“I have a mental illness”. These words can often make you feel isolated and alone, especially if the person you tell doesn’t react with the kindness and compassion you deserve.
Loneliness can be crippling and make everyday tasks feel much harder.
I myself have depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. All of which have led to me feeling lonely at different times in my life.
This loneliness is caused by many different things; from the attitudes of others to the crippling self-doubt they cause me. For me, being lonely has been one of the hardest things about my diagnoses that I have had to deal with.
Loneliness and me
From when I was at school I have always felt some form of loneliness depending on the circumstances at the time. Sometimes it was because of how hard I found it to make friends when I felt so different. Sometimes my depression just told me I needed to withdraw.
Feeling lonely isn’t just about having no-one around you; I have felt lonely when surrounded by a group of people.
Feeling lonely is more about feeling detached from those around you. Mental illness can cause this detachment. People, when they hear the phrase “I have a mental illness”, can picture all sorts of scenarios that cause them to back away.
Another reason for feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people, is the role stigma plays. It can be difficult to be open about what is happening inside your head. Even if you can explain it, quite often it feels easier to hide what is really going on. This makes the detachment from others greater and in turn increases how lonely you can feel.
Things got worse…
When I had to open up at work over my mental illness and subsequently lost my job, loneliness threatened to overtake me. I had a few friends outside of work but most that I socialised with regularly were work colleagues.
The first time I realised the relationships had changed was when I couldn’t attend the Christmas dinner. I felt isolated. No one knew quite what to say to me anymore and I was cut off from a major part of my social network. I was stuck at home with little to say to anyone.
The few friends I had I suddenly felt incredibly disconnected from. They didn’t understand what was going on in my head as I couldn’t explain it myself. I felt trapped with my thoughts. This made the loneliness increase.
How I overcame loneliness
What helped me to feel less alone was finding people who understood or who were going through similar things. This for me came in the form of a local peer support charity who ran a recovery course.
Attending the recovery course was a major turning point for me.
Turning up on the first day I felt nervous about what awaited me, especially with my difficulty making friends in the past. By lunchtime, however I realised that the people on the course weren’t judging me, nor did I have to try and explain to them what was going on in my head.
They understood. It didn’t matter if I sat quietly and just listened. Over the weeks of the course I made friends that I keep in contact with every week.
So while mental illness can be isolating and lonely, there are people out there who understand. Finding others who had similar problems made me feel less alone.
Peer support was the key to helping me on the way to recovering and feeling less stigmatised. It made the loneliness less intense and easier to deal with. Although I do still face times where I feel lonely I now have a support network of friends who I can turn to who make me realise I am not alone.
If you are struggling with any of the issues that Joanna describes here, our tips on coping with loneliness might be helpful.
If you think peer supoprt might help you, our infoline can help you to find a local group or service.