Dealing with loneliness in my 20s

Loneliness is not just for older people.

I have found it crushing in my 20s.

Despite the adage that the 20s are the best time of your life, now in my mid-20s, I have found them to be a period in which I have experienced bone-crushing, confusing bouts of loneliness.

Confusing because, does anyone really admit to being lonely in their 20s? As with everything else that is wrong with our lives, young people could lay the blame firmly with social media.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that, collectively, us millennials are in the throes of an unspoken epidemic of loneliness because social media is keeping us from connecting with one another in real life.

The Mental Health Foundation noted in 2010 that we are the most lonely generational cohort ever, with loneliness being more of a concern for us than it is for older people.

Social media also leads us to suffer from the comparison curse; the belief, because of what we see presented online, that everyone else always has it better.

But being lonely is not a hot topic of conversation among people I know - and it is definitely not sexy.

The best Tinder dates do not include the admission that you are only there because you cannot bear another evening in alone, where your ability to balance both a takeaway box and your laptop on your stomach is your most Snapchat-worthy moment of the week.

"I really love being independent!" you scream-cry to your date while secretly dreading the prospect of going back to a Marks & Spencer mushroom risotto for one.

Strangely, nobody talks about that.

Loneliness takes many forms.

Being single in your 20s when all your mates are not, definitely comes with a best-before date (six months), and the same goes when you travel the world solo, as I found out last year.

Although nothing teaches you resilience like trying to get a job in New York without a visa, or searching for accommodation in Havana on Christmas Day, I would quite like to share my next set of travel memories with someone.

Moving around for extended periods, no matter how exotic or exciting the destination, is alienating at times when it is free of all the habits and solid friendships that comprise normal life.

I am grateful for the supportive friends and family I have now I am home but, until recently, I was feeling pangs of loneliness at the most inopportune moments; on the tube, in a bar, while scrolling through Instagram at midnight.

I am sure it was exacerbated by the fact that I was working for myself each day, without anyone to remind me of deadlines or to bounce ideas off.

Mainly though, my loneliness is intertwined with grief for the loss of my dad, and the desperation I often feel when searching for answers in relation to my identity as a mixed-race woman in a white family.

Too much time alone means I cannot distract myself from negative thoughts - and sometimes that can become overwhelming.

I am sure there is a more pungent potion of loneliness reserved for anyone struggling with his or her identity.

A thicker fog separates you from the rest of the world and there is a more complex path to navigate.

You will need a larger shield to deflect the probing questions as to why you do not fit into somebody else's definition of normal; additional energy reserves from which to draw; and patience in abundance.

You will have to forgive faster and love harder and fight the urge within you to mould yourself into what others think you should be.

For me, struggling with a toxic combination of grief and confusion has changed the idea of loneliness from an unknown, imaginary concept, to something that, for a while, seeped into much of my life.

It might not be the easiest of topics to discuss as a young person, but facing up to loneliness, in whatever form it appears, is an important way to administer self-care when your body is telling you that you need it.

I have taken steps to address it (filling my time with a "normal" job, dating nice people and reaching out to friends) and already feel a lot better.

If you hear a little voice in your head urging you to reach out to a mate, or call your mum, or bury the hatchet, make sure you listen.

GUARDIAN

• The writer is a columnist at The Guardian.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Dealing with loneliness in my 20s'. Print Edition | Subscribe