different – but giving yourself time and space is key.
You are worthy of life. You are more than your voice in your head. You are worthy of receiving love. You owe yourself those dreams you have been dreaming.
Words by Lucy Tulley