Opinion Writer Jessica McCarthy reflects on the loneliness she felt during lockdown and how it has made her come to grips with the sensation after getting to know herself.
I came to a harsh realisation during this prolonged pandemic period. My social life had changed very little. In fact, if anything, it drastically improved as the messages flooded in from extroverts in crises. “Hey, oh my god it has been five years, how are you hun? xoxo”.
Naturally I missed my library trips, and regular run ins with “Libro cop” as I endeavoured to smuggle contraband ranging from grapes, to Daikon Radish chunks. Simply put, after regularly asserting my constitutional right to a radish fuelled education, I was not his favourite visitor.
It was only after my forced removal from the comforting warmth of my grandmother’s basement, that I felt a highly uncomfortable feeling in my chest. Indigestion from my vending machine peanut breakfast? It seemed to coincide with an unnerving truth, that if a pack of wolves fancied a meaty dish and were to enter my bedroom to devour their peanut filled host, nobody would notice for at least seven days. Or, of course, if the rent fell due, or if my corpse needed to acknowledge my dismissal from employment.
I realised it was an acute unmistakable pang of loneliness. After experiencing Inner city living during the pandemic, I had entered a Bear Grylls survival type mode. Solution driven, I decided I needed to examine the notion of loneliness in a broader sense, to resolve the issue.
I admittedly had too much time on my hands. What did it really mean to be lonely? Did it really stem from not being in the physical proximity of people? Or missing the company of a particular person? Oddly, I knew sometimes I felt the loneliest at crowded parties, or at networking events where everyone around me seemed to connect seamlessly and work on auto pilot. I had felt very out of place, like a child in a suit waiting to be scolded by nearby parents, for being out past bedtime. (My ears would prick up at certain topics though, like the mention of post party cheese chips. This was a very relatable concept indeed. I too would like cheesy chips). Although this feeling of isolation had worried me, I placed it down to teenage angst and hoped for the best.
Now, post quarter-life crisis, I can take a step back and review the notion of “loneliness” a little better. I note a lot of the anxiety around loneliness comes from the fear of admitting one is in fact lonely. There is also often a lot of toxic shame around the concept itself, as if as a person you are defective simply from experiencing that feeling.
I began to reflect whether the notion of loneliness is directly linked to societal constructs of social patterns that could be viewed as “normal”; i.e. by thirty I was meant to have my shit together, cruising for an engagement, perfect career, ovaries cramping from yearning for chizzlers and yet here I was… Eating beans on toast for the fifth time this week, wondering whether I could splash out on spaghetti hoops or save that money for cans. Yet I know feelings were not facts. In other words, this shame driven thinking was getting me nowhere.
I began to query when did the stigma attach to solitude? In fact, way back in January 251 BC Saint Anthony was wandering around the Egyptian Dessert, living a life of solitude for 41 Years and not a bother on him! By the end of his journey he had a little following who also wanted to live a life of isolation. #Dessert Fathers. His diet of Bread, Salt and Water helped monks worldwide drop at least two robe sizes. He was a great chap altogether. But then, with the coming of Romanticism, came the notion that you were supposed to have a missus or a fella to be complete.
Hallmark jumped on that bandwagon, meaning I feel shit on the 14th of February annually. Similarly, the Renaissance embraced the “Sesh Moth” Lifestyle. If you look closely at Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, you will see Jesus with a fag in his hand. Also, although populist opinion suggested Judas was looking shifty clutching a bag of gold coins, it was actually a sneaky spice bag.
You cannot really see it well due to Da Vinci’s clever Sfumato shading technique. The feudal system did not help things either with a snarky old bollox of a lord looking for crops off yeh. This often led to bitching amongst the Serfs, and Serf Sessions taking place with tankards of ale and mead and a few stove cooked fresh chicken dippers from the hens in the backyard. I digress, but the point is societally it became unacceptable to be different or alone. I most likely would be burnt at the stake for witchcraft immediately.
Artists often expressed themselves secretly via their paintings for the droves of introverts who were looking for deeper meaning to things. Things have changed very little, although nowadays one would not be burnt at the stake for celibacy (once you were actively swiping on Tinder of course).
I relate most to the writer Goethe with his infamous outburst before death, “No one has every properly understood me. I have never fully understood anyone. Nobody understands anyone else”.
Most interactions will result in the feeling of mutual incomprehension and I am ok with that. Sometimes it is nicer to exchange pleasantries with your grandad over the phone, rather than talk about his corn encrusted feet. We all have secrets. We all feel a bit lonely from time to time. From the married stay at home parent, to the CEO, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. Feeling lonely shows you are a critical thinking being, and being alone builds character (Although it’s socially acceptable to get the odd tea bag from your grannies, when you are stuck like).
To conclude, it will be hard to remove the societal stigma attached to single life, or from a monk-like lifestyle. I am less fearful of the feeling of loneliness itself now. I do however check Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from time to time, and I fill my social calendar accordingly.
Jessica McCarthy – Opinion Writer