I am sitting in my living room with a book and a decaf coffee, trying to work off the ‘post work adrenaline’ that comes from being on your feet for 13 hours. My housemate is asleep, she has been since long before I came home and the rest of the flats that make up the house seem to have turned in for the night.
I am alone.
At first I am almost unaware of this, it merely does not occur to me. Throughout my university life I have worked in a bar and often crawl home to find I am the only person awake. However this evening is different; I am alert to my singular presence and realise that my housemate and I hardly see one another and I move things frequently which must be quite jarring to her – I am beginning to feel somewhat like a ghost haunting my own house.
The root cause for my new awakened sense of ghostliness stems from my continued reading of The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. Throughout the book Laing explores her relationship with loneliness and how it affects people in a wide range of ways. Her own motivation to record this is due to the fact that she moved from the U.K. to the U.S. for a man who left her alone in New York City after breaking her heart, instead of returning to the U.K. Laing tried to make it work in New York; renting an apartment and getting a job. All in all though she found herself overwhelmed by her isolation from people even in one of the busiest cities in the world.
“I often felt like bait sitting in a lecture room waiting patiently to be eaten – I felt alone.”
Laing starts the book off by painting a very average picture: “imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building. The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows…inside, strangers swim to and fro…you can see them, but you can’t reach them”. When I first read this section of the book over the summer I was hit by the poetic beauty of what the opening passage is trying to convey. However upon several more brief glances at this opening section I am increasingly unsettled by it entirely; loneliness and isolation do not come from prolonged time spent in the wilderness picking berries and eating nettle soup like six year old me thought, it can instead come from being sat in a room full of people and merely feeling out of place. That thought alone is single-handedly terrifying.
Loneliness, as well as all of the other emotions that run alongside it (i.e. grief, depression, etc.), are all part of a shared experience. Everyone feels lonely from time to time but loneliness is solely something you can feel on your own and in different ways. We also do not seem to acknowledge and talk about loneliness as a society, rather ignore it and hope it doesn’t place its cold grasp around us.
While reading Laing’s book I am reminded of my own experiences during my first year at university. Moving away from home at the time did not faze me, I was looking forward to the increasing independence and living near the sea. My flatmates were lovely and caring but wildly more sociable than myself, the people on my course seemed sharp and wide eyed like hungry sharks meaning I often felt like bait sitting in a lecture room waiting patiently to be eaten – I felt alone.
“Being new in a city is difficult whether home is down the road or across the ocean.”
The previous three years before I came to university I had hit a peak in my mental health, by peak I mean I hit a rough patch, several times with my face. University was the beginning of a lengthy healing process and I am fully aware now that I kept myself isolated as I was scared that if I got too close people could hurt you or dissolve away. I spent many nights alone in my room completing assignments and reading or listening to music, I was content with myself and how I existed but ultimately I wish I had done more.
Being new in a city is difficult whether home is down the road or across the ocean. Loneliness is an emotion you can not run from all the time. It has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you. It separates you from everyone and feeds on you like a parasite.
Although it can be beaten, societies are an excellent place to escape from your studies and meet incredible new people and there are plenty to pick from with a range of interests and hobbies whether they are new experiences or if you are a seasoned professional. If you cannot find a society that you enjoy MAKE ONE, who really wouldn’t want to sit and eat different types of cake in a sort of Cake Club? Personal tutors are also there to help as much as they can, making a meeting with your tutor and just saying whatever is on your mind is an amazing start to resolution. If though, you feel like you need to talk to someone who is devoted to listening and helping guide you through this somewhat rocky period then the counsellors and chaplains at the Nuffield Centre are worth considering. Simply fill out an application form for the counselling services (which can be collected in the Nuffield Centre or online) and an appointment can be arranged.
Your time at university should be outstanding and naturally homesickness and other forms of melancholy will arise from time to time. Looking after your self and maintaining personal safety are paramount to your own success and help is available through the university and outside of it. You are not alone and these feelings will not be forever.
If you feel the need to talk to someone confidentially about how you feel the Samaritans are there to help, call them free on this 24/7 phone helpline 116123 (UK/ROI).
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