Only the Lonely.
Loneliness, The Unspoken Plague.
This week’s musing has come about by the increasing incidence of articles, quotes, and themes of “Loneliness” crossing my path.
Much research has been conducted on the effects of long-lasting loneliness on our physical and mental health and the findings are disquieting. There is a significant link between loneliness and premature death, with researchers indicating it presents a similar health risk to that presented by smoking or obesity.
There is a need for us all to pay attention to our feelings and give them same importance we might give smoking cessation, adopting a healthy eating plan or giving up the booze.
In the manner of New Year undertakings, I resolve to take my loneliness in moderation if not cut it out completely.
Then I hit a simple question that I struggled to clearly answer.
What Is Loneliness?
Ever keen to maximise my own chances of a healthy, long, and happy life, I started with a reflection on my own feelings of loneliness.
And stumbled as I realised that whilst I understand the word intellectually, in and of itself it held little emotional resonance with me. I simply couldn’t pin down exactly what the word “loneliness” meant to me.
Is it the missing of significant others? Or just the feeling of absence? Is it a kind of depression? Does it feed depression? Is it a type of sadness? Is it different from sadness? Is it a feeling of being left out? Is it all of these things? Or is is one thing to one person and another to the next?
The question raised even more questions and a clear-cut answer evaded me.
The Slippery Fish.
No matter how hard I tried to capture it and pin it down, loneliness as a specific feeling or concept slipped out of my grasp and morphed into another more apt description of state; such as grief, bereavement, social anxiety, shyness, need-for-belonging, etc. Loneliness, for me, was something piggy backed onto some other more significant human state or emotion. No matter how hard I tried, I could not identify it as something in isolation.
When I attempted to recall times when I felt lonely, it felt more accurate to note that the predominant feeling was not loneliness but something else.
I missed a key person or persons. So, I wasn’t actually lonely in the true sense, a deep missing of a significant other that for whatever reason was no longer with me would be more accurately described as a state of painful longing rather than loneliness.
Me, Myself and I.
I reflected on situations when I was totally alone. And most times when I am totally alone, my creativity thrives. I do “stuff” that I don’t do when people are around me. So, it tends to be a busy time for me.
If there is loneliness, it gets pushed aside by my creative “busy-ness”.
I like seeing what the three of us; me, myself and I can get up to when left to our own devices.
Even when alone in a strange city, feeling anxious about where to eat dinner, or whether to take the easy path and order room service, it doesn’t feel like loneliness. Just commonplace fear. Irrational, understandable fear of the unknown.
Lonely Like the Love Songs.
When I take my mind back to the endings of key relationships, remembering the hours of crying alone in my bed it wasn’t loneliness that I felt, it was heart-break. That brutal disappointment that cuts to the core.
But I wouldn’t describe it as feeling lonely.
I felt hurt, disappointed, fearful, bereaved and I carried sorrow in bucket-loads for a time.
Painful, but not lonely.
Isolating, but not lonely.
Is loneliness a state of mind, that can be altered?.
I like being alone.
I like being with people.
I am rarely lonely in either situation.
Why is this?
Could it be that it is a state of mind, or an emotional state that we can choose or reject?
If so this is great news for the lonely.
We can un-lonely ourselves.
Alone but not lonely.
Loneliness permeates our people-populated lives, I’m told. The loneliness of a crowded room. The isolation of living alone as demographics indicate we are doing in increasing numbers.
Yet a solitary life can be filled with meaning, purpose, and absence of any feelings of loneliness.
It would seem that loneliness is less to do with the absence of other people and more to do with a state of being.
Perhaps our individual interpretation of our state of being.
Or perhaps our individual interpretation of what loneliness is.
It’s slippery and tricky.
I know grief, I know longing, I know love, I know the absence of love, I know what it feels like to be on the outside, I know what it feels like to be on the inside, I know death of a loved one, I know solitude.
These and more all seem to be relatives of loneliness but I still have not managed to capture it as a unique and definable emotion or state in and of itself.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
Perhaps loneliness cannot exist for me if it doesn’t exist as a ringfenced concept.
Because in my musings, one thing kept echoing through my mind and it was the nebulous thought that we are all far too strongly connected to allow for enduring passages of true loneliness.
But I acknowledge with deep concern that many people are living with enduring pain that they call loneliness.
Still, I believe that we are all interconnected and belong to this existence called life. And there is no room for lasting loneliness within that concept.
Bear with me. If you can embrace that possibility, it holds great promise.
It might be semantics.
Now “disconnection” is a concept from which I can perhaps glean my closest and best understanding of “loneliness”.
I believe we are all deeply interconnected and interwoven into this fabric we call humanity.
I have worked with many who feel very disconnected from life. The thought of feeling disconnected pierces through my understanding and I sense that this is what loneliness is.
This is my route to understanding.
And, as we have established, loneliness or as I understand, disconnection is bad for my health ergo connection must be good for it!
Of course, the obvious ways of getting connected are through social interactions. Dinner parties, festivals, conferences, theatre, seminars, workshops, nightclubs, faith meetings, and so trundles on and on the endless list of small to large gatherings of people. This is quite literally the connection of beings to other beings.
But it is not the only way.
This is probably a good thing given that we are currently in the third lockdown since March 2020.
Ideally, we would all have at least one other person to whom we feel deeply connected and who is key to our feelings of wellbeing and happiness. I understand that is not the case for everyone.
Which is why it important to raise awareness that we humans are interconnected in many ways. And our sense of connection, worthiness and contentment can be bolstered by any or all of the following.
I know, I know everyone is spouting the wonderful effects of nature and exercise on mood and motivation, but it simply is true.
Try it! You will not be able to deny it. Even if, like me, the temptation to batten down the hatches and disappear under a duvet for the entirety of lockdown is compelling; it is absolutely not conducive to staving off disconnection.
Take a walk in the townscape. In addition to the mood-lifting properties of exercise, it provides the incidental passing of people, cars, buildings, and machinations of urban life serving to remind me that I am part of this place. My footprint falls in the unseen prints of those who have passed this way before me. We are connected. I am part of something more than me, part of this town, this city, this conglomeration of humanity. It is a fact. I am connected.
A walk in nature will enlarge and substantiate your perception of being connected to life if you let it. Just a short time contemplating a tree, or a landscape, the rush and flow of the tide, or the wind battering your ears on a mountain, and you are simultaneously reminded of your insignificance and brilliance. Insignificant in that sense of being a tiny unit in a much bigger picture but also brilliant! Being at the apex of evolution with your brain and physical being (no matter any illness, restriction, or malfunction) is still a miracle of majestic proportion. We are all amazing. Nature always makes me feel like I am one of the microscopic bugs that, unseen, live in, and on my skin. I imagine the earth is the body of another gigantic being, who also may be sitting in nature contemplating their insignificance, unaware of me walking along its surface.
Have I taken a step too far? Well, I will never apologise for my imagination. Imagination is key to our adaptability which in turn has secured our evolutionary success. But I concede that as a child I loved The Borrowers, The Numskulls, and believed in faeries. It is not so difficult for me to embrace ideas of a smaller and larger, unseen life and envisage the connections that run through me and every other being via the Fibonacci-esque spiral from the infinite macrocosm to the infinite microcosm.
The science supports the fact that creativity is therapeutic and the stacks of adult colouring-in books stand testimony.
Many people shy away from “creativity” assuming resides within the domain of art. It really can be interpreted as something much simpler than that.
Being creative can be literally that. Just create something. Anything!
Bake a cake, write in a journal, crochet a hat, make some jam, doodle on paper, start a blog, choreograph a simple dance, glue an Airfix model (do they still exist?), do some nail art, do some DIY, make a stuffed toy, write a play. In fact, do anything that brings into the world something that wasn’t there before or changes something that was in the world into something else.
Could it really be as simple as baking a cake can help with loneliness?
I believe it can.
You see, it refocuses your energy. You reconnect with your inner creativity and that is a connection. The opposite of loneliness.
It is a start. A teeny tiny step out of disconnection back into connection. It is worth a try.
When we are creative, be it putting up some framed pictures or writing a novel we acknowledge ourself as a creator. We symbolically place ourself in a key role in the cycle of life.
It will make you feel better, stronger, and more connected.
Give Yourself a Mind Massage.
I know, some days the weight of negative feeling can make even the simple things like going for a walk or baking a cake seem too difficult.
If you do nothing else, give your beautiful brain the chance to absorb something uplifting.
Play your favourite happy music. Dance like no-one is watching if it lifts you enough.
Or meditate. And if you prefer having a voice to guide you, relax back, and listen to my recording The Connection Confection. You will find some release by using your wonderful imagination to reconnect and recharge.
With a smile and warm regards,