LOOKING at the rows of Beanie Babies, old presents from ex-boyfriends and baby photos scattered everywhere, Lucy Holden prepared to settle back into her childhood bedroom again… at the age of 30.
This time last year, she was enjoying the lead up to her first Christmas with her partner in London. But following a difficult split earlier this year, she’d been left with little option but to move back home for lockdown.
Now she and another young Brit, Priya Mulji, are opening up about their break-ups and adapting to living with their parents again, to highlight how huge numbers of people will be battling loneliness this festive season.
It comes as The Sun urges readers to help those feeling cut off and isolated through our Christmas Together campaign.
Alison March, founder of The Group Hug – a site aimed at supporting people going through separation – has seen 15 times as many people accessing her support as there were in March.
Here Lucy and Priya share their stories and reveal how they’ve overcome overwhelming loneliness in lockdown.
‘I couldn’t imagine my future anymore’
Break-ups can trigger major emotional upheaval and uncertainty – but they can also initially have huge financial implications.
One woman who understands the struggle all too well is freelance writer Lucy Holden, 30, who was left at rock bottom at the start of the first lockdown following a difficult split from the man she had hoped to spend the rest of her life with.
Following a whirlwind romance which started last summer, they signed a year-long lease on a home together in London in September 2019.
“At the time it was amazing, it was my whole future – we were talking quickly about marriage and kids and it just felt really right,” she says.
“But by the end of the year things were starting to go badly, and I found that I was locked into a rental property with him.”
Lucy says they had a six-month break clause, but that only began from two months in – so with a long stretch still ahead of them, they desperately tried to make it work.
The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign
THIS Christmas we are teaming up with the Together Campaign, a coalition of community groups and organisations, and Royal Voluntary Service to combat loneliness.
And we want to recruit an army of volunteers to support those feeling cut off, anxious and isolated, this Christmas.
Could YOU reach out to someone who might be struggling and alone?
It might be someone you know in your own life or community who needs support.
Or we can connect you with someone in need through the NHS Volunteer responder programme run by the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app.
Could you give up half an hour to make a call and chat with someone feeling isolated? Or could you volunteer to deliver essential shopping or festive treats?
Go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/christmastogether to sign up as a volunteer.
You will then receive an email taking you through the sign up process and be asked to download the responder app which will match you to those in need in your area.
Don’t worry if you don’t get a job straight away, because jobs are matched according to the need local to you. Being ready to help is what really matters.
However, two weeks after Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown, she knew it was truly over.
Lucy felt her only option at that point was to flee home to her parents’ house in Bath and quarantine in her old room, to ensure her parents remained safe.
“I got to Paddington and just stood in this empty train station looking at the board, it was apocalypse levels of empty – just no one there,” she recalls.
“I was on the phone to my mum in a state saying I needed to get back.
“Not only did I feel heartbroken and completely lost, but the world was upside down.”
Returning home meant Lucy’s future was thrown into uncertainty, and the plans she’d made were suddenly not possible.
“At that point I just felt completely back to square one… I couldn’t imagine my future anymore,” she says.
He says: “For many people nowadays, being able to afford to live anywhere means having to share. Now you’re having to look and find somewhere, or even ask parents or other people for help.”
Not only did I feel heartbroken and completely lost, but the world was upside down
Another woman who has experienced the financial fallout recently is Priya Mulji, who split from her boyfriend last month.
The writer, 38, from north west London, and her partner of 18 months both chose to move back to their parents’ houses to save money in lockdown – assuming at that point that it would only be short-term.
Priya had hoped it would be a good opportunity to save money for their future home together.
However, Priya says the distance ultimately led to the breakdown of their relationship, leaving her devastated.
“Right out of the blue, he told me he didn’t love me anymore,” she recalls.
“I was devastated if I’m honest. Nothing in particular had happened, the feelings had just changed.”
While she wasn’t locked into a house contract with her partner, her hopes of buying with someone else have now been dashed for the immediate future – meaning she’s having to stay with her parents for longer to save and hopefully buy alone.
For some people, however, the financial implications can be particularly huge – especially if they’ve been caught up in a divorce this year.
After speaking to people on her own site, Alison says money worries are often the main issue.
“For many, they feel stuck living with an ex while they get divorced and maybe the family home needs to be sold and that isn’t happening either,” she says.
And top UK celebrity divorce lawyer Emma Gill, director of divorce & family law at Vardags, says a lot of people have faced horrendous stress due to Covid-19.
“The prospect of living alone, particular for those later in life, is often one of the decisive factors as to why people stay in an unhappy relationship, rather than going it alone,” she says.
Dealing with loneliness and anxiety post-split
For Lucy and Priya, however, the emotional impact of their splits has been particularly hard to deal with in lockdown – and in the run up to Christmas.
Without the usual distractions like friends, nights out and the gym to keep them occupied, they’ve been stuck inside with their own thoughts for weeks on end.
Lucy says her family initially considered her moving into a B&B for two weeks to quarantine, before moving home – but she says: “I’m only half joking when I say I really thought that I would end up killing myself in a hotel room if I had to spend two weeks alone in the state I was in. I just honestly couldn’t do that.”
Moving back into her teenage bedroom came with its own struggles, and it took a long time for her to adapt.
“I came straight up to my teenage bedroom, it’s got baby photos everywhere, various things that ex-boyfriends have given me over the years, Beanie Babies and all that sort of thing,” she says.
“Then [it’s the] small things. You’ve slept next to that person every night for how many months or years, and suddenly I was in bed alone. I built a wall of pillows next to me to sleep next to, so the bed didn’t feel so empty.
“In the beginning it was so unbearable that I drank a lot at home. I was one of the lockdown boozers.
“I was just drinking to try and block out the sense of loss, to fill a void I felt I was in for an indefinite amount of time. It was only when I stopped drinking that I started to feel better.”
For Priya, however, her break-up is still very fresh and she says she has some particularly difficult days.
“To me, he was one of my best friends. Especially during lockdown, you’re forced to communicate more, so when they’re gone you’re left with a bit of a hole,” she says.
She adds: “You can’t even go to the gym at the moment. I usually go a lot, I do hot yoga and that’s my favourite thing – it would have been so good for my head now,” she says.
“If I’m honest I wouldn’t be in the country right now. I’d have booked anywhere, just to get a bit of a break.”
Now, with Christmas approaching, it’s brought the happy memories from last year flooding back.
“Christmas will likely be difficult,” she says. “We had such a nice Christmas last year, still with our families but we had a mini Christmas together.
“Now, you can’t do anything to take your mind off it, you can’t go and see friends, you can’t even go for a massage or to your hairdresser and vent to them!”
While she says she’s focusing on staying as positive as possible now, she still has difficult moments and recalls: “The other day after work, I was really tired, I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and I just went into the shower and cried.”
Priya’s now pushing for more mental health support for newly-single people and adds: “The government has so much emphasis on people meeting family, friends etc.
“However, there’s hardly anything for people who are in relationships and that’s added to the loneliness feeling. We’re the ones that are forgotten about.”
Finding light in the darkness
For Priya, her lifeline has come from a helpline offered by her workplace to staff, which she’s called at some of her lowest moments to speak to a professional.
And she says she has found some unexpected joys from living with her parents again too.
“I managed to save a fair bit of money, and with sky high London rent, it’s going to be helpful for saving to buy a flat,” she says.
“Also, bonding with the dog that my parents got before lockdown has been a joy! It forced me to wake up and take her for a walk, [which has been] fab for when gyms have been shut.”
She is now focusing on a successful 2021, as she aims to get a book she’s been working on published and focus on herself and her fitness.
And for Lucy, speaking to a therapist – initially by phone – has been invaluable and offered a small bit of structure to her week. From there, she’s also started working on a book.
However, while she says she’s in a more positive place now, she understands how Christmas will prove a particularly hard time for many newly single people.
“When you feel very down, it’s exhausting to try and pretend that you’re fine, so for the sake of other people at Christmas to put a brave face on through it all would be very tiring for anyone,” she says.
Relationship expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie, creator of the online therapy platform, The Relationship Paradigm, says many people will be battling loneliness, anxiety and sadness, but there are ways to come through the other side.
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“You need to ask for help from friends and family and get their support,” he says.
He adds that being open and honest is key and says: “You cannot change what has happened, but you can change how you allow it to affect you in the future.”
Lucy’s first book, Lucid, is published by Simon and Schuster in June 2021.
For support while going through a separation visit Relate for advice on counselling to couples, individuals, families, children and young people.
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