How to fight loneliness and win.

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Thanks to the development of new technologies the world is continually getting smaller.  Travel and communications have become easier, faster, and cheaper than ever before. Social media allows us to keep in touch with people that in days gone by would have had nothing more than a bit part in our lives, and offers the opportunity to get to know people we’ve never actually met.

So why do we still see so many articles about the “loneliness epidemic”? Maybe society is forgetting how to really connect, and the importance of genuine human contact? Or maybe it’s because people only show their best on social media, and we’re forgetting the uniting (and healing) power of sharing our insecurities, pains, and secrets in private with another person? Maybe it’s because we are more aware than ever of what we weren’t invited to or included in by our “friends”, or because we can see that person our crush (or ex, etc.) is spending a lot of time with, at the click of a button…

The truth is the reasons why don’t really matter. What really matters is what you do about it: loneliness may seem utterly debilitating, but it can also be defeated. It may affect people differently – from mild to devastating, short lived to seemingly endless – but it will affect everyone and anyone indiscriminately, if it is given the chance. In fact, everyone I have ever spoken to about it has felt the same at one time or another.

Here are the five things that I have found to be most powerful against loneliness, and help to keep it at bay when it comes for me:

1) Exercise. The endorphins will make you feel better, as will the satisfaction of swimming a length that little bit faster, or lifting that little bit more, or even being a little less out of breath when you walk up the stairs. You’ll also start to look better too, which will only help your confidence grow and make you feel happier in your own skin. It’s also hard to find time to feel lonely when you’re trying not to notice that your lungs are burning and your muscles aching. Outdoor exercise can get you out of the confines of your lonely room, and simple things like an amicable nod from a passing stranger may have a subconscious effect on how you feel for the rest of the day. Joining a club, participating in team exercises, or even simply working out at the gym can also lead to new friendships!

2) Set goals and document it. What the goal is really doesn’t matter, whether it be getting a new job, passing an upcoming exam, eating a cleaner diet, or even just sleeping more (which is also proven to help boost one’s mood, and will help get you through the next day’s exercise!), set some goals and fill your free time working towards them. Not only does filling empty time reduce how much time you have to wallow in your loneliness, but by documenting your progress you can look back and see the progress you have made, which will not only give you the satisfaction of having improved yourself but can help keep you motivated until you have completed your goal. And once you have, give yourself a pat on the back and get busy setting yourself some more!

3) Find a creative outlet. Loneliness is a powerful emotion, and one best not left to build up inside you. Creativity is a wonderfully powerful emotional outlet, and a great way to express yourself, work through problems in your head, or to simply let off some steam without needing to rely on anyone else. Paint, sing, sculpt, make, design, write, dance… Whatever works for you.

4) Find people like you. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. If you feel like you don’t belong, find where you do. Go to see bands you like in concert, or to watch your favourite sports team. Find your niche – be it a religious centre or a car meet. Don’t be afraid to do things alone, and go with an open mind. I have been to Reading Festival twice, once in a group, and once alone, and genuinely had as much, if not more, fun on the latter occasion – meeting new people and doing my own thing!

5) Disconnect. Get off social media! And if not completely (it is a phenomenal resource for keeping in touch with people after all), why not try to limit the time you spend using it? Social media feeds typically show a mixture of posts from all your contacts, so it can be easy to compare yourself with everyone else collectively rather than as individuals, compounding feelings of isolation and exclusion. What’s more, it can be hard enough to live your own life, without simultaneously trying to keep up with everyone else’s.

X.

Blue is the warmest colour: love at first sight.

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Next week I turn 23. This means that two years have now passed since I came into possession of my beautiful Gibson Les Paul Futura. Prior to this I had happily played the same Yamaha Pacifica since age 11, a guitar I still treasure to this day. I had often promised myself that when I got good enough to merit a new guitar I would treat myself to a beauty, with the vision of keeping it forever, allowing it to age alongside me.

Fast forward some years and I feel ready to commence the search for my musical soulmate. I started to look into new guitars, obsessively looking online and making trips to an excellent guitar shop, Andertons, not too far from my home. I tried everything from hollow-body Gretsch guitars to PRS beauties, and everything in-between. Despite my love for the Les Paul shape, none within my price range had blown me away, and I ultimately narrowed my search to an Alpine White American Fender Stratocaster and a PRS S2 Mira. After some deliberation I decided that I preferred the feel of the Strat’s neck and its distinctive Fender tone (perhaps also swayed slightly by my love of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s strat tone).

Just before calling it a day, a shop assistant asked if I had tried the Futura. I had not. What happened next would change my life forever. At a first glance, I was blown away by the guitar’s looks – the beautiful wood and its stunning colour. Then I held it: heavy, and solid, a serious piece of kit; not something a child could throw over their shoulder. I was already falling in love. Next, I plugged it in…

… What I heard was incredible. Beyond a Les Paul’s usual three pickup options, and tone and volume pots, the Futura presents a range of features rarely seen on other unmodified iterations of the model: a conventional humbucker at the bridge, and a hum-cancelling P90H Sidewinder at the neck, both of which with the option of coil splitting for an even greater tonal range, putting two iconic Les Paul tones into a single guitar. The action is perfect and the neck fast. I knew this was the guitar for me.

The shop assistant mentioned that the guitar was the only one left in stock, but I had already made up my mind – I was not leaving without it. I told my dad (a phenomenal guitarist himself and never one to miss a trip to a music shop) that I was going to buy it then and there, to which he surprised me by revealing that he would like to buy the guitar for me as a 21st birthday gift. And what a gift it was.

It’s funny how two years later I get the same excited rush when I pull it out of its case that I got the first moment I saw it. I used to occasionally look at guitars and dream of maybe one day owning this one or that one, but I haven’t looked at guitars for sale since; but why bother when I can just take my dream guitar out of its case and play that instead?

 

X.

No more bad days.

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This morning the sun came out, and it even stayed dry. England hasn’t seen this bright a day for a long time, so obviously I headed out to the local skatepark to make the most of the weather. The photograph with this post is actually from around a month ago – I forgot my tripod today so couldn’t get a good photo – and unfortunately doesn’t nearly do today’s weather justice (though it was taken at the same skatepark, if nothing else!).

Today’s efforts were mostly focused on manual pad, ledge, and rail tricks, and I had one of those sessions where things seem to just work – the cherry on top of an already glorious morning. The park wasn’t completely deserted either for a change (though the others there were riding scooters, but you can’t always have it all). The only negative this morning was that I had intended on trying to fastplant over the larger ledge from the manny pad (which I have always thought would look awesome), but completely forgot once I was at the park. But there’s always tomorrow…

The session’s highlight came in the form of an epiphany on my skate home. I realised the only difference between today and any other of late is that the skies were clearer than they have been for a while: I had nothing special planned for the day; temperatures have actually continued to drop, despite the brightness of the day; and there were more job applications waiting to be done when I got home. It occurred to me that I had essentially chosen to be happy, and justified it with a minuscule factor that is completely out of my control anyway. But there needn’t be a justification for feeling good, and I have vowed from now on to cut out the middleman and choose to be happy just because.

After all, nothing makes a day good like having a good day.

 

X.

Longhill.

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This morning, as I have been doing most mornings, I hopped in my car and drove down to my favourite skatepark to start my day with a session. I feel a lot better physically and mentally if I can fill my lungs with fresh air and get the blood pumping around my body first thing, and there’s nothing quite like an adrenaline and endorphin rush to help get a day off to a good start. And then there’s the skateboarding itself. Going out to skate when I wake up has been a habit for some time now, but by obliging myself to head over to a proper skatepark (see above photo), rather than cruising around whilst running errands or casually practicing flatland tricks, I have found myself feeling more inspired and motivated, and have seen a significant progression in my abilities as a result. What’s more, a skatepark provides a perfect surface and varied obstacles to learn on – which obviously helps too.

I am more conflicted, however, when it comes to the emotional aspects of my routine: the greatest downside to my morning skate routine is also one of its greatest assets – that I am always alone. Now, this does have its benefits: there is no pressure to perform, no one can get in my way, and there are no distractions to name but a few. In fact, being alone means that if I’m at the skatepark for two hours, I skate for two hours (often returning home drenched in sweat). Now for the negatives… Perhaps I’m suffering from a case of the grass seeming greener on the other side, but when things go wrong and I am struggling to land a certain trick, or sometimes just too scared to try something new, there is never anyone there who might shed some light on what I might improve to land something or offer some words of encouragement. And when things go well it’s even worse: after a good session I always feel a little disappointed that no one was there to witness what I did well – I think it’s every skateboarder’s dream to be the person whose trick is met by boards banging on the floor, a cheer, and a sea of high-fives and fist bumps. Instead, my tricks are met by silence.

I doubt anyone could put the feeling better than Christopher McCandless: “Happiness only real when shared”.

 

X.

Nomad.

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Earlier today I was behind the wheel of my car, singing along to my music as I powered up the road home from Portsmouth – the most recent in a series of trips over the ten weeks since finishing my Master’s degree that have put a further three thousand miles on the clock. Had I travelled any other way it wouldn’t have been so simple to spontaneously stay for the cosy night of film watching and pizza we had after my hosts’ double date plans fell through yesterday, particularly given how infamously unreliable public transport is on a Sunday here in Britain… What’s more, journey times are often (though admittedly not always) quicker by car than even the fastest option by public transport, and sometimes cheaper given my car’s phenomenal fuel efficiency (66 miles to the gallon or thereabouts).

My love of driving extends far beyond its practicalities; I like that there is no timetable, no set route, and that I can be completely in control. Getting behind the wheel of my little black car lets the journey become part of the adventure on any trip – whether freely racing through country lanes, or late night cruises through deserted city streets that by day would be stationary with traffic, as if reserved solely for me to explore. While driving I have witnessed police chases, car crashes, and even once saw a lorry burst into flames. I even accidentally discovered my favourite skatepark by driving an alternate route to a shopping centre; by bus the route would have never changed.

But beyond the driving experience itself, my car has played host to many emotional events. I have thought up stories, worked through problems, and have had moments of inspiration so intense I have had to pull over to jot down a lyric or two. I have whooped with joy on the way home from landing a new trick on my skateboard, still loaded with adrenaline, and I have lost myself in music after a tiring or stressful day, finding respite in finally being alone, safe from the world in my own private little box. It is also where I once laughed and sang and dreamed with the person I loved, and where I sat alone and cried the night it ended.

Who knows where it’ll take me next.

X.

Battle scars: what skateboarding means to me.

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In life, everyone finds things they enjoy doing. I, like many others, enjoy doing a range of different things, with the extent to which I am likely to do any particular one of them on a given day generally subject to my energy levels, mood, the weather, and a host of other internal and external factors. Two activities stand out for me in that I never tire of doing either and am so fond of doing both that after day without either I always feel slightly unfulfilled. Those two things are music and skateboarding, and today I’m going to focus on the latter.

I can still remember the first board I ever owned, at six years old: an old-school shaped deck complete with tail bone and rails, large soft cruiser-style wheels, and plastic trucks. I rode that board until it was literally falling apart. I was hooked. My first proper ‘popsicle’ skateboard, with metal trucks this time, came shortly after, from a skate shop in Worthing on the south coast of England; a ¾ size as I was still too small to manage a full size deck. This time rather than just cruising around I took to skateparks for the first time, learning the ropes at a park exclusively composed of mini ramps not ten minutes from my house, inspired by VHS tapes of the X-Games that I would watch and re-watch until I knew my favourite lines by heart.

Since, I have ridden every board I possibly could: skateboards, cruisers, longboards, snowskates, snowboards, and surfboards. This love affair has been one of few constants in my life, spanning 16 years – a relationship eclipsed only by my best friend, who’s been by my side for over 19 years – and yet I simply never tire of it. In fact, this morning I bounced out of bed at 8am and hopped in the car to explore a new skatepark (which inexplicably has no lights, hence the early start to make the most of the trip; the sun currently sets around ten past four).

So why do I enjoy pushing myself around on a small plank of wood (well, technically several plies of wood) so much? Skateboarding frees me. Whether flying down a hill, dodging pedestrians on a busy street or cars on a road, carving a bowl, or doing tricks, I feel totally liberated. I couldn’t care less about any trends: I don’t ride a wide board despite my large feet (7.75s just work for me), my trucks are so loose I get wheel bite (even when riding park and vert), and my wheels softer than most. I’ll wear whatever I want, go wherever I want, and do whatever I want. I’m all about old school tricks, carving, powerslides, and goofing around, and I love it. When I feel good, skating makes me feel great, and if I am feeling sad or stressed, skating frees me. Not a bad thought even enters my mind. In fact, I hardly think at all: it’s the wind in my hair, it’s movement, it’s emotion. Every time I touch a skateboard I push my limits – faster, higher, further, smoother, cleaner, more aesthetic; there’s always something to work on – and when you’re pushing your limits you are forced to be totally focused. And in those moments, nothing else matters.

Sure, I am no pro. I can’t do the most technical tricks, or the biggest gaps. But that’s not why I do it, and it never will be.

X.