Being alone is a mind game that you have to play with yourself. It requires tenacity and strength to believe that you are not going to disappear, that people will remember you, that someone will come looking for you before your face is eaten by cats. That’s why I keep a dog; needy and companionable, she reminds me that I am loved.
On my own, after a time, I learned that the things that rooted me and tied me to that life before could be pruned back so that healthy new shoots could grow. I learned that being alone could be creatively fulfilling. I learned how to get back in touch with myself; about the joy of shutting the curtains and locking the latch and knowing that no one could come into my space unless I invited them. I had my own super secret clubhouse. But loneliness should never be confused with the desire to be alone. When my children were small, I would fantasise about a whole day on my own. Sometimes I would lock myself in the toilet just to read the next chapter in my book. Being alone was a guilty pleasure, a moment to replenish myself because I had so many little people asking questions, touching me, wanting too much.
It can also be hard for other people to understand that you can feel loneliness and grief for things that you’ve never actually had: the never-born children, the relationship that never was, the missed opportunities, the life you wanted but weren’t brave or lucky enough to have. The lack of these things is real and hurts a lot.