3 Women Who Beat Loneliness & Found Their Best Friends Online

We’re increasingly told that the internet is making us feel lonelier. And it’s not exactly a myth: a 2010 study suggests that more time on the internet is associated with increased loneliness and reduced life satisfaction, while recent research linked depression in girls to higher use of social media.

It’s undeniable that the internet needs to come with a note of caution. If you’re feeling down and lonely, scrolling through an Instagram feed of perfectly coiffed hair, shiny new outfits and exotic holidays can be a free ticket to feeling worse. But as journalist and author Katherine Ormerod outlines in her book, Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life, the internet is not the enemy; it’s about harnessing a healthy way to consume it.

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For some, the internet can be a very useful tool to battle loneliness. Of course, online connections can never replace the valuable face-to-face interactions we as humans need but it can be a great resource for finding and making new relationships and friends. Read on for three women’s personal experiences of how the internet helped them during a time of loneliness.

Megan Lee, 20, Edinburgh

"I’ve definitely suffered periods of loneliness along with depression due to long-term health issues. I’ve had myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) for eight years and am often housebound. I can’t really cope with much human contact outside of my family as it’s too much stimulation for my body and brain. This means that I don’t get to see many people and I don’t have many friends.

I found a wonderful community of people on Instagram who are in the same boat as me. We have an insight into each other’s lives that not many others have. I found them through the hashtag #spoonie – an affectionate term that chronically ill people give themselves (it’s based on lupus blogger Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory).

The friends I’ve met online are from a range of countries, such as England, the US and Canada, and a range of ages from mid 20s to 40s. My friend in Canada isn’t actually sick, I just know her because we both keep a bunch of reptiles.

They’re all at different stages in their life and it’s nice to be able to have the different points of view in life, as well as in the illness. These people, some of whom I’ve known for more than five years now, are some of my best friends and I honestly don’t know where I would be without them.

Before, I didn’t know anyone who was chronically unwell, let alone who had the same condition as me. That was quite tough because it’s something that people don’t really understand unless they’ve been through it, and that can make you feel very isolated. When I was at school, nobody really understood why I wasn’t in classes a lot of the time or why I had to stay home. My friends were amazing and they’d try their hardest but they just wouldn’t get it. It made me feel like I couldn’t really speak about my health. It made me feel quite low because it felt like I was having to hide part of myself. I’d end up isolating myself more and then feeling more lonely – it wasn’t a great mix.

Through being able to be open about it online, I’m able to be more open in real life too and it’s made me understand how to express myself better.

On Instagram you end up absorbing so many people’s lives that sometimes I feel like I just can’t do it. I find it really draining so then I just won’t go on.

It’s almost that knowledge that other people are there that battles the loneliness, because you know that you’re not alone even if you’re not in constant conversation or contact with someone. You know that they are there. You’re not alone if you need someone. I think that helps."
Chloë Blake, 27, Kent

"I think I first felt loneliness after giving birth to my son in December 2017. Although I had friends who had babies and children, I still found navigating my way through each day of early motherhood extremely isolating at times. One thing I also majorly struggled with was with my partner still being able to go to the gym in the evenings and do the things he always used to do, whereas my world was turned upside down. I couldn’t just nip anywhere: I was breastfeeding and therefore a few hours out by myself had to be planned carefully.

I also found the transition from working in a super fast-paced job in London to being at home 24/7 particularly isolating. I loved having the break from commuting but when the realisation set in that this was my new life, I really had to try and find ways to meet new people and fill my weeks with new fun things to do. I think when you become a mum, naturally your interests and conversations change.

I heard about Peanut, an app for 'matchmaking' mums, through mum influencers and bloggers on Instagram. I downloaded it when I was pregnant but I didn’t start using it properly until a few weeks into motherhood. I found it super helpful even just to message other mums during the night feed or to join in a conversation and ask advice. I did also start going to baby yoga and local groups but found it hard to meet other women that had similar interests to me and that I could connect to.

As well as making it easy to meet other mums, the beauty of Peanut is that it also takes into consideration other interests, be it food, exercise, being a mum boss, needing a friend to meet for wine or being outdoors, and hooks you up with mamas with similar interests. There isn’t the awkwardness of trying to find a shared interest at a baby group. I learned to love being on maternity leave but it took a good few months to find my feet and to force myself to book in coffee dates with mums I had met via the app. I’ve met some amazing mamas through it and it’s really helped my journey of motherhood so far in terms of support."
Fiona Thomas, 32, Birmingham

"I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2012 and I had a nervous breakdown. I had to quit my job and was out of work for a year. I went from being a very outgoing, sociable person in quite a high-stress management job to just being at home, dealing with this mental illness.

Because I didn’t have a job I felt like when I was in conversation with people, I didn’t have anything to offer. People always say 'So, what do you do?' and I just felt that from the get-go I didn’t have anything to say. My confidence took a real hit and I stopped going out socially. I still spoke to a couple of friends but I would never go anywhere where I’d have to meet someone new, so between 2012 and 2016, I didn’t really socialise with anyone other than four or five people.

When I moved to Birmingham for my husband’s work – I’m originally from Glasgow – I suddenly realised that I didn’t have a network of people to rely on anymore and that if I didn’t make the effort to make new friends then I was going to be completely and utterly alone. As an introvert, normally it doesn’t worry me being alone but that kind of hit home. I needed to make an effort to make new friends, otherwise I was just going to be miserable.

I became part of a bloggers' Facebook group in Birmingham and that was really helpful. I don’t know how else I would have spoken to complete strangers. It gave me that excuse, under the guise of being a blogger, to go and meet new people. My whole online identity was based around my mental illness, so I found the internet was a really good place for me to talk about my depression and anxiety because there was nobody talking back. It was my form of therapy.

The most important thing to me was that my blog and my online identity meant that when I went to meet people [in real life] who I had met online, they already knew my backstory so it made me feel more comfortable. When I eventually went to meet someone, it was almost like the third or fourth meeting.

I was happier for strangers to know [about my mental illness] than my friends and family. To me it was a win-win because I knew that people probably wouldn’t be confident enough to talk to me about it face-to-face, but if they did, they would be armed with the knowledge of what I was going through, so it could only make the conversation easier.

The feedback I’ve had has been extremely positive. I don’t try to give advice, I just try to share my experience and I find that’s the best way to help people. I’ve also written a book and lots of my friends have read that and said that it’s given them a better understanding of what I was going through.

I’ve made so many real-life friends as well, which to me is the best part: that a lot of people that I’ve met on Instagram, we’ve taken that offline and met in real life. I’ve got friends in Birmingham now – probably about 10 people that I met online, that are now my close, close friends. We all meet up, go out for dinner and support each other. I think that’s a key part that a lot of people don’t follow through with: they think online friends are as effective as real-life connections and I don’t think it’s always the case. It’s always nice to have but if you can, that real-life connection is always going to be much more meaningful."
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