It has been described as an “epidemic”, with one in four men citing it as a problem when calling the Samaritans. It is often overlooked in young people, but they are some of the most at risk. Some four times as many 18-24 year olds suffer loneliness than the over 70s.
I am talking about loneliness – a problem I experience several times a week if I am not careful. Loneliness is a hard thing to pin down; many of the symptoms are just like any other mental illness – depression, anxiety, unexplained fears.
At times, I will be standing listlessly in my bedroom, paralysed just by the inability to successfully begin processing the day. Sometimes my day will be spent moving back and forth between the kettle and the tea bags, waiting until another soul comes to join me and I can snare them in conversation.
True, I live at home, and sometimes I wonder if that makes the situation all the more difficult. I will stare at my laptop for what feels like forever. The ironic thing about this problem is its catch 22 nature: How do you tackle loneliness? Go out and get something done, meet people, you might say. But what if you’re trapped inside your head so much that notion fills you with dread?
For me, my escape is music. Only in these last few months have I begun to take my mental health seriously again. I say again, because I have suffered from depression before. Since then, it has been pushed to the back of my mind, but when I am alone with my inner demons, it returns.
I would say I am relatively average guy: I enjoy my studies, I have a lot of close friends, but when left with the voices in my own head the noise becomes deafening and paralysing.
Music speaks to me. I began to notice, as I stood in the dark and empty kitchen, the silence was infecting me, focusing all of my attention to what was in my own head.
The best thing I have found is making a conscious effort to surround myself by the things I love. Changing my laptop background to a place I love, exploring new music and listening to classics whilst I read for my modules.
I structure my day so I can be doing something with my hands almost all of the time: whether that is writing essays, stories; whether it is taking pictures or going for a walk; or it could be cooking or baking.
What it comes back to, though, is music. I am realising that by filling my life with music, cancelling out that deafening silence brings me far more joy than anything could.
Now, you might ask: Why are you writing this article? More importantly: Why are you writing this anonymously? To the first, I am writing this to let you know loneliness is something that is there, and there are others who feel its affects, whether you realise that or not.
Music speaks to me. I began to notice, as I stood in the dark and empty kitchen, the silence was infecting me, focusing all of my attention to what was in my own head.”
You might not be able to pin your emotions down, but when you consider it, it could be there.
To the second, that is interesting. I could be anyone: I could be your friend, flatmate, society member, club president, or course representative, a first class student or someone struggling to pass a module. Loneliness, anxiety and depression are not limited to one set of people. They can hurt anyone.
This might seem a one-way street, so here is a question for you: What can you do? I have said what I do to manage my anxiety, but we all have different methods of coping. It might be the case this thing will last a while, and I accept that could be too – I have too much stuff buzzing around my head for it to be quiet all the time.
It might be talking to someone about it, letting your feelings be known. It could be you’re fidgety (like me), and taking up a sport or just going for a walk could help. You might listen to Tchaikovsky or Blink 182, or head to the 80s, and surround yourself with song.
The problem with mental ill health is that people do not often come to you. There is an onus on those of us with these issues to take control of our mental health, and realise something needs to budge. It is hard, but I know you can do it.
Fill your life with light and song, don’t let it wallow in the shadows of your bedroom.
The University of Stirling offers a counselling service. Learn more on their website.