I made sure I had a social arrangement most days, but there were still long periods of time hanging around an empty house all by myself.
I watched a ton of Netflix, rearranged every cupboard and shelf, and cleaned the house from top to bottom. The daytimes were fine, but at nightfall a sense of isolation crept in with the darkness. I felt lonely in the evenings. The house felt quiet, no matter how loudly I blasted the TV.
Then I got sick with tonsillitis. For three solid days and nights I was curled up in bed in a dark room. My only human contact was in the daily phone calls with my daughters, and the occasional wave from my son on one of his brief sojourns at home.
I started to go a little mad.
Three days may not seem like much to you. If you’re around people a lot, if you have a social job or a large family, three days of respite might seem like heaven. And there have been times when it would have seemed like heaven to me. But I’d already spent lots of time by myself, and that three days in bed alone tipped me over the edge.
I’m an extroverted introvert. I need a lot of contact with people. Sure, I relish my time alone, but I also need daily social connection. Without it, I feel frustrated at best, and horribly depressed at worst.
During those three days of isolation, I slipped into something akin to desperation. I felt stuck in my own head, as though the outside world disappeared, and it was just me and my bed and my cat. No book or movie or podcast could substitute for actual human contact. I needed to see people. I needed to get out of that room. I needed to connect with people to feel properly alive.
I’m better now – my family are back from overseas, and I’m back out into the world – but it was surprising (and a little scary) how quickly the isolation affected me. There are many people there are who spend huge amounts of time alone: the elderly, the sick, new mums without social support, empty nesters without partners, people with mental illnesses – or physical disabilities – who can’t get out into the world with ease.
Loneliness is epidemic in our country, and around the world. We need to help ourselves ward off isolation by reaching out and forming connections, and by asking for company when we’re feeling lonely.
But we also need to look out for others. Those of us who are blessed with family or partners or friends need to look out for others who spend too much time alone.
Pay attention to your loved ones and watch out for your neighbours. Be generous with your time and your attention, even when it’s a bit of a hassle. Reach out. Make that phone call. Pay that visit. Extend that invitation.
Time to yourself is super important. You need to enjoy your own company. But in the end, life is all about connection with others. What else could it possibly be?
Kerri is an author, columnist and mother of three. Her latest book is ‘Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife’.