Beating the loneliness blues when your partner works away

| Share

Sarah Long arrived in Australia from the UK in early 2010 and met her Mr Miner soon after. They're based in Sydney and he does drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) to Orange in country NSW. Sarah came out to Oz as part of a six-month backpacking trip around the world, and never went home!

It’s something that sneaks up on you when you least expect it.

There you are, minding your own business, and BAM! It hits you. Like heartburn, or the emotional moment in Offspring: just when you thought you'd managed to make it through this week’s episode without tears, there you are blubbing like a baby (or is that just me?).

And as with heartburn or possibly the Offspring scriptwriting, loneliness can be a little painful. After four years of living the FIFO/DIDO lifestyle, I’ve become better at being alone. But when loneliness does hit me now, it’s a much bigger shock.

This week I found myself tired, shivery and aching all over, feeling like I was coming down with the flu, just as Mr Miner went back to work. What’s more, my closest friends (in proximity and also time spent together) are all away on holiday at the moment and my very best friend recently moved to Port Macquarie. So I found myself being a little melodramatic and thinking, 'What if something happened to me? Who would I call?'

It turns out that my life isn’t an episode of Offspring and I didn’t get rushed to hospital for achy joints – in fact I barely made it to full man-flu, let alone actual flu – but the loneliness that came with it was still a shock.

Loneliness is a common FIFO/DIDO complaint. Not just being apart from your other half, but also often moving away from friends and family and to new towns. Something I’m pretty familiar with after moving here from the UK.

And it’s not surprising that loneliness makes us feel a bit down. Like hunger or thirst, loneliness is a survival instinct telling us that we need something. It’s a need to be social and protect ourselves, a simple evolutionary principle. But if you’re FIFO it can be hard and all too soon you’ll feel as if you’re being punished, like the naughty child sent to their room.

I grew up in a big noisy family – think Offspring, minus the hospital and the drama – and that was great for learning to speak up if you want to get a word in edgeways. My Mum even used to lecture my siblings and me before we had friends over about trying not to be 'too loud', although loud was our natural volume. However, this meant that moving to a new country and meeting Mr Miner was a real learning curve when it came to dealing with time alone.

Being loud and annoying, I quickly imposed myself on a variety of people, from fitness groups to book groups, work friends to family friends and walking friends to drinking friends and gradually I built up a new network of people willing to spend time with me. I developed a social life that keeps me out of trouble (figuratively speaking at least) while Mr Miner is away at work.

Recently though, I’ve seen a couple of FIFO forum comments from people seeking advice on how to beat the loneliness.

From my own experience, I think it’s important to try to stay busy to beat the loneliness and try to be proactive in meeting people. These would be my tips for those who aren’t as loud and obnoxious as me:

  • Arrange to meet people in smaller groups or one on one for coffee to begin with, whether it’s a FIFO families group leader or someone running a book club. See if you can meet with just them to begin with, to make it a little less daunting.
  • Do something you’re really interested in or talented at to boost your confidence in a group situation.
  • Get a job that forces you to meet people, even a part-time role or voluntary work. It will give you a chance to interact with strangers.
  • Register for a course to improve your confidence, such as public speaking or even an acting group!

Whether you’re from a big crazy, loud family, or you’re shy and retiring ... loneliness might always be there waiting to sneak up on you. Even in a crowd of people, if you suddenly realise everyone else is coupled up it can catch you unaware.

I don’t want to use the cliché line that "it will get easier". So instead, let me say that like a good ol’ Offspring episode, although there might be tears and drama along the way, with some friends around you, it can lead to a happy ending.

Our psychologist Angie Willcocks also offers great advice for beating loneliness, for people who work away or stay at home: Learning to overcome the dreaded feeling of loneliness

More from Sarah:

If you've got a question for Sarah or would like to tell your own tale about mining life, we'd love to hear from you. Click here!