A Feeling I Can’t Put A Finger On:
There is something about the holidays that exacerbates the feeling of my loneliness. In a bookstore, way before the pandemic began, I was checking out some books. At the corner of my eye, I could sense the kind smiles of a few elderly women. I turned to look at them to see if they were looking at me. That’s when they said, many of them knitting, that I could join them if I wished to.
I told them I couldn’t really knit, and that my boys were waiting on me to wrap up my business. But, I said, I want to be in their company for 5 minutes if it was okay. I listened to them as they talked while trying their best to be inclusive of me. As I left, I felt these physical pangs of ache. Is this feeling loneliness? I asked myself as I walked out of the store that day.
Loneliness In Stories And Real Life:
In fiction or in movies, if you want your audience spooked, all you have to do is set up an empty dilapidated building and leave a person there in complete isolation. And just like that, you have set the stage for a horror story. That’s the power we attribute to loneliness, in all its darkness and terror.
In real life, forced isolation comes with an additional element of tragedy. Kalief Browder was a teen from The Bronx, New York, who was accused of stealing a backpack containing valuables. His punishment? He was held without trial at the Rikers Island jail complex in solitary confinement for two years. No rehabilitation, no second chance, nothing. Once he was released, the effects of prolonged isolation were monsters too big for him to deal with. He hung himself to death in his parents’ home at the age of 22.
Social Ants And Social Animals:
Here’s what I’m trying to figure out. How is the most connected generation than any others also the most lonely, depressed and anxious? You know why we feel alone and desperate some times? Because, we believe that we’re alone in our sadness and despair.
There is an ant that belongs to the species of the carpenter ant that thrives in the company of its peers. They literally can’t survive being lost or separated from their tribe. Ants that get lost live only one tenth of their life span than those who live in small groups. They lose their appetite, can’t digest food, and literally walk themselves home heart burnt and dying.
We’re social animals, and we have two needs that unite us as humans. Our need to belong and our need to make an impact. Ever since we were cavemen, we belonged to our tribes. Now, we are not making enough effort to seek others whom we can find love, meaning and connection. That’s why we’re lost, anxious and lonely.
Some Stats From Around The World:
According to an AARP Research from 2010, over 42 million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness. (Source: Anderson, G. Oscar. Loneliness Among Older Adults: AARP Research, Sep 2010)
By 2012, the average number of people in a Tokyo, Japan, home already had dropped below 2. By 2020, living alone there has now become the norm.
In the US around the 1940’s, there were less than 15% of one person households. In 1970, the percentage was still less than 20. As of 2015, more than a quarter of US households have only one resident. It was 60% in parts of Scandinavia at the same time.
In 2018, London had appointed a Minister of Loneliness, because a majority of 16-24 year olds reported feeling acute loneliness. Check out this video of real calls being made to the Ministry.
Connection, Meaning And Impact:
Loneliness is a funny thing. See, people who’ve been “a solid relationship” can still be painfully lonely because they lack that companionship and meaning in their “connections”.
Anaïs Nin, the American author, said this about our relationships. “I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness. In reality those who satisfy me are those who simply allow me to live with my idea of them.”
Solitude, on the other hand, is an intentional luxury. But, unlike solitude, we often don’t like being lonely, for the fear of being bored out of our minds. Loneliness also has stigma attached to it. You can tell everyone that you have cancer but you can’t tell anyone you’re lonely. You can’t just reach out to people to tell them you’re lonely, it will freak them out. Isn’t that sad?
Give Someone The Greatest Gift:
For once, I want you to imagine what your grandmother might want. Nope, not your monies, not a trip to a fancy restaurant, not even the costliest clothes money can buy. But, if you said the gift of my time and attention, you’re right.
So, my friend, this holiday season, give the gift of time, to those who need the most, from the comfort of your home. Find how you can volunteer and give time.
Let Technology Be The Last Coping Technique:
Technology as a coping mechanism is making us all wired and tired. And, are we being intentional about our use of a medium that was just thrusted into our hands without a guide on how to navigate it? Are we dodging our loneliness with mindless surfing? Are we stunting our inner wisdom by keeping ourselves inert with too much of external stimuli?
Technology has given the common man a platform for arm chair advocacy and activism. But, how many of us can actually report receiving a hug via the internet? Outside of places like Change.org and GoFundMe.com, did any of us pause enough to wipe the drool of the old people in our lives to whom we owe so much of the luxury of our present moments?
We need 3 to 5 friends for optimal well-being. Our manageable outer limit of personal social circle is 150. I’m not asking you to go that big suddenly. Start by saying hello to your nurse, cleaner or cashier. They work some of the loneliest jobs on the planet. Chances are they are just as lonely, and could afford a smile from a stranger.
I often think of those knitting women in the store. When COVID-19 is over, I want to go look for those empty chairs next to them. But, before that, I want to also learn knitting. You see, I want to belong. They might be my tribe.
And here’s a question for you. When did you last pick up the phone to tell someone that you need to be saved from your own loneliness?
Find Resources, Empower Yourself:
Americans struggling with loneliness, depression or suicidal thinking can find support here:
The Aging Institute Helpline: 415-750-4111
The Samaritans Helpline: 212-673-3000
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255