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Isolation and loneliness – a new concept for many

Stepping through the door of her family home, Kate instantly experienced a sense of fulfillment, as the aching feeling of isolation and loneliness began to slip away.

“I felt like I was a new person,” said Kate, after making the one-hour trek north from her Sydney apartment to stay with family.

“Just having a human being around you, I was really fortunate.”

How loneliness can take hold

While now happy, Kate’s story could have had a much different outcome, with the smart and successful businesswoman just one of 1 in 2.3 million Australians living alone when strict isolation rules owing to the current climate began to take hold.

Albeit short lived, Kate has become a new face in the loneliness landscape, going from living a really fulfilled life, with a rich social calendar and wide circle of friends, to feeling an unimaginable sense of loneliness in less than two months.

Dealing with the enormous change to her working life she’d cultivated through her own business over the past eight years, Kate found herself feeling emotions hard to comprehend, as her usual full of beans approach to starting the day faded to lethargy,
where simply getting out of bed in the morning became a chore.

“I was shocked to be quite honest,” said Kate after realising what she was feeling was loneliness.”

“As someone working in recruitment and seeing candidates and clients face to face each day, I was always socialising, and suddenly that was all gone.

“Coming into the third or fourth week of isolation I was getting lower and lower, and felt something was wrong with me.

“I wasn’t quite able to put a title on it, and I noticed I didn’t want to get out of bed. Suddenly, I couldn’t see the point.

Although she has a close step and extended family, Kate is recently single, lives alone and has no children of her own.

She has always mindfully created and been known for her positive and upbeat mindset, enriched through meditation and yoga and strong social connections.

In hindsight, Kate realised that whenever she has felt more alone than she would like in the past, she has simply stepped out to enjoy some face to face time with her friends and family and the feelings just disappear. But in these times of social isolation,
that fix is just not possible.

Since the only way to see others physically was getting the groceries, Kate turned to tech to connect with her family and friends with video calls and such. But as a physical contact girl, that solution only went so far.

Not keen to share these unfamiliar feelings, Kate kept her loneliness to herself. This started a descent totally new to Kate, but absolutely typical in the study of loneliness and the 1 in 4 Australian adults who live with long term loneliness, with questions
of individual worth, personal belonging and self-blame.

“it was really bad; I was having really bad thoughts that came on very suddenly… I started to question who I was, and felt it was my fault that I didn’t have people around me,” Kate said.

“I hadn’t expressed it to anyone. I was trying to stay positive and strong, and thought, ‘I have a roof over my head, I have nice things and food, it’s not right to complain’.

“I wasn’t giving myself the permission to accept these feelings and told myself off for thinking this way.

Happy as she was for them, some of Kate’s friends living in a household with their partner, family, and children around them seemed to lack empathy and understanding of what it might be like for her living on her own.

Being someone for someone

Usually a very private person, Kate took the unusual and very brave decision to share her sadness on social media to seek some understanding from her network. An old friend, Jo Winwood, head of Be Someone For Someone, read Kate’s story. An expert
in the terrible impact of loneliness and knowing Kate well, Jo knew how difficult this would be for her friend and immediately got in touch.

Launched in November 2019, Be Someone For Someone’s vision is to address the growing issue of loneliness in Australia while leading the way in raising awareness, which inspired Kate to speak out for others in her situation.

“It was Jo that reached out to me, and she told me it’s not about my situation being worse or less than it is for others, it’s about the need to express my feelings of loneliness,” Kate said.

“So, I thought about putting something on Facebook as if I’m feeling this, others must be, I thought I’d bring some visibility to that.”

Not looking for sympathy, Kate’s brave Facebook painted a vivid picture for those living with partners, families or flatmates, of what loneliness can mean for others.

Calling for “compassion, kindness, love and empathy”, Kate’s post went viral, inspiring others to share a thought for those in living alone in self-isolation.

“Please be a little more empathetic to those that live alone and don’t have a partner. Isolation for us at the moment is a very, very different experience than it is for you,” the post said.

“I, in no way mean this to be disrespectful, but some people who have never lived alone (Coronavirus or otherwise) and without a partner can’t understand the difference between being “alone” and being “lonely”. Loneliness
comes when you simply can’t get the daily face-to-face interaction/touch/affection that you crave; something that people living together with partners, children and friends are blessed with right now.

“I am not seeking sympathy, but all I was asking for was a little empathy from some who may have not realised this.”’

Fast forward to now and Kate cuts a picture of happiness, with the post resulting in her family reaching out.

Reaching out for others can make such a difference

Kate’s relief was instant, so she’s now pushing for others to think of and reach out to those in a similar situation.

Paying it forward, Kate has encouraged her extended network to get behind Be Someone For Someone’s drive to tackle loneliness.

“I was so low, I knew I couldn’t let the feeling continue, and I knew I needed to take control, and as soon as I walked through the door, the relief was instantaneous,” Kate said.

“Moving in with family was the fix for me, so I went back to all those people who reached out to me and asked them if there was an option to move in with people or have someone move in.

“There’s just so many people who experience loneliness on a much deeper level, and for a lot of people, the despair and anxiety that comes with it can’t continue.

“Your feelings are valid, no matter your personal circumstances, and those feelings need to be acknowledged to have some positive outcome to leverage out of the loneliness, which makes services like Be Someone For Someone so critical.

“We all need human connection.”

As a postscript, Jo Winwood said of her friend:

It was so courageous of Kate to reach out. I know her well and it would have been a hard thing for her to do. COVID-19 has catapulted a whole new raft of people into loneliness; people whose businesses, workplaces, social and wellness networks are based on physical connections. Kate is someone we all think of as the most positive, successful, and popular people we know, so no wonder, when stripped of contact, loneliness fell upon her so hard.

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate and if it hits you, it’s real. It has a purpose – to motivate us to get out there and connect. But if you don’t or can’t, chronic loneliness can set in and that’s harmful. Thank goodness Kate was bold enough to put her feelings into words otherwise we might have missed the signs. Is there someone you know you, that could be in that boat?

** Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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