“I am desperate to meet new friends. I’m lonely and going through the hardest period of my life. I’ll sit on the stairs in front of the town hall from 2pm to 8pm. I have black pants and a North Face bag on.” – written December 7th 2016.
I wrote this message on an app called Jodel, a European equivalent of Yik Yak. It is an anonymous forum, where you can write about almost anything and where anyone within 10 kilometers can see your message and reply. I had no idea at the time, that this very short message would fundamentally change my life as well as thousands of others.
I have lived more than half of my childhood and youth life in orphanages. An anxious upbringing with defeat, insecurity and violent assaults that have made me the person I am today; a person with very poor self-esteem and a deep inner sense of identitylessness. In September of 2016 my girlfriend of 6 years cheated on me and left me shortly after. My whole world came crumbling down and I was on the edge of suicide, and I got admitted to the local psychiatric hospital, but was released after an intense week of care and treatment.
I never had many friends and those few I had, I stopped seeing after my now ex-girlfriend and I got together back in 2010. I know, stupid. But there I was – with no family, friends or girlfriend. I was all alone. And in my desperation, I decided to write and send out the message you see above.
A lot of people read my cry for help and came to my aid – no less than 13 strangers decided to show up and give their support. I was so overwhelmed with joy, that I had to fight back tears. Many of them confided in me throughout the evening and told me that they too had felt the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness, but were too afraid of reaching out because of the stigma surrounding it.
The meeting went viral in Denmark and the next day I was contacted by Radio24syv, one of the largest public service radio stations in Denmark. I was also contacted by the biggest TV stations as well as numerous papers.
At first I declined their offers, as I was afraid of the stigma and taboo, but after much serious thought, I decided to tell my story – not for myself, but for the good of others. I knew something had to be done about the increasing loneliness rates in Denmark (statistics show, that more than 350.000 Danes often feel lonely), so I took it upon myself to make a change.
I then started a free nationwide peer-to-peer network/nonprofit organization where lonely people could find new friends and someone who they could relate to. A network where you were applauded for showing your weaknesses and vulnerability. A network where we as a community would stand together against the taboo that is loneliness.
To help new members getting settled, I would invite them into my home each week for dinner, game nights or parties. It was very important to me, that every member had a good first time experience and would leave feeling part of a community.
By March 2017 (4 months after launch) the network had grown to 10.000 members and I had made the decision to drop out of my education as a programmer. It was not an easy decision, but a necessary one, as I wanted to commit 100% to my voluntary work.
In April 2017 I raised awareness about loneliness and mental health in Denmark by completing a 300 km relay walk from Copenhagen to Aarhus over the course of 10 days. The concept was; that under no circumstances was I allowed to walk, unless accompanied by another person. Through my walk I wanted to emphasize the importance of human interaction, social responsibility and community. Luckily for me, more than 70 people chose to support my cause by either walking with me or offering me accommodation and food. I only had to stand still twice during my walk, which was better than expected.
All my efforts has since made the ambassador of the People's Movement Against Loneliness, one of Denmark's largest associations. Together we have decided to make 'March Against Loneliness' an annual event.
A few months ago i completed this year's March Against Loneliness with the help of 350 people, an increase of 400% from last year's walk.