My partner made a tiny comment last night about how he hasn’t had any time alone in the house since I’ve been back from Canada (this is after him asking me to promise I never go away for longer than 1 week ever again!). To be fair, I think this was as much motivated by him not wanting to spend another Saturday visiting family, as it was out of a pressing desire for alone time (we’ve spent a lot of weekends lately with his family or mine!). It is a perfectly valid thing to want now and again – I got to enjoy most of Sunday alone in the house when he went to see Oppenheimer with his Dad, it was great! . We’ve also only lived together for 3 months after both living alone for years, so it is still a bit of an adjustment!
It wasn’t what he said anyway, it is just that it served to highlight that I have not been out without him in about 6 weeks, nor do I have any plans on the horizon – and that triggered one of my anxiety cascades around how isolated, and lonely, I am. This isn’t a new problem, this is something I’ve lived with for my entire life and I’m always seeking a solution to it.
Things have been significantly better since I finally met my partner three years ago. He is the first person I ever met who truly makes me feel completely comfortable, supported and anxiety free. I know that I can talk to him about anything, including my anxiety . He is my best friend, the only person I’ve ever genuinely felt close to.
I often think about how grateful I am to have met him when I did in 2020 (the first break in the lockdowns in the UK) because I do not know where I’d be in 2023 without his support.
But I don’t want to be reliant on one person as the main source of my social connections. That’s not healthy.
For me, while the idea of getting COVID-19 and inadvertently spreading it to someone else was stressful, the social isolation of the pandemic was easy. It gave me permission not to have to leave my flat and avoid all the social situations I find stressful. Friends and family were more communicative, and I felt like I actually had conversations with people more regularly than I did before, it was just remotely!
By the time the world was opening again to the “new normal” I had had my life immeasurably improved by meeting the love of my life, but the structure of my days have changed now I work from home permanently. I can’t ignore that I have now lost the peripheral social contact I used to have. Very little of it was any deep connection, but it added up to something maybe I’d not accounted for before.
I have to admit that WFH is isolating
Before March 2020 I worked in an office with two other people, and we would not hang out after work, but we all got on well enough, and they were people I could chat and laugh with each day. I don’t miss that disgusting office or the horrible commute, but I do at times miss the comradery. You can’t recreate that over Skype. As much as I do prefer working from home, I have to admit that there are some drawbacks when you’re a socially anxious introvert without many local friends.
My partner now works hybrid, he has the option to choose to go into the office twice a week and his company also gives opportunities for departments to go out volunteering during work time, so he’s been out for a few nice days lately to pet rescue centres and gardening. I feel so jealous of that, they sound like really great community and team bonding days. I keep thinking about how lucky he is to get to do those things (which include playing with cute kittens).
I miss being in my book club
Pre-2020, my main social effort was being a member of a book club that organised via Meet Up, which I loved. After a year of going, I was beginning to feel part of the group as one of the original members, and I had pushed myself and I was beginning to be more comfortable with adding my voice to the discussion. I’d not yet been able to make any friends from it but I did look forward to the monthly meetings, and hearing everyone’s different opinions. After 2020 that went to being online via Zoom, I tried one meeting and it was not the same. It was so awkward, it was hard to talk without interrupting each other (I also didn’t enjoy Zoom calls with my friends for this reason). I felt so uncomfortable with it that I didn’t try anymore.
I got a notification from Meet Up recently that the book club does now meet in person again but it is not the same people anymore, someone else leads it, and I feel like after missing three years I’ll be too uncomfortable and aware of all that extra history the group has without me – which is a very specific and powerful anxiety trigger for me! .
I don’t know the answer
I have been thinking a lot lately about what I can do to get myself out there again. I feel like I’m back to square one, or even further back now.
I just don’t know what the answer is. It’s hard for me to find group activities I enjoy because I don’t like sports (anything competitive) and my hobbies (reading, embroidery, gardening) are all solo ones. Any volunteering that sounds appealing is usually only open during the working week.
Maybe I should make myself go back to my old book club (in its new form). I have thought about starting my own but I really don’t believe if I have the social skills to lead something like that (past experiences would suggest I’m correct). I have tried to run my own Meet Ups groups before and it wasn’t particularly successful. That’s a tale for another time.
I could use more exercise so I might see if there are any local yoga or Pilates classes around, but those have never been any good for me when it comes to social connection.
I’m writing all this to get it out of my head because I have felt so heavy with it all today, but also I’ve been wanting to get into exploring the topic of loneliness  and my own experience with it, but it is such a big topic with so many facets and layers that I hadn’t been sure the way to crack that open. I guess this was the way to do it!
For now, I’ve sent a message to one of my few (oh god, maybe only?!) nearby friends to see if she wants to get dinner next week! She’s usually overwhelmed, busy and hard to pin down, but I need to stop letting that put me off trying. She is one of the very rare people I’ve felt share a similar worldview, with whom I’ve felt able to have real deep and honest conversations.
 For me it just means I can spend as much time as I want working on my writing ideas without feeling guilty I’m ignoring anyone! But I have a sneaking suspicion he probably just wants to watch some porn in the house without me around! [back]
 If I can get the words out which usually I can’t without crying, sometimes I have to write it down and text it! [back]
 My social anxiety is the worst around groups, especially groups of people that have a shared history without me. [back]
 I have saved so many notes and articles on the topic. [back]