A conversation earlier today made me realise just how far I have come with my own wellbeing. While we are always being told to practice self-care and take time out for ourselves, often it is in the form of warm baths, candles and meditating. For me, and many others, self-care goes a little further. It’s about being kind to ourselves and becoming our own best friend, learning to spend time alone and actually enjoying it. Days spent by myself are some of my favourite and the only way to truly recharge my energy levels. It wasn’t always like this, however, and it took quite a few years to reach this level of content. Therefore, I thought that it might be interesting to share my journey, in case anyone else is going through a similar experience or can relate in any way.
A few years ago, the thought of an entire weekend without plans would have filled me with dread and an impending sense of loneliness. The worst times were at university, when often I would have my lectures bunched together in the middle of the week, with four days off usually by myself or, at most, a coffee date with a friend. Interestingly, this was a time when I was in a relationship, albeit not a great one, and looking back, it probably contributed more towards my feelings of loneliness than if I had been alone. I was spending a lot of time in my own company but I didn’t know how to enjoy it. Visits home were not to relax and catch up with family but out of fear of solitude. It wasn’t a life that I had imagined in my early twenties, particularly not as a student.
An event at the start of my third year of university, however, changed my perspective on life forever and it was only during this time that I finally became reacquainted with myself. In recovery and no longer in an unhealthy relationship, I simply had to get out and start living again; I had missed out on far too much in life. I owed it to myself. The start wasn’t easy and there were many painful moments. I distinctly remember a time a few weeks into the academic year when I was making my way home after a day of exploring the local area. It was a Saturday afternoon, the shops were starting to close and the street was lively full of students and tourists alike. I can still remember the deep pit in my stomach as I watched groups of friends walking home together, mentally preparing myself for another evening alone while my flatmate was away. However, the simple fact that I had made it out of the house and had actually somewhat enjoyed my day was a step in the right direction. Slowly, I began to do this more, taking myself out of my comfort zone and realising that a lot of things that we do in life with others can easily be done in our own company. Coffee dates, evenings with hot chocolate and a TV series, and slow mornings in bed became a favourite of mine. Actively seeking out these things helped me to feel more in control; I was choosing to spend this time by myself rather than as a last resort. There wasn’t a particular moment when it all clicked into place but I think it was all to do with a change in perspective.
What probably also helped a lot, however, was putting myself out in the world more. Being shy and reserved can make socialising feel like climbing a mountain, particularly when it comes to instigating it or finding people to socialise with. However, I knew I had to make an attempt to turn things around. I had no one to fall back on and a lot of self-forgiveness to get through. An evening spent at the Stand Up to Cancer march with some girls I had met through a new friend on my course spurred a motivation in making these changes. It was such a cosy evening and made me realise that I had been isolating myself from the rest of the world for far too long. I began in simple ways, such as going for coffee with course friends on our breaks or getting together for study sessions, sometimes at weekends. A lot of the time, friendly people are right under our noses but we are too busy consumed with our loneliness and worries to notice. If there really isn’t anyone in close proximity, the internet can be a great place to meet new friends. Blogging for the past two years has led me to some of the loveliest people. Finding that balance, even slightly, can make the biggest impact – just like in the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I would highly recommend to anyone feeling lonely or not. While letting others in and going out of our way seems tricky at first, it can do wonders in helping us feel more content.
By the middle of my final year, I started to actually enjoy my weekends alone, browsing trinket shops, reading, and sometimes treating myself in the bakery section in Waitrose. I cherished those little moments, knowing that I was choosing to spend my time in that way, whether actually having potential plans or not. With this new perspective, I began to enjoy my own company. It was a journey with ups and downs that taught me a lot about myself, and one that continues to this day. Even now I will sometimes feel a pang of anxiety when I’m faced with a free weekend but I quickly swat the feelings away and remember all the wonderful things I can do, with or without the company of others.
Have you been on a similar journey? What helped you to overcome feelings of loneliness and feel content in solitude?