WHEN Nic Kimberley’s divorce came through last November, she was over the moon.
After a “difficult” nine-year relationship, the 53-year-old businesswoman was “free”, and feeling “young, attractive and sexy” again. It marked an exciting new chapter.
With no man around, Nic had her house in the Cotswolds all to herself, was enjoying a busy social life with friends, had savings in the bank and work was booming.
But things now look vastly different – Nic’s home is on the market, her health is at rock bottom, she’s been forced to sell her car and family jewellery just to make ends meet and she’s thousands of pounds in debt.
She is also crushingly lonely with no friends to call on – and it is this which, she says, is the worst part of the havoc the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked on her life.
Nic is speaking out as part of The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign, which is combatting loneliness.
With one in five people fearing they won’t see anyone over Christmas we have teamed up with a coalition of community groups and organisations to support those feeling isolated.
Nic says: “I look back at photos taken this time last year and I cry. I was ready for a big, exciting adventure – and now I’m living in a surreal dream where I am constantly alone.
“I have phoned the Samaritans four or five times asking them to save me as I felt so alone. I’ve called the support nurses at MacMillan.
“I’ve even called the helpline at First Direct just to have someone to talk to.
“It’s horrendous being on your own all the time. I just want to shout and scream at somebody. But most of all, I want to hug somebody. The loneliness is worse than the physical pain.”
Property developer Nic believes she contracted coronavirus during a trip to the Caribbean in December 2019.
She stayed overnight at a hotel in Gatwick airport – along with people who had arrived from Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
Her coronavirus diagnosis was confirmed in June when she had a plasma test after taking part in the Oxford University trials – following months of hospital visits and debilitating symptoms.
The disease ravaged her health, leaving her in agonising pain every day for a year suffering with long covid syndrome – too sick to work or even to leave her house.
Her income has plummeted and the friends she once enjoyed fun nights out with all slowly disappeared. She has had no support, which Nic calls “the worst part of it all”.
“I don’t have children to look after me. I don’t have anyone to unload to,” she said.
“My friends disappeared. Initially we kept in touch by text or online, but they quickly stopped contacting me. I didn’t feel a great deal because I was so ill, I wanted to be alone.
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.
“But when I wanted to speak to someone, there was no one there.
“I would see delivery drivers, but that was it. I hardly ever left the house. The longest period was between doctor appointments – from February 28 to May 19. I was in by myself all that time.
“This is what Covid has done to me, it has taken my life from me.”
Nic first fell ill while travelling to a holiday in St Lucia in December 2019. She had booked the five-star trip with her ex, but went with a girlfriend to mark it as a new beginning.
But while staying at the luxury hotel, Nic felt unwell – within a few days she had a fever, was throwing up and ached so much she could barely walk.
Most of all, I want to hug somebody. The loneliness is worse than the physical pain.
After flying home on January 2 and unaware she had contracted Covid-19, Nic invited friends round to her house – all of whom fell sick just days later.
By February, the pain had become so severe Nic wrote a living will – thinking she was going to die. She couldn’t walk and was unable to leave the house
This was pre-lockdown, and Nic felt no one was taking her seriously – made worst after “test after test” came back inconclusive.
She says: “I turned my home into a hospital because there was nobody to care for me. I bought a monitoring kit for oxygen, blood pressure and blood sugar.
“There were so many scary things and nobody there to help and nobody to believe me. I was all alone.
“Then when what was happening in Wuhan was on the news, it made my friends even more determined to stay away.”
On top of the devastating impact on her health, the illness also impacting Nic’s finances.
She lost more than £12,000 in income due to tenants leaving her rental properties and being unable to work between March and August.
Luckily she had savings to use for her mortgage and bills, but once they ran out she took out an £8,000 loan and put £4,000 on her credit card.
“I was getting deeper into debt which was increasing my feeling of being alone because I didn't dare tell anybody how badly indebted I was,” she said.
“I had to sell my car, I've sold jewellery my father bought me for my 30th birthday, I've sold sentimental gifts given to me by my brother.
“I’m relying on selling things on Gumtree to keep me going – my credit rating has been smashed.”
Nic’s nightmare has been compounded by her isolation – she only has her two dogs for company.
Desperate, Nic has turned to calling radio talk shows – and online chat rooms – just to feel connected to someone.
“I was calling them two or three times a day. It was my only way of seeing there was real life outside my home. I felt like a rat in a cage,” she said.
“The talk shows made me feel so much more comforted and as though I was part of a community that was going through something; I wasn’t alone in my feelings.”
She says it has been the kindness of strangers that has helped her through her darkest moments.
“When I was at my lowest and had no friends or family that I could cry with or talk to, the only thing I had were my dogs and they were in such a bad way without being groomed,” she said.
“The one person who came to me was my dog groomer. She said you’re such an amazing person, I’m going to take the dogs for a grooming session, and she refused to take a penny from me. It was incredible.
“She was the only person, a complete stranger. Not friends or family. I was in tears.”
Loneliness by numbers
1 in 5 people who live alone will spend Christmas on their own
60% said they had felt more lonely during the pandemic
37% people know someone who will be spending Christmas alone
16% Brits said they were ‘dreading’ Christmas
52% said they have helped a vulnerable person during the pandemic
4.2 million adults always or often felt lonely during the second national lockdown
16 to 29-year-olds are twice as likely as the over-70s to be experiencing loneliness in the pandemic
£5.9m marked by Government pilot to tackle loneliness
She is now facing the heart-wrenching prospect of being alone over Christmas – with no friends left, her only option would be to see her brother and her nieces and nephews.
Given the strict bubble rules she’s unsure this will be possible.
If not, she plans to spend the day online and may also visit a nearby care home to wave at residents.
“I have to get through Christmas and New Year – that’s what I am dreading,” she says.
“But I will see people online – I have a virtual family now.
“I know there are people in the old people’s home up the road that I have often looked after and spoken to, I will go down and visit them in a socially distanced way out the window.
“This time last year I was full of beans and confidence. Now, I just feel sapped of everything, of all energy, all confidence and all self-worth.
“So for anyone else sitting at home alone, go and ask for help. Find out what support there is available, it is desperately important that people ask for help as there is help out there – and it really can make a world of difference.”
Elsewhere in the Christmas Together campaign, one woman who lost her fiancé to Covid shared her story.
And this mum revealed how she can only spare £10 to spend on her kids this Christmas.
Find out how you can lend a helping hand to make sure no one is lonely this Christmas.
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