"How I stopped feeling lonely" - Read Hilary's touching story
If you feel lonely, you’re not alone – and there is plenty of help out there. Sarah Brealey gets tips on how to deal with loneliness from people who have come out the other side. Plus, watch our exclusive video.
It’s not always easy to admit to feeling lonely, but it’s more common than you think. Losing a partner, finishing work, poor health or moving to a new area can all contribute. A survey by Age UK earlier this year found that more than a million elderly people – that’s one in 10 – said they often or always feel lonely.
But loneliness is not restricted to older people. Loneliness affects people in different ways. Some people feel lonely even when they spend a lot of time with others. Other people may not have much social contact but be perfectly comfortable with that. Winter can be a particularly bad time, when the weather may make us less inclined to go out. And Christmas, when we are bombarded by images of celebrations and happy families, is hard to cope with if you are feeling lonely or have lost a loved one.
There are things you can do to help, whether it’s volunteering, asking for help or reaching out to others.
Finding friendship with the BHF
Watch how volunteering helped Hilary to cope with loneliness in our exclusive video:
“I felt terribly lonely,” says Hilary Surridge, whose husband, Ben, died of a heart attack two years ago. They had been married for 31 years and had known each other since Hilary was 16. She didn’t have a job, and their daughter, Rebecca, had moved out.
Hilary, 53, says: “I felt like I had no reason to get up in the morning. I only got up because Rebecca’s rabbits still live here, and they couldn’t feed themselves.” However, ten months after Ben’s death, Hilary saw an advert for volunteers in the new BHF shop in Loughton, Essex. It took her a few days to pluck up the courage to call, but she thinks it’s the best thing she ever did. She says: “If it hadn’t been for the BHF, I don’t think I could have coped. The shop has helped so much.”
For Hilary, feelings of loneliness were mixed with low self-confidence and depression. She hadn’t worked for 30 years and felt out of touch with the workplace. Now, after a year working in the shop, she says: “I’ve learned so much! I’ve been trained in using a till, how to tag items and how to do the banking. I’ve found out I’m quite good with customers.”
She says the shop has been a big source of social support. “There are so many nice people in the shop. Most of them are young people and it’s like having daughters.” The shop manager, Emily Elliott, has seen the change in Hilary. “She’s now a completely different person,” she says. “When she first started, she was very quiet and emotional. She would often come in on extra days just to have some company, as being at home alone was just too much. I feel so proud of the amazingly strong woman we have helped her to become.”
If it hadn’t been for the BHF, I don’t think I could have coped
Emily says Hilary makes a big contribution to the shop, running the accessory department herself and helping to train new volunteers. She adds: “Hilary has told me that if it wasn’t for the BHF, she would probably have given in to the loneliness and stopped going out. I am so glad she found us, as I am honoured to know her and watch her grow day by day.”
Meeting other people
For Marc Austin, 41, a heart condition contributed to feelings of loneliness and low self-confidence. He had a heart attack in 2010 that left him with heart failure, and he now has a pacemaker to correct an abnormal heart rhythm.
Marc says: “I was only 37 and the fittest I’d ever been, so it came as a huge shock. I did feel isolated because of my heart problems, especially being so young. I was living on my own and I didn’t know anyone else my age with a heart condition. I went to cardiac rehab, but everyone else was in their 70s or 80s.”
He joined a BHF fundraising group in Crawley, initially because he thought it was a support group. “I soon realised it wasn’t, but they were all so friendly I thought I might as well stay,” he says. “It feels like a way of putting a positive spin on what I have been through and giving something back.
They look out for me and I look out for them. We are like a little family
“Our branch is very sociable. They look out for me and I look out for them. We are like a little family.” Marc does street collections and helps to organise fundraising events, and says that people often ask him about his story. He’s keen to raise awareness of heart attack symptoms, especially as he didn’t at first realise he was having a heart attack.
Despite ongoing health problems, Marc is back at work as a community support worker, and earlier this year married his fiancée, Helen. He’s getting Helen involved in volunteering too, and they plan to organise a barn dance together. “I love volunteering,” he says. “I would really recommend it.”
As for Hilary, she’s keen for other people to know that however lonely or low you feel, things can get better. She says: “This is like the happy ending to my story.”