I got a new cat and it made me think about loneliness.
Six weeks after losing my beloved Simone to cancer, I type this with Moses jumping over the keyboard.
It’s been quite a journey, proving rocky roads aren’t confined to the cake counter and the promised land is sometimes accessible via purring and four-paw Sat Nav.
Simone’s time ran out on in the wee small hours of the morning of August 1.
It was just me and her when she died in the strip-lit bleakness of the 24- hour vet clinic.
It’s safe to say it wasn’t the way I wanted to say goodbye.
I held her as the drugs took away her pain, and as they took away her life I sobbed uncontrollably.
I never cry. Or at least only a handful of times a year usually when I’m watching Grease or listening to Mahler.
Even when Mum died, I remained stoic, returning home alone to drink a shot of whisky then going to bed.
Of course I was younger then and death seemed such an abstract concept.
It tends to until you reach a certain age.
With Simone though, something died in me too and it triggered a depression that became overwhelming.
Loneliness lurking behind a locked door
Grief has a way of unlocking doors, many of which are better left padlocked.
It’s a bit like entering a huge maze in the dark.
Except you’re afraid to touch the sides, or even to breathe too deeply for fear of catching something.
I was about to turn 62 and realised with a shock that I was grown up and alone.
A stranger in this strange land of loss, flailing in the bewilderment of sudden, irrational loneliness.
There – I said the forbidden word. Loneliness.
It’s a word that brings dinner parties to a crashing halt.
Surrounded by friends, laughter and the trappings of a life well-lived, who could possibly understand?
You can be lonely among thousands of people in Wembley Stadium though.
I’ve been that person.
Now I returned to a house that felt empty and cold all of a sudden, a symbol of my failings – as a pet owner and as a person.
Loneliness triggered old emotions
I took a sleeping pill and when I woke later that day I knew this winter would be long and tough.
I just didn’t know if I had the resolve to make it.
John Lennon was right when he said life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
It’s a fact that will be obvious to anyone who has lost someone they love.
And I’m sure most people reading this can relate to it.
I knew I was feeling isolated and I knew I was growing depressed because I’ve been depressed before.
I know the signs to look out for: the inertia that makes getting up seem laborious; the fog that creeps into your head, leaving it feeling as heavy as lead.
There’s the forced smile you conjure up to let everyone know you’re ok really; the feeling of pointlessness that can overwhelm you in the middle of changing the sheets.
They’re all signs of a tired mind begging for some respite.
I know what it is when I see it now. And I know that I am not alone in feeling lonely.
Every day is mental health day
October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
One in four people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their life and living through almost two years of this pandemic has made us all vulnerable.
Supporting someone else can affect your mental health and it can be difficult to remember to take the time to look after yourself.
— SAMH (@SAMHtweets) September 13, 2021
The scale of the issue is unimaginable.
Poverty, isolation, unemployment, disruption of business, home schooling, Brexit, politics and other factors have skewed our view of life.
No wonder it feels more fraught and dangerous than it did before.
Many of the things we relied on – the infrastructure of our daily lives – now seem fragile and illusory.
Mistrust and inequality have fragmented our society, to the degree that many of us feel we’re on our own.
If my recent – and frankly scary – dalliance with depression has taught me anything it’s that we need to look out for each other.
This goes beyond the platitudes about being kind.
This is about really looking at someone’s life in all its messy, confusing and sometimes contrary and irrational signalling and deciphering what’s going on.
For a lot of people right now, deep waters appear to be running very still but some are in danger of drowning.
Moses walked in and loneliness walked out
My new cat was found abandoned in a field in County Durham by friends who saw that we needed each other.
Left in a basket, he could only really be called Moses.
He’s become a Fifer very quickly, is completely adorable and – whether you believe in fate, God or just plain good luck – he has enriched my life.
My equilibrium feels restored, my loneliness banished. Happiness is now an option.
But just as a cat isn’t just for Christmas, mental health isn’t just for October.
We check our glands and organs for signs of concern.
We need to learn to check our own heads – and, sometimes, each other’s – too.