The holidays are definitely a time reserved for family, giving, sharing, and fun. A good majority of people just feel happier and more whole around the holidays. But that’s definitely not the case for everyone.
Sometimes, the holidays are a reminder of just how lonely a person can be. Those who have very little family or friends know this well. One man in particular felt overwhelmed by his loneliness when the holidays came around last year.
Patrick Cakirli, a Danish man, decided he couldn’t handle the loneliness anymore. So, in December 2016, he reached out to the public on a European app and posted what seemed to be a cry for help – or at the very least a few new friends.
The message read, “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.”
Everyone needs support from others every now and again, but many people are afraid to reach out and ask for that support because of the stigma that surrounds issues like loneliness and depression. People, especially men, don’t want to appear weak or lose face by asking for a friend or some sort of emotional support.
On top of that, it’s not always easy to just go up to a stranger and start a conversation in hopes of making a new friend. We’re often hesitant because we don’t know that stranger’s story and we don’t want them to judge ours.
But Cakirli hoped to break through that stigma, as he was desperate to make some connections with others. And that’s exactly what he did.
When Cakirli tells his story now, most people are blown away to hear that 13 strangers had seen the message and ended up meeting the man on the steps of the town hall that day. Many of those people had told Cakirli that they too were feeling lonely – or had felt extreme loneliness in the past – and wanted to meet some new friends.
However, just as Cakirli had initially been, many of those people were too afraid to be the first to reach out because of that awful stigma.
Cakirli explains that the app he used was a public forum in which anyone within ten kilometers can see a person’s message. So, these 13 people were relatively close to Cakirli, who was, of course, a stranger to them, saw his message, and decided to meet the man.
The man shares, “I was so overwhelmed with joy, that I had to fight back tears.” He explains that he had grown up in various orphanages and had no family, no girlfriend, and very few friends. On top of that, Cakirli was struggling with depression, poor self-esteem, and a sense of lacking identity.
Patrick Cakirli’s meeting with these 13 strangers went viral and he was contacted by various radio and TV stations. But he shares that he originally declined their offers to share his story, as he was still afraid of the stigma that surrounds it.
He later changed his mind and decided to share his story. He explains, “…after much serious thought, I decided to tell my story – not for myself, but for the good of others.”
Patrick Cakirli also started a free peer-to-peer network where people can reach out when they need a friend or someone to relate to. The man later decided to go on a ten day relay walk from Copenhagen to Aarhus in order to raise awareness for his cause.
The catch was that he wasn’t allowed to walk unless he had at least one other person walking by his side. More than 70 people offered their support to Cakirli during his walk, either by walking alongside him or giving him food and shelter.
Cakirli has made it his life’s mission to strive to defeat the stigma around loneliness. He even shares, “I’ve dropped out of my school as a programmer to chase this crazy dream of mine and it has been the best decision of my life.”