We always think of loneliness as being the domain of the elderly, spending the last years alone due to being housebound or just the last of the group left alive. Well a recent survey has turned that belief completely on its head. In a report in The Times, the director of research at the Campaign to End Loneliness, Robin Hewings, explained that:
All the lonely people … are men: a fifth have no friends
A poll by YouGov found that 18 per cent of men did not have a close friend and 32 per cent had no one they counted as a best friend.
Now I can totally relate to this as I cannot recall ever having a close friend (other than my wife). At school I had ‘friends’ who I played with as I grew up and then followed each other through Scouts and our various outdoor activities. But as soon as I left home for the RAF we never communicated again.
I have never had that one person I grew up with, who knows everything there is to know about me. Who I could confide in, or turn to in a crisis! To be honest, I can’t even remember the names of some of those I grew up with.
I left home at 16 for college, returning 18 months later to finally leave home at 21. I joined the RAF and lived all over the country. Though I stayed in some places for up to 6 years and my final base for 13 years, I never got close to anyone.
Certainly, during my time in the RAF, as with many of the Armed Forces, there is always the risk of losing colleagues through action or accident. I lost over 20 colleagues during the 30 years I served. Ironically, I would put my life in the hands of any of those I flew with but would never confide my inner thoughts to them!
I think I have always been something of a loner. In my youth I suffered from a severe stammer which held me back from social interaction – this may go some way to explain my loneliness during that time. Yet, though I use the word loneliness, I am not lonely, I am happy with my own company and that of my wife and I get on well with the guys at work.
But where I am most at ease is when I am out walking. The thrill of the outdoors has been a permanent part of my life for over 50 years. In my youth I was seriously into caving, potholing and rock climbing, plus all of the other available outdoor activities. Whilst, I may have dropped the caving, potholing and climbing I still feel the need to get out and walk for miles.
The solitude I enjoy when walking helps to clear my mind of all life’s detritus and allows me to clearly focus on the issues and problems of daily life. The outdoors is my reset button, my means of staying focused and relaxed. It helps me control my PTSD and lifts my spirits when they are low.
Remember, those who are alone may not be lonely, they may just like the solitude to recharge their batteries. But having said that, if you ever see me when you are out walking, please stop me a say hi. Whilst I like my own company, I also enjoy social interaction and never happier than when I am spinning a yarn about my life experiences.
See you on the hills