I am used to living alone. Why has lockdown made me feel invisible?
I had adjusted to living alone after I was widowed six years ago, and since the lockdown friends have telephoned frequently and I chat to neighbours at a distance.
Although I feel I am one of the lucky ones and should be fine, I miss, above all, hugs and physical closeness. I have also started to resent people with partners, children or cuddly pets (which I have not done before).
I cannot enjoy my many usual activities away from home, and without these prompts I have to make a real effort to give my day some structure. I am coping and am not especially vulnerable, but the many words written on the difficulties of being shut at home with a family are starting to make me feel invisible.
You are certainly not alone in how you feel. But while it is normal and understandable, it doesn’t make it any easier to cope with. Three things jumped out at me from your letter: being widowed (my condolences), your use of the word “should”, and your newfound resentment, all things I felt were worth exploring.
I contacted Dr Heather Wood, a psychoanalyst (bpc.org.uk), to help me unpick your letter. Of course, some people choose to live alone and are perfectly happy this way. But, as Wood explained, “Some people have living alone forced on them by bereavement [as in your case] or relationships ending, and although they find ways of making it work, it wasn’t their first choice.” Wood also thought you sounded “very resourceful, but your capacity to adapt [this time] has been stretched by this extraordinary situation.”
Your letter displayed no self-pity and you sound as if you take responsibility for yourself (that’s a major plus, as many don’t). But your use of the word “should” belied that you feel you ought to be fine, but you’re not. And isn’t that OK? To not feel fine, to not cope at times? Are you worried this is the new you? Because I don’t think it is.
It sounds as if you’ve managed to control your feelings – of grief, loss, maybe anger and fear – until now. In lockdown, life is necessarily small and shrunken, and perhaps the negative feelings we’ve managed to keep in abeyance can suddenly loom large. I think this may also explain why you are now feeling resentful of people having things you don’t. This is completely understandable and not a sign of a change in your personality – rather a reaction to a very difficult, but transient, situation.
With regard to resentment, Wood flagged something important, of which we should all take note in these days of social media, when others can appear to have a better life: “Envy can start as a sort of admiration for others but can end up with us begrudging people for what they have. Envy thrives when you can’t check out the reality, and one of the things about isolation is that you can imagine everybody else is in happy families together, doing enjoyable things and that makes your aloneness feel much more painful and more acute.”
Even within these restrained times, it’s important to look at what makes us feel better, what makes us feel like us. It’s different for everyone. Like you, I need routine, so I’ve been careful to implement one. Can you try to think of things that might make you feel better? And then work out what is achievable? (I realise hugs and physical closeness can’t happen now.)
It’s great that you talk to people regularly. Wood wondered if friends ask what they can do to help; might it be an idea to ask them to ring at the same time every day to give a sense of structure? I am not a fan of video calls but in these last few weeks they have been life-affirming. I know one man who uses them to read his grandchildren a story every night, which makes him feel connected and useful, and gives his son 10 minutes of breathing space at bedtime.
“It’s incredibly important,” said Wood, “for us to be connected and to be seen, not just in a physical sense but seen for who we are, and, in a way, what isolation is asking us is to be invisible.”
Do you thrive on helping? Is there some way you could help those in your community? These connections make us human, and if there’s some way you can achieve that it may make you realise that, while you are not as visible just at the moment, you are still vital.
• Send your problem to [email protected] Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
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