The windows have been decorated with the usual Christmas frosting and sparkling lights twinkle. To many, these herald a season of joy and happiness. To me, they are just things that reinforce the issues that getting divorced has brought to my life.
This will be my third Christmas as a single man. When I was married, this time of year always held a very special place in my heart. The decorating of the tree, buying presents, making food were all things I enjoyed. Now I have nothing to do. It will be the third year when I wake up on Christmas morning on my own. Some people may think that would be bliss – do what you like when you like. Sadly, it is not.
Whether we like it or not, we are a society that is still built around the family unit. As we are constantly told, Christmas is a time for the family. It is a time when children come home, families are reunited and we celebrate our togetherness. The TV adverts reinforce this image time and again. Grandparents flying back to see their grandchildren, presents under the tree, children staring longingly out of snow-edged windows.
In this country, it is estimated that there are nine million people who this year will be suffering from the loneliness of Christmas. That is more than the entire population of London. It is not just a condition that affects the elderly. Loneliness is caused by divorce, being recently bereaved, illness, no family support and being a single parent. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 18-34 year-olds are more likely to feel lonely more often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness than those over 55.
It is a disease that has no external signs or symptoms and can effect people who have busy and productive lives, those people who you don’t expect would ever admit to being lonely.
Until recently, I was one of them. I kept my loneliness to myself and only got the courage to share it with the world when The Yorkshire Post launched its much needed and award-winning campaign on the subject.
I find my loneliness one of the hardest things to honestly write about. I have to say that I fear Christmas. It looms ahead of me this week like a Dickensian spectre from A Christmas Carol.
The ghost of Christmas future attacks my mind with thoughts of always being alone, never being able to have another relationship and increasing isolation in the years to come.
It brings to mind all my failings and all my fears of any future relationship breaking down. Being lonely gives me very serious commitment issues. It destroys self esteem and gives me a feeling of worthlessness. It is a time of watching others enjoy themselves, hearing of parties you were never invited to and seeing endless streams of gushing photographs of others playing happy families.
Yes, before you ask, loneliness leaves one feeling bitter in the mind. I tend to see the world through mud-coloured spectacles. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I too have become a hater of Christmas. His reasons for the dislike of the season have now become my own.
The trouble is, loneliness, like any other sickness is very hard to shake off.
I recently got two very kind offers to spend Christmas Day with other families and share in their meals. At first I was overjoyed about being asked but as I thought my pride turned to severe hubris. I felt that I was an add-on, a charity case, someone to be pitied that I was a ‘billy no mates’ and couldn’t sort my life out. I humbly declined, believing that I would rather be alone than be looked on with sympathy.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but the prospect of being with another family would only compound my inner belief that I have not only messed up my life but the lives of those around me. Divorce does that to a man. It piles up the guilt around you like an impenetrable wall. I have tried all the self-help remedies for loneliness, but none have worked so far.
For me, there is only one solution and so far that has alluded me. As time goes on, I can feel a direct link between my isolation and my health. The two go very much hand in hand. With this in mind, it is ludicrous that local authorities spend less than one per cent of their budget on mental health issues. There is an epidemic of loneliness that is crippling the lives of millions of people.
Unlike Scrooge, I fear that Christmas Eve will not bring a change of heart for me. There will be no magical revelations and no repentant turkey for Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.