Expert by experience How Emma handled feeling lonely
‘I didn’t want to be a burden’
UKrant will be focusing on the topic of loneliness among students, in the form of articles, videos and the unique matching project Friend-o-matic, organised by UKrant and HanzeMag.
‘I don’t think you’re doing very well at all’, the therapist told Emma Joanroy (23) mid-January. It was true: Emma was having a hard time. She had been for months, but she’d arrived at her lowest point.
As she neared the end of her bachelor, Emma realised that many of her friends were leaving for other cities or even other countries. She was staying behind in Groningen to start her two-year master in arts, media and literary studies.
Suddenly, she had to face facts: friendships are ephemeral. It made her think. ‘Who do I feel genuinely connected to? Is there anyone I can bond with on a deeper level? Who are truly my friends? These questions were going round and round my head’, says Emma.
Sluggish and sad
The corona pandemic only served to exacerbate these intrusive thoughts. Like many other people, Emma suddenly had only herself to rely on. Even though she was living with her boyfriend at the time, it was difficult living in such close quarters. ‘We talked about the same stuff every day. Nothing ever happened to us’, says Emma. She lost contact with many people in her friend group.
Did people even want to know me?
It marked the start of a dark time, during which she felt very lonely. ‘I felt empty. Sluggish, but also sad. I kept wondering if anyone even cared about me. Did people even want to know me?
Because Emma was on her own so much, she had trouble thinking rationally. ‘There were times where I just wanted to curl up on my bed in the foetal position. I’d spend hours just looking at my phone. At least that didn’t take any effort.’
She felt especially bad at the end of the afternoon and at night. ‘I’d be tired from the day and didn’t have the power to resist anymore.’
Emma was also feeling stressed because of her studies. The workload was a lot, and she had few opportunities to distract herself. She found herself shutting down completely. She lost all interest in her studies; she couldn’t get herself to do any work. ‘I’m not a bad student. I work hard and I get good grades’, says Emma. ‘But I couldn’t get anything done. I got no satisfaction from it and nothing I did worked out. I’ve never had anything like that happen before.’
The implementation of the curfew was an ultimate low point for Emma. She made sure to follow the rules exactly, because she was really scared to infect people around. This meant she was barely seeing anyone, but now her daily schedule was even more disrupted. ‘I kept thinking, who can I meet up with one on one? You’d have to have a pretty close bond with someone. And I didn’t want to be a burden.’
Emma was fortunate to have a good therapist she could talk to. ‘It was very important I have someone who could recognise these thoughts and patterns. Someone who knows what it’s like to feel that no one understands you.’
Her therapist helped Emma to finally do something about her situation. She sent a long message to the friends she’d fallen out of touch with, telling them how she regretted the lack of contact and how she felt about the status of their relationship. Her fears of being a burden turned out to be unfounded; she received many positive responses.
My mentor’s acknowledgement meant a lot
She also went to her mentor, who was understanding and helped relieve her study load. ‘The fact that he acknowledged my problems meant a lot to me. I didn’t have to keep explaining myself to him.’
She hopes the university is aware of the situation many students are currently in. And that there are other mentors like hers, who recognise red flags and take them seriously. The fact that her mentor was so involved proved to be crucial.
Even though Emma has gone through a difficult time, she doesn’t want people to think she’s ‘vulnerable’. ‘I don’t like who the media portrays “vulnerable” people as people we need to protect, like we’re weak. Sometimes we’re just affected by the circumstances. That’s the problem that needs fixing’, she says.
She now knows she’s not the only one who feels this way sometimes. She shared news articles about the mental health problems that students face on her Instagram accounts and created polls for her followers to fill out. ‘I received responses from people I never would have expected to feel that way. It made me realise how big the issue really was.’
I’ve learned from every rough patch
Emma thinks the solution might be for people to look after each other a little better. ‘People tend to think they need to give you space when you’re not doing well. But sometimes you have to take someone by the hand, even if they don’t explicitly say they need it.’
Even though she’s feeling better now, Emma knows she’ll probably feel sad again at some point in the future. ‘I’ll probably go through a few more rough patches when the people around me leave. But I’ve learned that I just have to get through it every time. I now know how to deal with it better and how to recognise it.’
And while it may sound like a cliché, what’s really helped Emma is to talk about her feelings. ‘It was difficult at first. But it does help.’
The name Emma is not her real name, because of privacy reasons