To set the scene for you, Boris has just made his latest announcement that the proposed June 21st end date to the pandemic will be postponed for a further four weeks. And I’m crying my eyes out while the BBQ party next door start to play ‘Pump it Up’ by Endor (not the kind of movie setting I was hoping for).
As well as its physical symptoms, COVID-19 has incited a series of social symptoms affecting everyone in different ways. But I think I am only just realising how it has affected me personally, and in ways I didn’t see, which I made a conscious effort to prevent people around me from seeing too.
Just before the pandemic changed everything, I was coming to the end of my second term in my final year of my English undergraduate degree. And I was on a high. I had finally gotten over my first breakup, had the best 21st birthday with my home and uni friends mixing better than gin and tonic, my dissertation was on track, and the boy I always liked since my very first day on campus was now my boyfriend. So yeah, everything seemed like it was finally working out and I couldn’t be happier in myself and my prospects.
We all know the story next, and I found the first lockdown difficult to adjust to like most. It seems trivial when the news highlights the bigger problems in the world, but not having my final EGB, my dissertation Exeter rock picture, my graduation, or even saying goodbye to my friends before they left, was tough. And after Boris’ latest announcement, there is slim chance I can have a second chance.
It was the BBC news app notification sound (you know the one) crashing my low-fi beats fused study session with the announcement. And I just started crying, uncontrollably, intensely, with the ugly wheezing and flushed face. I haven’t cried like that in a long time, and I knew exactly why I was crying that Monday evening, because I realised – f*ck, I’m lonely.
Now you’re probably thinking, hang on – it’s not like you have no one? Yeah, you’re right. I do have a handful of friendly faces around Exeter which have done more for me than they probably know. But I still have this persistent sinking feeling inside me. That voice at the back of my mind.
I decided to do a masters in Exeter for numerous reasons – I planned ahead for the scenario where I was inevitably going to panic about my life. All in all, I’m happy I’ve done it (well, still doing it unfortunately with a dissertation due in August). Not only have I survived the hardest academic year I have ever experienced (and online too), but I have got some of the best marks I have ever achieved.
So where did it all go south, eh?
Most of my friends I made during my undergraduate graduated and moved on this year, and the pandemic made it difficult for them ever to visit (although when they did I had severe food poisoning taking me out of action, so that’s about as south as it gets). And the pandemic also meant I did all my studying online and so meeting new faces had a hurdle or two.
I didn’t feel lonely initially because, like many couples, I moved into my boyfriend’s house with his housemates (very welcoming housemates). But as lockdown eased, and we decided to return to our respective houses for the exam season to focus on our studies, the sinking feeling came straight back when I turned up to my quiet house and went to my quiet room.
But to return to my tragic little crying session that Monday evening (honestly it was like my heart got broken or I watched Along Came Marley – just classic white girl tears), I realised amongst the teary rainfalls that I was lonely and that is why I was sad. I don’t have five friends I can go to the pub with. I don’t have five friends I can go to TP with (and boy do I want a last hoorah in TP). When I’ve spent all day working and want to do something fun in the evening, but my boyfriend is rightly seeing his friends and my few friendly faces are busy enjoying post-degree freedom, I just carry on doing more work. That’s probably why I have taken on so much extra work this year (two remote jobs and a committee position), because I’m not too sure what to do with my free time.
I am cringing a lot as I write this, just knowing people are going to probably feel sorry for me and ‘awww’ at me as a pitiful postgrad. But I don’t think loneliness gets spoken about enough, because when people feel lonely – who are they going to talk to?
I had some things planned before the latest announcements which are no longer able to safely run, and while I understand and support the reasons, I can’t help but feel sad at the loss of the board that was keeping me afloat this whole time.
When I think about it and confront the bottled insecurities, I’ve always had a fear of being in my own company. I’m not too sure why, and I don’t want to open too many bottles, but I know it’s also because I just like to chat face to face. I like having a giggle (hopefully no ugly wheezing in that expression), asking someone how their day is, and eating dinner with a group of people. There was a little joke in my first year that I loved the kitchen because I would always be in there. Truth is, I was waiting for someone to walk in to talk to.
It’s easy to keep working, but damn I want some fun for once. It might sound big-headed, but for those who know me they know I work so hard. I’ve been committed to my studies since I took my GCSEs, even cancelling on social plans to do a timed essay. I just wanted to prove myself academically, but I want to go back in time and tell her to chill and go to a party.
I worked every summer holiday since I was fourteen rather than go on holidays just to save cash for the one day I would be at the infamous ‘university’ where I’d support myself and be independent.
Now I can no longer hold onto education (panic PhD doesn’t have the same ring), the thought of entering the world of work where I continue to work hard and burn out just strikes me as terrifying sad, and I don’t want that for myself. So working in my free time now isn’t working anymore for me, and a dissertation about Irish Poetry just isn’t the therapy I need right now (surprisingly).
But let me guess – your solution to fixing loneliness is to put yourself out there. Yet the thing about feeling this way subtlety and strongly throughout the year has meant most of my old social anxiety habits have resurfaced. And this makes it difficult to simply hang out, go to a party, have fun to stop feeling lonely because I’m just feeling anxious instead.
I have spent time with a few friends and enjoyed every minute of it and don’t doubt how much I value their company. But I’m still slightly sinking, and I think it’s because I miss having my core bunch of friends who were always around.
So, I sit down and write about how I feel (free therapy after all), and it produces thoughts like this for you to read. And you’re probably thinking – how did it all end, did she stop crying and what did she do next? To be honest with you, I first ran out of tears, messaged a few people I hadn’t seen in a while to check in, texted my boyfriend to thank him for being my best friend all year, and made a plan to see one friendly face the next day. Not forgetting I watched Ratatouille because I was yet to watch it and I only hear wholesome things (random, I know).
It sucks feeling this way, and I hope it makes sense why I do. But I also know I’ve got to seek change if I want it, and sometimes I need to be the one to suggest something, to plan something, and to throw myself into a crowd of people. It’s terrifying, but f*ck being lonely, and f*ck having to cry about it anymore.
Featured Image Source: Pexels