Do you know how it feels to be lonely?

26 September 2014
Panos Christodoulou

Do you really know how it feels to be lonely? For my research, This is how it feels to be lonely, I interviewed The Forum’s members. Some were happy to share their dramatic stories and their experiences of loneliness and isolation in the UK, which shed light on the experiences of many migrants and refugees. We recognise the courage of all those who shared their stories with us. I hope their powerful voices can spark a national conversation about how we treat the most vulnerable in society.

All the interviewees’ names have been changed for confidentiality reasons.

Anieta’s story

Anieta has been in the UK for 20 years or more and she is a British citizen now. She came here alone from Ethiopia. She has been feeling lonely for a long time but she is now joining different groups and activities that are helping her to feel more happy and engaged in her everyday life. Anieta has been volunteering at the Soup Kitchen Project for three years now and this has made a huge difference to her life. There, as she states, she has the opportunity to meet and help different people, but also build long-lasting relationships. For Anieta, people working at the Soup Kitchen Project have a really important role in her life and have become her family. They call her to join activities and she has the chance to be out of her house – where otherwise she spends most of the time crying and feeling sad. Recently, she has also started English classes and a Card Making group, which enable her to develop new skills but also meet new people and practice speaking English. Although she has lived in the UK  for more than 20 years, English is still a barrier to her but thanks to the courses she is improving and feels more confident.

Anieta describes herself as a happy person and for that she praises God and the many groups of activities she has joined. But while saying this she is crying. After 20 years in the UK, she has been through a lot. At the beginning she struggled with her sense of belonging. She wouldn’t have made it if she hadn’t met all her friends while participating in all the above activities. They were and still are an important part of her life. They keep her alive.

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Dana’s story

Dana is from Afghanistan but has received British citizenship. She experienced different traumatic events in her life, such as the terror of the Taliban regime, war, the loss of a family member and violence by her husband. She arrived in the UK to join her father, who moved here.

She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Despite the fact that she is a British Citizen and entitled to work, she is not employed at the moment but rather lives a quite isolated life, which makes her feel very lonely. She is also the primary carer for her sister, who is also diagnosed with PTSD, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Reuniting with her family in the UK was helpful for her to escape from the violence of her husband but is also a reason for her isolation from British society, and the difficulties she faces with the English language. Isolation, for her and her family, is not a matter of status rather a lack of consistent connections in the society around them. Even though she has been based in the UK since 2005, she has no close friends. She does not trust people, does not want to speak with strangers, especially about her past and, apart from her sisters and father, she has no contacts or connections. This, along with the fact that she still barely speaks English, reinforces her insecurity and loneliness.

The only people she meets on a daily basis are the people she meets at The Forum. She likes going there because – as she says – the people at The Forum are friendly and energetic. According to Dana, The Forum is a safe place, where her and her family find support and psychological and emotional help to deal with the strong challenges they face.

Dana confides that she needs to talk with people who are not part of her family. As she states, when she first came to The Forum, she stayed there for long periods trying to speak as much as possible with someone. In her first counselling session at The Forum, she says that she had an urgent need to get all of her problems, emotions and worries off of her chest, that she started speaking for a long time in her own language, although she knew that her counsellor could not understand her. Dana now joins several groups, especially the sewing classes, and hopes to be able to use the skills she acquired here to find a proper job and to be able to start her own independent life.

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Baker’s story

Baker came here alone from Nigeria, unable to count on the support of family and friends. He had to face a new system and new challenges on his own, but during all the years he has been in the UK he got involved in a variety of organisations and built strong personal connections that helped him in times of need and difficulties.

Baker says that life forced him to learn how to constantly fight for his existence and manage to survive. He faced enormous difficulties; life threatening events back in his country of origin, which forced him to immigrate, his wife’s severe depression and his daughter’s Down’s Syndrome. Despite these challenges, Baker has successfully become integrated in the community he is part of. He has joined several different activities and now he is trained to hold a poetry group which he runs for other members of The Forum. He states that thanks to The Forum he has been able to find some practical but also emotional assistance that has encouraged him and given him the confidence to try and accomplish his ambitions. Most importantly, the fact that he recently obtained legal status in the UK, has given him a new lease of life.

This blog is part of our series ‘This is how it feels to be lonely’, looking at the isolation that our members face. Read the full report “This is how it feel to be lonely” here. You can read more stories from The’s Forum’s members at ‘Their Dramatic Stories‘.

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