• J.R. Reed

How Being Alone and Lonely Affects My Mental Health During our Current Reality


For eight years I lived alone. Six in Southern California and two in Missouri. For a while it was just me, then it was me and my autism service dog, Tye. He’s decent company, though not much of a conversationalist.

Eighteen months ago, my then twenty-one-year-old daughter moved in with me and for a few months it seemed as if I was once again living with someone. Then she began working more hours, making friends and eventually got a boyfriend, and I would see her maybe a total of an hour a week, so it was almost as if I was living alone again. The only difference was the mess she would leave for me in the kitchen when I was asleep.


Though I was alone, I wasn’t lonely.

Shannon would occasionally come to my place in a much more rural part of Missouri which, though only thirty minutes from her apartment in “the city,” was like night and day to someone on the spectrum, when it comes to sensory overload, or rather a lack of it.

When she comes down, she brings laundry so that she won’t have to pay to use the machines at her apartment complex and we hang out, watch TV, do some advocacy work or just chill and relax.

I remember one of the first times she came down and my front door was open. She had just commented on the lack of noise outside; no traffic, neighbors stomping around or the like, when she heard a sound and asked what it was.

“Birds,” I replied. “We hear those out here on a pretty regular basis.”

She was intrigued by the sounds of nature around my house and in the surrounding area and enjoys the times she can get away from city life and hang out in a community of 4,000, if only for a day or two.

Then came 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic.

Shannon was here when the lock down started along with a pile of her laundry. When she arrived, she planned on staying a couple of days, but with all that was going on, that few days turned into five weeks.

Eventually Shannon began truly missing her apartment and went back home to quarantine, leaving me once again in a house where I was alone, although, unlike before, this time I felt very much alone and lonely. I still do.

It’s weird, isn’t it? How having a friend, in this case, my best friend, around you daily for so long makes such a huge impact on not only your daily life, but on your mental health. Things seemed brighter, better and happier when she was around.

I had someone to talk to about the craziness that was going on in the world, and we would laugh at what people were hoarding this week. I had someone to cook for and someone who actually wanted to pitch in and do some of the cleaning that the autistic part of me truly dreads and that I put off as long as I can.

How long have I put chores off? When Shannon asked me if I had ever cleaned the wooden blinds in the three years I’ve lived in this house, I gave an honest answer.

“Probably.”

Being alone can be healthy. Being lonely is far from ideal, and being lonely on a consistent basis isn’t good at all. In the time since Shannon left to go home, I’ve felt consistently lonely and that loneliness has manifested itself in increased depression, a lack of wanting to do things, and anxiety because I realize I’m not getting things done like I should.

The funny thing is, the only other thing that’s changed from before the coronavirus quarantine to now is that my daughter has moved in with her fiancée, so instead of seeing her for five minutes here and there, I see her for ten minutes every couple of weeks as she comes to pick up more of her stuff. Also, I now have no one to blame if the dishes pile up in the sink.

I’m getting scared about the state of my mental health over the past days. Now I can see clearly what it’s like for adults on the spectrum, adults with other disabilities and mental health issues as well as people in general who have been sheltered this whole six or seven weeks by themselves. It’s straight up scary.

I hate feeling lonely because I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I lived alone in this house for a long time without feeling lonely and I shouldn’t feel that way now. Even worse than feeling lonely is admitting to all of you that I’m feeling lonely and that its tearing me apart. It makes me feel like less of a person because I can’t get a handle on this and get it under control.

My brain feels like its falling apart and it scares the hell out of me.

My psychologist has gone the tele-health route and that’s been less than awesome. When we were seeing each other face to face, we had 50-55 minutes to talk about what’s going on in my life and come up with solutions.

Now with sketchy technology including multiple dropped video feeds per session and voices cutting in and out, we’re lucky to get 25-30 minutes of actual work in per week. I know I’m not the only one who has run into these problems. During a time when we can all use some extra mental health care, we end up getting less. That’s not good.

It’s not just the loneliness and the stress of trying to have a complete session with your mental health professional that affects your mental health. It’s the uncertainty of our lives, how long all this will last and what the future holds. Though I do wonder what the future holds, I try not to worry too much about it because the reality is that its out of my control.

What will happen to me in the coming days and weeks? Who knows.

I’ve slept about 2.5 hours over the past 48 hours and it hasn’t been because of depression or anxiety. I just can’t fall asleep because my mind is racing with thoughts I can’t slow down. The techniques that used to take care of these racing thoughts aren’t working and if I don’t get any sleep again tonight I’m going to have to figure out a solution quickly.

What about you? What have the past couple of months been like for you and your mental health? Have you found ways to cope or are you feeling broken and defeated? Share your stories with us because we’re all in this together and our stories of victory and defeat can help each other in these scary times.

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