FOR the first time ever, something that I wrote went viral. I never realised that my piece on loneliness a fortnight ago would strike such a chord with readers.
Soon after publication, I noticed the number of Tweets increasing as people shared my thoughts. It became a topic on Facebook and the article was reproduced elsewhere.
Hundreds of people responded with kind letters and emails and The Watermark Café in Scarborough, where I write, was suddenly my new postal address. Sadly, all of the correspondence was tinged with unhappiness.
Those who had read the article told me of their own plight with loneliness. All the stories were very similar. Some people were stuck in loveless marriages, sleeping in separate beds, not touching and seldom speaking. They stayed through guilt or religious conviction and tried to make things work. This just compounded their loneliness. Others had been left alone when partners had died or divorced, and there were those who had become isolated through ill-health and lack of money.
What surprised me was those people who said they felt lonely, even though they had successful and busy lives. They talked of the loneliness of a crowded room where, surrounded by people, they still felt as if they were on their own.
There was a significant link in all I was told between loneliness and feeling depressed. It was a condition that gnawed away at their self-esteem and confidence, making things much worse.
I was very heartened by the honesty of those who got in touch with me. It was as if we all shared the same condition and understood instantly how each other felt.
Modern lifestyles were seen as being the main problem for those experiencing loneliness. The supermarket can never replace the old-fashioned High Street where people met and exchanged stories. No longer were conversations struck up with neighbours and few knew the name of the people next door.
Many felt that there was no place to meet with people. One person said that they didn’t want to go to a pub to meet someone new. Another told me how they had got a dog and it had been a great way of meeting new people and inter-acting with them. Apparently, more people will speak to you if you have a cute pooch on the end of a lead. You are no longer the stranger walking alone but the one with the nice little hound that people feel they can talk to.
One thing that struck a chord with people were my comments on the place of social media. Rather than bringing people together, virtual friendships just seemed to serve to reinforce feelings of isolation and low self-worth. The daily barrage of the wonderful lives of those around us just serve to make us feel ever more hopeless.
Many of my friends admitted to not knowing that I was lonely. They saw my life and just presumed that I was fine and happy. That is indeed one of the problems with loneliness. It is a silent epidemic and the lonely often don’t admit to being so. I believe that we were created to live in community. The community of a relationship with a partner, family, friends and those in our immediate surroundings.
For me, my loneliness starts and ends with not having someone as a partner and being too frightened to seek one out for fear of rejection or that it will go wrong yet again. I feel trapped in perpetual singledom. As one friend said of me: “A single not ready to mingle.”
Help is out there and it is easy to find. There are clubs and events that lonely people can join and go to. Yet, it is so hard to go on your own. Anyone who really needs to talk to someone can call Silverline, a telephone charity set up by Esther Rantzen who herself has experienced loneliness.
The number for users of the charity is 0800 4708090. It is a chance to speak to someone and break the cycle of loneliness.
I think that breaking the cycle is really the key to ending loneliness. Every one of us has the responsibility to look out for those who are lonely. It costs nothing to speak to someone or offer an hour of company. Regardless of age, race or religion, we are all members of the human family. We have a responsibility for each other. Loneliness is a killer. It slowly destroys the health and wellbeing of the sufferer.
Three years ago, I would have never thought I would have ever written anything on my own loneliness. I was married with a family. Overnight that changed, and my life would never be the same again. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I only hope that all of us will be more aware of the lonely people in our midst and be prepared to do something about it.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.