Life after loneliness: ‘At school, I was incredibly isolated – then I learned to build deep, thriving friendships’

I knew the pandemic meant long-haul isolation, bringing back terrible teenage memories. But friends rallied round with two-hour calls and freezing park visits

I am sure I was not the only one, when lockdown was announced last March, to wonder if I was more scared of loneliness than I was of the virus. As a disabled person, I knew I was in for the isolation long-haul. Apart from my carers and my parents, I didn’t see another soul – not even a stranger in a shop – for eight long weeks.

I’ve spent much of my adult life haunted by the spectre of a much longer period of loneliness. It has meant I am often frantically arranging meetups with friends, or other activities. At school, I was incredibly isolated; excluded, sometimes purposefully and sometimes not, from the social lives of my non-disabled peers. There was also a deeper sense – not of loneliness, really, but what I now think of as “aloneness”. I simply didn’t know anyone like me, which fostered a feeling of difference, shame and segregation that still lurks under my skin.

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