Summer vacation has so often been associated with fun, freedom and friendship. It is meant to be the time of your life, where you go on all these amazing holidays, catch up with all your friends from home and just generally do all the things you planned to do all year, but never got around to.
So often we look at things like social media and cringey coming-of-age-movies, and listen as they tell us that the summer holiday is some life-affirming, transformative time of year where you will have the most fun you’ll ever have in your life. In short, with summer comes a lot of expectations. With the warm weather beating down on you day after day, you feel guilty for not making the most of the sunshine while you can, especially with the temperamental nature of British weather. But, what if you have nobody near you to share that with?
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t call myself a billy-no-mates. I have a wonderful support network including a boyfriend, friends and family. The problem is that they’re mostly scattered up and down the UK at this time of year.
A lot of people have a wonderful group of friends in their hometown, but unfortunately that isn’t really the case for me. You see, I was a really introverted child coming from a fairly small town where everyone knew each other, even in other schools. Once people made their mind up about you, the label stuck like thick, suffocating tar that, no matter how much you scrubbed, would never wash off. In my case, I was the weird quiet kid who would sometimes have random outbursts (thanks, Asperger’s). This was the case right up until I left sixth form at eighteen.
This isn’t just some sob story; I did make a handful of friends along the way. The trouble is that a lot of them, in my opinion, never really liked me that much. It was a convenience thing. because nobody wants to sit alone at lunch. I have fond memories of us outcast losers sitting together in an abandoned classroom, tolerating each other because nobody else would, whilst the popular kids would burst into what they called ‘the retard room’ and sometimes even pretend to be our friends as a joke. Surprisingly, having people treat you like that makes trust a little difficult, so in sixth form I kept my circle small.
I did make some wonderful friends in sixth form, but the same old thing happened at University. You get so wrapped up in your new life that your promised plans never materialise, conversations become shorter, and, if you suffer from anxiety, the longer you leave it, the more worried you get about reconnecting, so you find it easier to just keep putting it off. I did gain a best friend from sixth form, who I’m still in regular contact with (ironically, we never actually liked each other that much when we were in school together), but, like me, she thinks our home town is trash and is living life up in University to the full. We do make time for each other when we can, but time is precious, and travel is expensive.
The point is, after my experiences at school, I made an effort to ‘reinvent’ myself at Uni and become the person I always wanted to be. I threw myself completely into every aspect of University life, including societies, volunteering, and even getting a house with some of my coursemates. It’s incredibly freeing being in an environment where nobody knows your baggage and has already made their mind up about you. For the first time in my life, I actually had a real proper group of friends. University became my life, and the buzz of term makes me so happy. I get to speak to all my good friends daily, and if you want to grab a coffee with someone, it doesn’t take meticulous military planning.
The trouble is, if University becomes your life, you can sometimes feel like you haven’t got much to live for over the summer. You have the choice of either living in an empty house feeling forgotten and left behind, or going home for the summer where every smell, shop and bus stop reminds you of the loneliness you felt growing up.
Obviously, I’m grateful for my family (especially my cat), but it isn’t easy when your brothers are constantly going out with their groups of friends and you’re left, at 21 years old, hanging out with mum and dad. It makes you think: ‘Am I really different from the girl I was at school, or have I just used University as a temporary fix? If this is my life without University, is this constant loneliness what I have to look forward to when I graduate?’.
With this kind of trail of thought, depression comes thick and fast. I find myself sleeping all day just to pass the time, or lashing out at the people who care about me because they have a life and I don’t. I struggle to do simple tasks or take care of myself, because what’s the point if nobody is there to see it? I scroll and scroll through social media, seeing all these close-knit friend groups having the time of their lives, and wonder what I did so wrong to not be having a summer a like that.
In about a month, University will start up again. My depression will fade and I’ll carry on throwing myself into life and friendships as if nothing ever happened. But this time around, I need to break the cycle. Seasonal depression doesn’t just happen in winter, and I know from conversations with people that it is a lot more common than I thought. I finally opened up about how I felt to some friends today, and it felt good. It made me realise that true friends aren’t fleeting and that, no matter how far away they are, they’ll always be there for you. It gave me hope that just because there aren’t many people around right now, I’m far from alone.
And the same goes for everyone else out there who feels like I do. Loneliness in the summer holidays is common and there’s no quick fix, but the people in your life love you deeply and are always willing to talk to you. And, on the other side, if one of your friends from Uni seems a bit on the quiet side, reach out to them, see how they are. It will make all the difference.