My sense of feeling trapped and isolated in my small village. Living with loneliness

17-year-old Orla has spent all her life living in a small village in North Suffolk. The village covers around 2miles in circumference. She lives together in her families small terraced house with her mother Cally, father John, and her two elder sisters, and a one-year-old baby girl. Orla has never understood why she hasn’t connected to people of her age in her tiny village, but she admits she is shy and a little introverted, and probably, for this reason, was bullied at school. The bullying she experienced growing up has a young person continues to affect her life today. She is currently undergoing therapy and counselling for social anxiety and her low mood problems, a  slight form of depression. She feels that the pressure of living in a small and cramped household, with her parents and two older sisters, as actually added to her depressive state.

 Orla, photographed in and round her tiny Suffolk village. Pictures by John Ferguson

Alongside life in a small village where Orla states, 'everyone knows your business' she points to the fact that she feels snared, cornered and beset by family problems and other life situations. 'I’m easily overwhelmed by everything, I still feel trapped by the local’s with what they will think of me if I do this or do that, I know it’s silly, but it’s just hard for me. So I just retreat into my room. Books and music have become my escape'. 'From Harry Potter to the Mortal Instruments by Darren Shan whose main themes are based around vampires and demons, he also writes horror tales; I just love horror'. She tells me with a slight smile, 'I’ve just started reading Stephen King, I hate cheesy films and books, I want to be left feeling that rush of adrenalin that you get from these types of movies and book'. Orla points to her extensive album collection and tells me "The Doors and their lead singer Jim Morrison is a hero to me; he makes me feel special, I just get him as a person. Why do all the best people die young?"

I can see that Orla takes pride in her outwardly appearance, her make-up is carefully applied, a flawless application of foundation on her near perfect skin is enhanced by a cover of heavy black eyelashes and dark mascara. I asked Orla what loneliness feels like to her, and also how it affects her personally?

“If I start to feel a bit lonely, I then start to isolate myself even more, it makes me feel down which only gets deeper, so I don't want to go out and I don't want to be with people, I spent more and more time in some depressive spiral'. She goes on to say that as a child she just coped on her own and just read and did nothing else.  'I’m not sure why this is, I can hear people outside enjoying themselves in the campsite field, but I just wanted to be on my own, even though the fields are really accessible, I just don’t want to be part of it'.  Orla pauses for a second before going on, 'It got to a point where I just couldn’t bond or communicate with my old friends in the village; I’m just different to all the other kids, I felt that I didn’t fit in with them and they felt the same in the end’. 

I’ve come across the subject of depression a lot during this project, either from the outset of someone’s life, which has resulted in isolated situations, or how loneliness has compounded their depressive condition and has resulted in a downwards spiral. 

But for Orla, leaving her small village near Bury St.Edmonds has now helped her. She has taken herself out of her comfort zone and challenged herself by going to college in Cambridge, somewhere where she didn’t know anyone. She has pushed herself to try and develop as a person. 'I’m so much better with talking to people now, I’ve struggled with my confidence so much during my life. There were times when I couldn’t physically speak; my throat would literally close up, I wasn’t able to get my words out. It's been a complete 180-degree turn from the person I was in upper school, where I was most isolated and where I was so bullied'.    

She stops to reflect a little on her last sentence and pulls her hair away from her face and eyes. I could sense a little of the pain coming back to her as she remembered those days. I ask her Orla, what isolation feels like? 

'It was painful for me, she says, it sort of feels a bit like being in a bubble floating everywhere'. She then tells me, 'Just go with this for a second, as this might sound a bit weird. I could see she was feeling a little embarrassed about what she was about to tell me. 'I could see everyone else just getting on with their lives around me and I was like, never really involved in any of it, I was always just a spectator, my feet were never quite fully on the ground at any time'. I was desperately trying to pop my own bubble, trying to get back to what I thought, and everyone else thought I should be for someone of my age. Seeing my sisters going to parties and what not, I wanted that to happen to me, but it never really happen for me, I just continued to stay in my own little bubble'. Orla stands up and starts to walk around the small summer house we're in at the bottom of the garden. She absent-mindedly picks up a small book before adding,  'It was like I was screaming, but no-one could hear me because I was so contained in my own bubble, no-one knew, no-one really picked up on my anxiousness, I bottled it all up until I had the most massive argument with my mother. I was looking for attention, but I just didn't know how to ask for help. So my school work suffered, and home life suffered, I was trapped, and it was painful, I just kicked off, until someone noticed that I had problems, so this how I started having counselling sessions'.

Orla’s life as turned around now for the better, mainly because of her studies at college, although she admits she has some way to go to feeling totally free from her depression and her diagnosed feeling of low mood anxiety.

'I have a car now too, which as really helped with my freedom. Those days of relying on my mum and dad to drop me at the station or in town, at times only suitable for themselves. They use to have to leave me somewhere for hours before my college or something, so I’d have to wait on my own, I use to get really depressed sitting on my own for hours. But my little car has given me so much more freedom'.

Being with Orla for a few hours in her tiny village, really brought home to me how it must feel being isolated from a big outside world. Seeing this 'other' world only on Tv and via social media, one could easily feel the constraints of home life, added to the pressure of being bullied and segregated at school. But Orla is a bright and beautiful girl, and because of the changes in the patten of her life now, I felt she wasn’t too far off from being a well-rounded young adult. Someone who was trying to adjust to her new life and her new surroundings. I did sense a certain degree of under-confidence with her at times, but who at 17 didn’t have a degree of under confidence.