Earlier this week, a press release popped into my inbox with stats revealing that lockdown has left a quarter of adults in the UK thinking they have NO real friends.
It highlighted a poll of 2,000 people by Santander which suggests lockdown restrictions have exacerbated the UK’s loneliness problem. A fifth said they’ve felt increasingly isolated during the past three months.
More than a fifth said the pandemic has strained existing friendships because close acquaintances haven’t reached out to them. Sadder still, 14% of people said they are frightened they have lost friends forever as a result of not being able to visit them in person.
Although reading the report made me feel incredibly sad, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve come to realise there’s nothing like a crisis to help you realise who your friends are.
Like many mums, I’ve struggled being the main source of education, entertainment and food for my two youngest children, who would otherwise be at school and nursery, within the same four walls for the last 100 days.
My husband has worked right through lockdown and is usually too tired to converse much once the boys have gone to bed, leaving me desperate for adult conversation and some sort of stimulation that doesn’t involve Numberblocks, Lego or Play Doh. Most nights he heads pretty much straight to bed.
Lockdown has been incredibly isolating, lonely, constricting and claustrophobic in many ways. My mental health has suffered and our house has become a melting pot of both pent up and explosive emotions.
Everything is amplified in confinement. Anxiety is rife and you can become fixated on the most minor of details. The whole family has struggled to keep a lid on its tears and frustrations.
For me, it all came to a head around week 12. I completely broke down – very publicly and very embarrassingly. Since then, I’ve been trying to pick up the pieces to become a wiser, stronger and more capable me.
But what’s transpired in the aftermath is just who my friends are. I’ve become acutely aware of who has and hasn’t got my back and I’ve realised there have been many spectators. One of them unfriended me on social media when it became clear I was having a breakdown and others stopped communicating. I haven’t heard from my parents since.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve also realised that I do have a fantastic support network of real friends, who came to my aid when I really needed them. And I’m happy to lose the rest.
My support network may not include my blood line, or some of the people I thought were friends, but realising my soul family has been so liberating that I almost recommend hitting rock bottom to find clarity in a condensed down, more authentic love and support circle.
Real friends will be there for you no matter what – when you really need them and without judgement. They will see you at your worst and chalk it up to another adventure. Your misdemeanors will become something to giggle about together when you’re older and wiser. They will take the time to understand and help you work through things to find a solution.
Discovering my true friends has been a revelation for me. I’ve even had people popping up that I haven’t seen or heard from in years. When they learned I was having a difficult time, they reached out. But I realise not everyone is so lucky.
Santander’s research found that it’s common for a quarter of the population to go several days without speaking to anyone at all. Twenty-six per cent of adults are feeling lonely, with one in 10 citing this the most challenging aspect of lockdown.
After my world came crashing down, I’m making a point of connecting friends every day, whether it’s on instagram, by text, messenger or over the phone – even if only to check they’re okay, complain about the kids or share banana bread pictures.
Seeking out other mum bloggers to follow has helped me too. Their posts help give me reassurance that I’m not alone and I’m doing a good (and very difficult) job in what is a very unusual set of circumstances.
My advice (from someone who has reached rock bottom, thinking she had no support) is if, like me, you’ve struggled with loneliness in lockdown, seek out like-minded people and surround yourself with beautiful things you enjoy.
Look after those who look after you and ditch the spectators. Create your own support network and remember that friends are about quality not quantity. Do more of what brings you joy.