05/04/2012 13:03 BST | Updated 04/06/2012 06:12 BST

Surviving the Childless Weekend Blues

There, it's said. Weekends can be absolute hell as a single, childless woman. "They creep up on you," said one friend recently.

Many of us are so busy with work commitments and after-work activities Monday-to-Friday that we can't wait for the peace and quiet of the weekend in order to recover. And then, when we wake up on Saturday morning to an empty bed, an empty house and an empty weekend, it doesn't feel relaxing, it feels hideously oppressive.

Alternatively, we pack our weekend schedule to the gunnels with activities and appointments only to feel burnt out and resentful and end up having to cancel half of them in order to get some downtime. Possibly the burnout is, in part, caused by the fact that as single, childless women almost all our activities are self-organised, self-attended and usually require a good deal of social and emotional resilience to cope with, let alone enjoy. Activities with old friends can be pretty thin on the ground these days as many of their lives now revolve around their own families, and so often we find ourselves in a room full of people we hardly know, doing our best to 'make an effort'.

For example, a blog that I've become a big fan of recently The Bitter Babe (tagline: Never Married, Over Forty, Slightly Bitter) shares the author's exhausting schedule of full-on job, theatre groups, dance classes, gym and internet dating... Just reading it makes me want to lie down in a dark room with a damp cloth on my forehead like a Victorian heroine with an attack of the vapours.

There was a period in my life quite recently when I found myself living along, working alone, not in a relationship, childless and petless. I didn't plan it but, rather like the perfect storm, the circumstances crept up on me to form a tsunami of isolation. Of loneliness. (There, loneliness, another word we're not allowed to say out loud).

I had chosen to rent a studio flat after several years of renting bedrooms in other people's homes following my divorce. I also chose not to be in a relationship having been in one almost continuously since I was a teenager (including being with my ex-husband for sixteen years). But I didn't choose to be childless, petless or to be working alone at home in my mid-40s. Things happened - a business partnership went sour, my landlord wouldn't allow pets, my infertility and unwise choices in partners post-divorce left me childless. As a single, working woman, adoption or egg-donation aren't an option, although many suggest it to me when it wouldn't occur to them to suggest that I get a dog!

It was possibly the toughest period of my adult life, and I thought my divorce was as bad as things could get. But nothing prepared me for the sense of dissolving into oblivion that I experienced in that isolation. It made me understand why solitary confinement is used as a form of punishment.

I was haunted by what I called 'the void' - a visceral sense of being engulfed by my own subjectivity. It was absolutely exhausting just 'being me'.

When I'd go out for a drink with friends I'd encourage them to talk about their own lives as much as possible. When they'd protest that they had been talking about themselves too much I'd say, "No, please carry on! You've no idea how bored I am of the inside of my own head!" And I meant it.

Solitude and isolation are very different beasts. I have always loved solitude, and was happy playing alone as a child as my imagination was pretty good company. But isolation is different - isolation is unchosen. However, with the support of a gifted therapist, and the insights gained from my ongoing training to become a psychotherapist, I weathered the storm. And when I surfaced I found that the void was nothing to be scared of and that, rather than engulfing me, it actually contained power, joy and creativity. Making space for this darkness in my life regenerated me in a profound way.

I wanted to share a video with you that I found during that dark time, and which alternately annoyed me and uplifted me, depending on how I was feeling that day. Filmed by Andrea Dorfman in Nova Scotia, it features Canadian poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis, and it's had 4.5million hits on YouTube. Yep, that's 4.5 million other people who can't say that sometimes they're lonely either.

Right now, it's the beginning of the weekend. The friend that I'm staying with is away and I have few social plans. It feels good - a chance to let go and wind down, which is a rarity these days as my life is filled with work I love and a growing circle of new friends.

Since I came to terms with not having children, the whole tone of my life has changed. I'm no longer waiting for it to start, or for someone to help me get it started.

I've understood that for me, creativity equals meaning, and that meaning is what I was craving. What I was missing. What I was mourning. I thought only a child could fill this space, but I was wrong. Although there will always be a scar on my heart from my childlessness, I feel that it is one I can imagine living with. A scar is very different from a wound.

I've learned that meaningful work and friendships are what sustain me, and so I nurture them. Because, to quote Kahlil Gibran: Work is love made visible.


Jody is the Founder of Gateway Women: an organisation to support, empower and inspire women who are childless by circumstance.