When ill health stopped my career in my mid fifties, I lost more than a reasonable income, I lost a focus, a rationale and a structure that involved regular interaction with both colleagues and clients.
As weeks turned into months and months to years engagement with a wider world began to fade and contact with this previous life ceased completely. Never gregarious, isolation set in. Fortunate in having an active mental life with much reading to catch up on I was able to cope. But eventually isolation and loneliness began to take its toll. Whole weeks could pass without anything more than the most cursory interaction with shop assistants.
It is insufficiently appreciated how much loneliness takes on the whole of one’s life. It can impact on everything from the psychological, self esteem and identity to self care, neglect and a sedentary existence absent of exercise and healthy eating.
It is difficult to ask for help. Deprived of much else, pride can feel like the last bit of wreckage on which to cling. Having had a career spanning addiction, mental health and offending, the idea of asking for support felt especially difficult. The stigma attached to mental health problems is irrational but rational thinking proves no defence against stigma. It is possible to seek to combat such stigma and yet feel a sense of inadequacy when experiencing such difficulty.
Seeking support was a slow process, characterised by hesitancy and nervousness promoted by my fear of not being treated on a basis of equality, and not feeling in control. It began with an email to the Wellbeing service and from that initial contact began, again slowly, to engage with the service run by Wellbeing at the Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea.
From telephone conversations with someone able to provide intelligent and friendly exchange of ideas, for support can also take the form of being reminded that you too have ideas and a contribution to make, to walks by the canal and watching Gilbert and Sullivan in Holland Park. As time progressed my confidence and self esteem began to be restored.
It is not as infrequent to cross over from giving to receiving support. The line has always been much more fluid than people imagine. Given the way life is currently structured, especially in big cities, this is hardly surprising. The journey from provider to receiver or receiver to provider is a journey that can enrich all.
Support can also take the form of being reminded that you too have ideas and a contribution to make.
S.M., Dec 2022