Loneliness & Modernity

I once said that everyone should try living on his or her own. I am still a strong advocate of this, but now I have some more experience. Earlier this year I moved back to my family home, for what I thought would be quite a long time. This wasn’t the case. Within six months I was gone, moved into a little two up two down of my own back in the SK1 area. This was, and still is, ideal. Living at home at twenty-four wasn’t negative but there were points when it felt suffocating, like I didn’t have the space to make all the choices I wanted to. In fact, I think I made worse choices. I spent a lot of time with my two younger siblings, which was ace, but I think it made me act like a teenager again. There was one week where we managed to do Venue twice, with a little Smiths Disco jaunt in-between. I drank a lot, I was sick a lot and I engaged in some activities I believed to be long gone. This was all a lot of fun, but not very me. I am a big fan of a night out dancing but drinking all the rum and spending the next day in work wishing I were absolutely anywhere but there was far from ideal; I am not suited to that lifestyle at all.

Living on my own has given, and continues to give me, a significant sense of self. This was an important point for me the last time I wrote about the experience, yet this time I’m in a much better place. A year and a half has passed and a lot of my self-doubt and uncertainty has dissipated. There’s something very important about being the only person responsible for any decision-making in your household, and the only person affected by the consequences. It makes you really consider your principles, your values and your morals. You are free to exist in a way that is true to all of these things. Additionally you are forced into a routine of self-care. There is nobody else around to make sure you get yourself to bed at a sensible time (something I am still learning, midnight has long since passed in my writing of this), nobody to make sure you’re eating regularly and well (again, learning!) and nobody to help you fill your time or entertain you.

I’m quite good at being responsible for my own entertainment, and have been since I was a child. A common conversation in our house when I was little would be:

‘I’m bored’

‘Well, you must be boring then.’

I’ve never liked the idea of being boring, in fact I’ve always considered it the worst insult you could throw at me; I’m many things and have been accused of being many things, but never boring. This is a problem for me though. I fill my time with quite a lot of interesting things. My job is fast-paced and pretty unpredictable; I like to run on a lot of adrenalin it seems. In my spare time I am always doing something. I like to go on walks, I like to watch films, I like to socialise, I like being around people and I like to try and be creative for at least seventy-two percent of this free time. This doesn’t leave much downtime and it’s this that I find really hard and it’s this that I find really hard on my own.

I think my downtime is when I’m asleep, but even then my dreams are pretty mental. Although I studied literature I find reading to be quite a difficult activity to start and watching any kind of television is really just me staring blankly at a screen thinking about something utterly unrelated. I don’t have live TV, there’s very little point, and recently I’ve become so terrified through my incessant watching of Luther that I pretty much refuse to go near a screen at the moment.

(Pause here. This is one of the worst things about living on your own; watching something completely traumatising and then having no one else to be scared near/make sure you don’t get brutally murdered by an obscenely ridiculous serial killer halfway through the night. I don’t know if I can handle accepting my own death whilst trying to get to sleep at the age of twenty-four anymore. Upshot of this: no more Luther for me, which is a shame, as I’d quite like to know what happens to Alice…)

It turns out downtime for me is doing stuff like writing this. I find writing to be calming and therapeutic; probably why I spent an excessive amount of money making sure I got qualifications in it, and living on my own really forces me to spend more time doing it. There are a lot of times when I miss having somebody else in my home to interact with. I am happy that I have never stayed in a drastically miserable situation, especially with a partner, just to avoid being alone. This has never happened, I know my own mind too much for this, but I do sometimes struggle with loneliness. I feel like this is a difficult thing to admit and like I am displaying some kind of weakness by doing so. I very much have the attitude of ‘you should be fine, and yourself should be enough’ so any kind of feelings of unhappiness resulting from too much time spent on my own makes me extremely nervous. This is where the whole having more experience since last time aspect comes in.

I never got lonely the last time I lived on my own, but that’s because I avoided sitting with myself ever. I could not be on my own for prolonged amounts of time, I wasn’t well enough to be and that’s okay. When I was alone I was very good at not being alone. I was attached to my phone, always texting and always, always trawling through endless, endless rubbish on social media, which I would strongly discourage. Comparison really is the enemy of happiness and self-fulfilment. I have a very different attitude towards the outside world now. This is where I’m really taking control of what I choose to value. The modern world is a really difficult place to navigate. There’s a lot of pressure to both conform and be different. I have fallen into this at many points in my teenage years and further into my adult life. I am done with this now, or at least I hope I am. I’ve started taking positive action towards having a greater connection with the actual world we live in. I’ve set myself daily limits for screen time, which makes me sound like a child but if that’s what I have to do then so be it. I try and spend a lot of my time outside, especially now that daylight is limited. I try to pay attention to the naturalness of being human. We exist on the planet, we didn’t create it, and I believe that the majority of the human race has become so far removed from this that it’s unhealthy. Our existence is so artificially constructed that it’s no wonder everyone’s so anxious all the time.

A few weeks ago my brain wasn’t functioning as well as it usually is and I ended up using a free evening to really get into googling various mental health issues and self-diagnosing myself with three of them. Amazing what my head can do when left to its own devices. So, according to my Masters level research into the matter, I suffer not only from depression (number fifteen out of twenty-seven on the scale, nonetheless. N.B. I have no idea what this means but I’m over halfway there), some form of post-traumatic stress and anxiety, obviously. Although I find the idea that I used many hours of my free time engaging in this activity hysterical now, I still reflected upon it and particularly the idea of anxiety. After diagnosing myself with that particular disorder I wasn’t particularly worried, in fact my first thought was ‘well, who isn’t constantly anxious?’ Even then I managed a small laugh. However, inherently this isn’t funny.

It can’t just be me that’s baffled by the fact that we’ve created such a living environment that essentially most of the population is suffering from some kind of anxiety on a regular basis? I’m not referring to the kind of anxiety here that is crippling, nor am I referring to something as potentially extreme as panic attacks, although for a lot of people these are not uncommon, but rather just an underlying worry about pretty much everything and anything, and technological advancements really contribute to this. (Sorry Alex, they don’t ‘really bloody turn me on.’)

There is such an emphasis on constantly being connected to someone or something and I think this is really damaging. According to screen time, in the last week I have spent twenty hours on my phone, picking it up on average one hundred and twenty-one times a day; and this is me making a conscious effort to spend less time looking at an artificial light. Most of the time I’m not doing anything productive, I’m just consuming other people’s lives. Our constant connectivity is on the whole a negative attribute of the modern world, it can have extremely positive effects, but most of the time I don’t believe this is what it’s being used for and I’m included in that generalisation.

Having such easy access to other people’s lives is unnatural, especially access to people’s lives that we’ve never met. The Internet is the perfect platform for construction and idealisation and is largely a false representation of what it is portraying. My Instagram account is really not an accurate representation of what I get up to on a daily basis, if it were it would feature many more pictures of pints, many more pictures of me in my pyjamas sat in front of my laptop and many more unglamorous pictures of me, just finishing work at two in the morning, sweaty and covered in beer. I don’t share these aspects of my life online as they’re not attractive and they don’t conform to portraying a lifestyle that’s, essentially, full of leisure. I think I can quite certainly say that there are very few people in the world who’s lives are leisure based yet scroll through anyone’s online presence and you would think that work, sitting around on your own, wearing no make-up and eating an entire trifle meant for six were activities that never crossed their minds. (Okay, so maybe the trifle thing isn’t a regular occurrence, but whatever, I had a bad week.)

The point I’m trying to make is that we are becoming so far detached from reality that it’s as if everyone has two versions of themselves, the online and the functional. The functional exists within society, does a job, goes home and has tea, watches television, goes to sleep. The online exists as the ideal; it is the highlights reel of people’s lives, yet it is what people are using to define themselves, and I find that a lot of that definition comes from what people own, or have bought, or are aspiring to. I remember learning the phrase ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ whilst studying A Level Sociology and this has always stuck with me, the idea that in order to measure success and happiness it is essential to own the latest version of a thing in question. The key thinking behind this theory is that certain pockets of society were consistently dissatisfied as they were incapable of sustaining a lifestyle that adhered to owning the latest versions. They were always aspiring to be something better than what they were, always envious of their neighbours, ‘the Jones’’, who seemed to have it so much better, with little grasp on whether this was or was not true.

I was not brought up in a family that valued measuring success or happiness through material gain. Somewhere in my adolescence this altered. My mother thinks that my obsession (yes, that is what it is) with clothes started with her, as she would always ensure that me, my sister and brother were well turned out regardless of our circumstances. Maybe this is true or maybe, as I have theorised, I’ve used buying things to make myself feel better through extremely difficult periods of my life. Regardless of the root though I am beginning to alter these patterns; I have made sure I no longer follow any social media accounts that are trying to sell me something. The planet is under such threat with no obvious solutions being reached with our collective attitude towards sustainability that I really don’t need to buy any new things. In the wake of the current revelations about Philip Green (who, let’s be honest, everyone knew was a bastard anyway) I am on a full Arcadia Group boycott, which luckily for me only really includes Topshop. If I’m going to live within principles, values and morals that are true to me then this is essential and I am happy to report that it’s going really well. I’m also trying to change a habit of having material things in order to achieve a sense of contentment or fulfilment. I am trying extremely hard, and very slowly, to turn in a more creative direction in order to create my happiness. This will ultimately be more fulfilling and utterly sustainable. Luckily I have real-life friends who share my dreams.

Back to the issue of loneliness though, as this is really what got me writing this piece. Yes, I do love living on my own, but yes I do get lonely. I gave myself a lot of grief for this last week, believing that I should be fine and worrying that this meant that I wasn’t capable of getting on with life. My mother has always joked (been deadly serious) about me being co-dependent and I have had a lot of relationships that have conformed to this, both romantic and otherwise. I now joke (am deadly serious) that the only co-dependent relationship I am in is with my job. Co-dependency is really unhealthy but these are habits I have (hopefully!) taught myself out of over a long period of time. These things take time but are worth it. I spent time on my own to learn to like me and to learn to get on with me and most importantly to learn what is important to me and what I want out of my own life. And loneliness will feature, inevitably. Humanity is a social species, of course I enjoy and thrive off social interaction, this isn’t negative and doesn’t mean that I am incapable of spending time on my own, it just means that sometimes that time is too long and I need to practice self-care and get in touch with, spend some real-life time with, like-minded individuals who enrich my being. This isn’t a weakness; this is being human.

Fundamentally our ability to be constantly artificially connected to other people’s lives, thoughts, feelings and opinions is by no means an antidote for loneliness, but rather a creator. We are losing the ability to understand, fulfil and make ourselves happy. We are losing the excitement that comes from having engaging, vibrant conversations with others about the things we are passionate about. We are losing what it is to connect with and understand another person. We may have forms of social interaction available to us in vast quantities but as a result we are truly sacrificing its quality, and in turn our own sanity and happiness.

Today I don’t need other people to make me happy or validate my existence; I know that the only person responsible for that is myself; any outside influences are simply a bonus. However, I am an enthusiastic and passionate individual who enjoys the company of others. I like conversation and debate. I like sharing things. I like seeing things when out and about in the world and thinking, ‘so and so will like this, I’ll let them know’. I like discussion, and I like people who care enough to mull over the important things with me. This is the difference in me now. I accept these aspects of my character but I am comfortable spending time with myself. When I interact with people it is out of choice, not necessity because I am not enough. Inevitably living on my own means that loneliness will feature, but not as frequently, and today I recognise that feeling and choose what I do with it.

I think it’s important to get to know yourself, to try to understand the naturalness of your being. Living alone contributes to these values of mine extensively. I know my sleeping patterns, I know the times of day when I’ll be most creative or the points in my day where I’ll feel the least like doing anything which is normally between the hours of nine and ten at night, with my most productive hours existing within the three hours after waking up and from midnight until about three… unfortunate really. I know I don’t have a conventional routine but I do have some kind of Saffron routine, which currently consists of listening to Kate Bush really loudly at two in the morning. So really, what’s not to like? Doing exactly what I want can be the best thing in the world, if only I’ll let it.

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