4 people who deal with feelings of loneliness talk of how they battle with this demon

Updated: 04 February, 2018 11:11 IST | Jane Borges and Gitanjali Chandrasekharan | Mumbai

Last month, the UK government appointed a loneliness minister to look into an increasing epidemic of feelings of isolation experienced in the country's population. But this is not just a British problem

 Ray Iyer

Ray Iyer, social entrepreneur and mental health advocate, 28
Is surviving the loneliness of a mental health condition I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder last May, but, since I experienced severe trauma in my childhood and adolescence, I think that the onset may have been earlier, and went undiagnosed. Since I work in the mental health sector, I believe being open is an important part of recovery. Whether with my employer, colleagues, friends or lovers - I have always been forthcoming about it, because it is an integral part of who I am and hiding it only makes me feel more anxious.

When I have bad days - a breakdown, a panic attack or mood swings - I either talk to my therapist (if she is available) or to my closest friends. I try to avoid telling my parents so as not to stress them out.  What I have found hard to deal with is loneliness, some of which stems from my condition. For most part, I feel alone in my head when my illness manifests in everyday life, especially because there is this pressure to always put up a strong front. I feel lonely even in crowds because it isn't so much about having people around you physically, but wanting to be accepted for who you truly are - on good and bad days.

My parents have been very supportive although it took them a while to understand that my condition is not temporary and it will be a daily fight. Them speaking to my therapists helped them understand me better. They have always encouraged me to do things that enable healing. I am sure it does cause them pain to see me suffer when I have my low days, but they have been resilient and we share an honest relationship, which helps them carry the confidence that I can pick myself up no matter what.

I have been quick to make friends, but off late, I have narrowed down my social circle to those I truly connect with and feel safe around. Having open conversations with them about how they can support me, without causing a dependency, helps. I have learnt it the hard way that I have to define boundaries with friends, else it can lead to co-dependency, which is counter productive to my living an independent life.

Manav Kaul, actor, 40
Lives alone in a Versova apartment
I moved to Mumbai in 1998. But that's not the first time I started living alone. I was living alone in a hostel as a student and later in Bhopal where I had rented an apartment. When I moved to Mumbai, initially, I lived with others because this is an expensive city.

Manav Kaul

In the West, being alone is looked upon as normal. But, in India, nobody forgives you if you have started living alone. Society wants us all to live together. If you are alone, they think you are depressed. I like sitting alone in a coffee shop, doing my work. But people here think "bechara akela baitha hai". If you were doing the same in the West, nobody would give a s***.

I go for movies alone and enjoy it. Yet, whenever I bump into friends who are watching the movie together, they look at me like I am from a different planet. Initially, I found it awkward, but it has become better. I also travel alone. In fact, on December 31, I was biking alone in Uttaranchal. It was one of the finest experiences of my life. Yet, having said that, it's very difficult to live alone or travel alone.

You have to understand yourself, know how to entertain yourself and you go through a lot of ups and downs. I have also gone through days of extreme loneliness and tough times. In 2013 and 2014, I was depressed. That was the period in which I did a play called Colour Blind, and discovered myself as an actor. I released a lot of it [the low] in my performance.

Loneliness drives you to learn how to be at ease with yourself. My writing, short stories, my plays - everything is the product of this alone time. I thank god I have lived alone and gone through lonely phases. It's a productive time and I think all directors and writers should do this.

We need to start celebrating living alone. What we are sold is the LIC Policy picture perfect family with a nice home, kids and a beautiful family. If I am not making a family or not participating in the social structure, I am of no use. The idea of happiness that's pushed on us is always with people.

For instance, although I may have not been to Goa, I know what happiness in Goa is supposed to be: the beach, drinking beer with friends and getting in and out of the water. But, can sipping on a coffee near the beach also constitute happiness? Just because you don't fit the mould that's been sold to you, you think you are not happy.

There's a book called Into The Wild (also a movie) in which it's written: "happiness is when you share it". At the time I read it, I was very young and thought it was the gospel truth. But I don't like the idea any longer. When you are travelling alone and you see something nice, the urge is to immediately share it on social media to say "see how happy my life is", but is that actually happiness? I share a relationship with the moment, may be the chai tapri or the sunset and I use it in a play or my performances.

Ajay Pandey, novelist, 33
Wrote a semi-autobiographical book on vanquishing loneliness
When loneliness completely and utterly engulfs us, we tend to go into a shell and may even choose to limit communication with people around us. This happened to me in 2012, when I lost my wife, two years after we were married. Her death came as a shock. She was diagnosed with septicemia, while she was suffering dengue, and before I could even make sense of it, she was gone. In that moment, I hated God. I felt my world crash, and was in absolute misery. I had stopped speaking to people, especially close friends and family. I knew that I was depressed.

Ajay Pandey

A few months later, while I was suffering from a bout of loneliness, I found refuge in books. I read over 100 books in a short span of time and didn't even realise when books became my companion, telling me stories that helped me cope better with my pain. At that point life, when I didn't want to meet anyone, writing came to my rescue. I started writing to pay tribute to my beloved wife and to do justice to that, I continued reading.

My writing also brought me face-to-face with the fact that I wasn't alone and I really wasn't the only person suffering. I realised that everyone was fighting their own battles. This aided my recuperation and appreciating life again. And through the complete experience, my first book, You Are the Best friend, was born. What the book also did for me was help me appreciate and savour the short-lived, but beautiful life we (my wife and I) had together. While I still live alone, I have become more open to experiencing life and people. I understand what having a good friend in your life can do. The freedom to lay all your emotions, feelings and struggles in front of that person can soothe your heart.

Parin Sam Mojia, Homemaker, 88
Has lived alone in a Grant Road apartment since her husband passed on
My life turned upside down when my loving husband, Sam, passed away 10 years ago. It also changed me as a person. Until then, we would do everything together. My husband never enjoyed socialising or going out shopping, yet he made those exceptions for me.

Parin Sam Mojia

Now, here I was, all by myself. In the beginning, I really didn't know what to do. I remember how I'd keep getting recurring dreams of him, where he'd tell me, 'Parin, come join me, I'm so bored.' You know what I fear more than loneliness? Death. I don't want to die, and if that meant upsetting my dead husband, and not joining him in heaven, I was ready for that. I still had so many dreams to fulfil. I wanted to see my two sons settled well, and my grandchildren married, so, how could I leave just yet? And so, instead of crying or being sad, I decided to enjoy my life.

And, that's been my mantra since. My son, who lives nearby, comes and visits me every morning. In fact, he has his workstation, here in my house. But, after he goes late in the afternoon, it can get lonely. I don't like that feeling, and to avoid that, I make it a point to dress up in my finest, and get out of home every evening. I usually visit the fire temple, and then go to the bazaar at Grant Road, and engage in some small talk with the vegetable vendors or hawkers. I even don't spare the beggars. I really like talking, because it helps occupy my mind.

People wonder how a lady of my age is so sprightly, but that's because I am determined not to fall apart. When I come home in the evening, I am either watching television or talking to my parrot Mithu, who was gifted to by my son, nine years ago. She is a great companion and friend. On Sundays, I go for a movie with my niece - I absolutely adore Salman Khan - and compulsorily visit Catholic Gymkhana to play housie. Yes, I am quite a big gambler, but if you have to be happy, you have to find things to keep you in good spirits.

I don't allow feelings of loneliness to engulf me. If I am scared, especially in the night, I sleep with the lights on and pray to God. Several years ago, my mother-in-law had advised me that if I ever felt sad, I should just look into the mirror and smile. "Parin, that way you will be the happiest," she had said. Oh! What a great remedy that is. Life should be lived like that. Enjoy it to the fullest, so that you have zero regrets. Nothing, including loneliness, can then take you down.

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First Published: 04 February, 2018 11:03 IST

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