Being alone and being lonely do not equate to one and the same thing. However, they’re not exactly a million miles apart either.
I myself, for 12 days out of every fortnight, live alone, and have done so for the past two and a half years, having never, at any stage in my life, lived alone prior to that. It’s been a big transition but one, I feel, I’ve largely adapted quite well to.
There are more people in their 30s and 40s living alone now than at any other time in recorded history, a great many of them, myself included, in such a bracket due to the breakdown of a marriage or long-term relationship.
Part-time parenthood and coming home to an empty house most nights was not on any long-term plan for those now occupying such a status. But life goes on. It has to.
And those newly single tenants with children should consider themselves blessed to have someone small, innocent and full of wonderful curiosity to focus on.
Having a challenging job and a range of hobbies is also enormously beneficial, but it’s certainly easier for separated fathers in the vast majority of instances to pursue them than it is for separated mothers who are, by and large, the full-time parent.
A lot of mothers do not have the time to make time for themselves outside of their professional and/or domestic responsibilities. Added to that, not all mothers have a support network to fall back on.
And when living is reduced to existing, no matter how much a mother loves their child and no matter how dutiful she is to her little ones, things can get tough. The days can feel long. The days can feel lonely.
Yet, be one male or female in this particular regard, the pang of loneliness, from time to time, can prove unavoidable. And that stands to reason after a life-long commitment one faithfully entered into to sadly doesn’t work out.
Let’s not delude ourselves: loneliness and isolation is by no means the sole preserve of the bachelor farmer or the only son left with the land upon the death of a father – that’s not to belittle either of the aforementioned, let me be clear.
For all the advances made in social media, for all the talk of a inter-connected world and however many ‘friends’ we may have online, more of us are living alone than ever before. More us are spending more time by ourselves. In Ireland, there now almost 400,000 single occupants, a staggering increase of over 500 per cent since 2007.
Across the water, the Office for National Statistics (according to a Daily Mail report from December last) revealed that over 10 per cent of all UK residents in their 30s and 40s live alone, “and this figure rises to 17 per cent of those aged 50 to 64”.
Just last week, Channel Four News reported that 1.1 million people across the UK feel “often or always lonely,” while globally, between 1996 and 2011 (as reported by the Irish Independent in 2012), the number of single households rose from 153 million to 277 million
Therefore, the logical conclusion arising from this fact is that loneliness has never been more prevalent than it is right now – and even the John Lewis Christmas TV advertisement is addressing the issue.
Can all of the aforementioned be viewed in isolation from the wider debate on mental health that more and more of us are (thankfully) having, as evidenced by the packed Tower Hotel function room at Tuesday night last? Surely not.
In recent years, no-one has captured the essence of isolation with more poignant articulacy than author Michael Harding, who has written of “the world moving away from him”, a feeling he has experienced both in childhood and middle age.
“It’s a sense that the world is an empty room, and that those who lived in it, those billions of other humans and other sentient beings, have all gone away. That kind of solitude is a dark place to be if you are a child, and the feeling is no less terrifying as I get older,” he wrote in The Irish Times recently.
“And no matter how many people I bring close to me, I still dread the feeling of personal isolation and sadness that can overcome me like a great wave, even when I am in company.”
Me? I live alone, and the vast majority of the time, I am completely fine with that. This is the hand life has dealt me, and I’ve got to make the most of it. And most of the time I do just that.
The day job and the other ‘bits n’ bobs’ of interest I’ve to tend to in my life doesn’t leave a great deal of time of introspection, and for that I am most thankful.
And when you spend a few hours in the company of Saint Vincent de Paul volunteers as I did last Wednesday, in which they detailed the turmoil facing so many people in Waterford at present, one realises the level of one’s own good fortune. Problems? What problems?
As part of a wider public health debate, we cannot ignore the spectre of loneliness – and the fact that more and more of us are talking about it and acknowledging can only, in time, prove a welcome development.
If you’re affected by loneliness, Alone can offer support on 01-6791032 (www.alone.ie). Jigsaw’s work focuses on those aged 12-25 (www.jigsaw.ie) while the Samaritans are available around the clock on (freephone) 116123 (www.samaritans.org).