Spatially, Joburg is a sprawling city where everything is often too far to walk to or, when it comes to crime, too risky, and socially, white girls just don’t walk places, Lord knows why. I once read that there’s a particular paranoia around Afrikaans women’s virtue – their “oordentlikheid” – and maybe that played a part.
Either way, the real and imagined dangers of the City of Gold granted little freedom and mobility.
The reason I mention these seemingly obvious elements is that at the time of my childhood isolation I thought it was somehow because of me. When you grow up with no sense of context or perspective on your situation, it's difficult to realise why you're in your predicament. Although silly, inside I always felt somehow to blame for it all.
All I know is that my parents worked full time, and I spent seemingly unending hours cooped up in the house – wiling away the hours with TV and games on the PC. I often also wrote poetry and listened to emo music – it was just a recipe for disaster.
My brother, on the other hand, had a bicycle and rode through the suburbs like a young king. He and his friends would bike up Fairland Koppie, mess around at the quarry and just have a grand old time.
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Seeing my friends was a whole different ballgame – as many Joburg teenagers of my generation (the generation without Uber) will keenly remember. It was a never-ending gauntlet of “organising lifts”.
Messages would fly back and forth and parents would have to be cajoled into agreeing so that everyone would be safely ferried to the location and back.
From the house, you’d flee into the safety of the car and then get dropped off at a “decent” place like a coffee shop or the movies. By the time you and your friends were all actually at the same place, you were almost too stressed out by the organising of it all to have any fun. No wonder everyone here is on medication.
Anyway, spending so much time on my own meant another thing – I became used to it. By the time I reached my first year at university and had unlimited freedom in the form of a small, walkable campus, I was a masochist for loneliness. I made many connections that year, but retreating into my room always felt like comfort.
The isolation wasn’t good for me – 12 hours from home and, now that I think about it, ill-prepared for the rigours of university, I often felt out of my depth and, of course, very lonely.
I know I’m not unique in this – many introverts can relate – but I always wonder whether my upbringing, and that of girls who’ve had similar experiences, contributed to this.
One thing I walked away with after university was knowing that I never wanted to feel that lonely again, that I would work on it, that I would be braver.
And that's the thing, becoming 'un-lonely' takes bravery. It means getting out of the house, its means walking up to people and asking them about themselves, it means time and dedication to nurturing friendships.
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It means staying at the party when you want to flee.
For those who that doesn't come naturally to, it's sometimes uncomfortable and other times excruciating. But from a self-confessed scaredy-cat, I promise you it's worth it. Sharing your life with people, be it your spouse, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, or that one acquaintance you keep seeing at work functions, gives back a bounty of returns.
For someone who always depended on myself alone, it's been a revelation.
I’m a fully fledged adult now, I’ve ditched my emo clothes and, every year, I’m becoming braver. I covet my marriage, my friends and work, and have built sound relationships that keep me from isolation.
I’ve also reached a point where spending time on my own is a blessing and not what feels like a prison sentence.