Alone and Apart: I miss the smell of other people

Click to play video: 'Alone and Apart: Loneliness pandemic’s toll on mental health'
Alone and Apart: Loneliness pandemic’s toll on mental health
Throughout the pandemic we’ve often heard the term flatten the curve. Normally it refers to slowing the spread of COVID-19 but the term is also being used by mental health advocates who say there is a mental health curve that needs to be flattened, referring to it as a parallel pandemic. Aalia Adam looks at the toll loneliness can take on our mental health. – Feb 27, 2021

I have a strange relationship with loneliness. Or perhaps, I have a strange relationship with being alone.

Yes, there is a distinction, but the line between the two has faded into nothingness — I use the word relationship with intent because for the last year, it has been my closest.

There have been ups and downs, contentment and anger, resentment and laughter, and delirium and darkness.

READ MORE: ‘I’ve felt like I’m losing time’ — The financial stress of living alone in a pandemic

Like many living through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, when people ask how I’m doing, I’ve wrestled with the awkwardness of my answer.

Sometimes I want to burst with overstimulation by merely being in someone else’s company, so I don’t want to ruin the moment with honesty.

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Art by Laura Whelan.

I used to follow social convention and say “good” or “fine,” but being both alone and lonely for nearly a year has exhausted the ways I answer.

Instead, I simply started saying, “I’m lonely.” The responses were mixed. Some showed pity, some agreed, and others couldn’t relate.

I’ve realized that loneliness, the experience and the expression, is uncomfortable for all involved.

READ MORE: Alone and Apart — Canadians are feeling lonelier than ever

I’ve spent years suppressing my mental health issues through diversion: a spin class for my anger, a trip abroad for my stress —  a jam-packed schedule to reduce my time alone. I had built a comfortable life around beautifully airy distractions.

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These issues were there long before 2020, but my coping mechanisms were always external. Now, I’ve had nothing but time to stare at myself and resent the person looking back at me for being the only one there.

Click to play video: 'Feeling lonely? Why winter months can be some of the hardest'
Feeling lonely? Why winter months can be some of the hardest

Most recently, I find myself longing for the in-between. The awkward social interactions I’ve spent years avoiding, I now crave.

I miss waving at a stranger who unexpectedly waved at me on the street, only to realize they were waving at the person behind me.

I miss going to a concert and being squeezed so tightly between other bodies that I’m not sure my feet are still on the ground.

I miss introducing myself to new people and inadvertently grazing their hands or cheeks, because we’ve both misjudged whether we should shake hands or air kiss.

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READ MORE: ‘It is a parallel pandemic’ — What loneliness does to our mental health

I miss the sensation you get when your back is turned and someone has entered the room, how your body tells you before your eyes do.

I miss the smell of other people.

It’s these small moments, these forgettable nebulous in-betweens, that I wonder if or when we’ll have again, because they made me feel strange and human and seen.

Click to play video: 'Alone and Apart: Seniors coping with loneliness during the pandemic'
Alone and Apart: Seniors coping with loneliness during the pandemic

It’s the invisibility loneliness brings that is in fact the hardest part. Remembering these moments has been my new way to cope.

For me, a single woman with no kids who lives alone, loneliness has become a perpetual state of longing. That is not to say that those qualifiers make me — or anyone — lonely by default, but it does mean that as a result of these truths, I have spent the majority of the last 365 days alone.

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READ MORE: Many seniors struggle with loneliness. The pandemic has only made it worse

Every day I wake up is a game of roulette, not knowing if it becomes one of the days I become a shell of myself, endlessly weeping because I’m lonely and angry because I’m weeping.

I don’t know if there will ever be an end to my strange relationship with loneliness. Even when things go back to “normal,” it has been so present that I don’t know who I will be without it.

My hope is that when the time comes, I’ll be able to fully embrace the light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is that this year of loneliness won’t condemn me to a lifetime of being alone.

This is the last installment in our Alone and Apart series. Global News tackled issues of loneliness and self-isolation, and examined long-lasting solutions to fight this epidemic within a pandemic. For more visit Alone and Apart. 

Emily Tamfo is a Toronto-based lifestyle, fashion and beauty columnist. Follow her at @emtamfabulous@emtamonthegram


If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

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Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.

Kids Help Phone operates a toll-free helpline at 1-800-668-6868 with 24-7 support for young people as well as the Crisis Text Line, which can be reached by texting HOME to 686868.

The toll-free Hope for Wellness helpline provides 24-7 support for Indigenous Peoples at 1-855-242-3310. Online chat services are also available.

Trans Lifeline operates a toll-free peer support hotline for trans and questioning people at 1-877-330-6366.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

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