Archive for the ‘Dealing with Loneliness’ Category
Was out in rural Ontario this weekend, and my thoughts turned again to that bugbear — the single person vacation. In Lonely, I wrote about a singletons bike trip that I went on. It was beyond excruciating. My social skills seized up, and I couldn’t wait to get home. I actually kissed the ground of my little apartment once I’d returned and was safely back in what I thought of as my real life.
That was about six years ago. I haven’t travelled alone since then, largely because — for most of those six years — I was part of a couple. But, as all readers of this blog will know, I’m now back to being on my own. Since it’s summer, and since I’m longing to get out of the city, my thoughts are turning once more to the solo vacation. I’ve even gone so far as to visit the website of a northern Ontario outfitting company that welcomes single travellers.
But I don’t know if I’m going to do it. I don’t know if I can do it. In my daydreams, I head out to the woods and find friendship and comfort. In reality, it might just be a cash drain that leaves me with bugbites and a wicked case of intensified loneliness.
A few readers have commented on religious and/or yoga retreats, and I think that might be the best way to go: lots of structured time, and few expectations about easy sociability. If you’ve had good experiences with this sort of thing, post a note and let others know. There’s a religious retreat in Kentucky that I’ve been meaning to go to for years, but it involves silence and isolation — and I’m not sure if this will leave me feeling more lonely or less so. Somehow, in that paradoxical way, the notion of *not* talking to people seems less loneliness-provoking than actually conversing with them.
A quick note to let you know that I’m now with the 21st century — I’ve started yoga. I feel a bit clumsy in the class: I’m not sure of many of the moves, and all the other women in the class seem to have been doing it for years. But the teacher is very kind, and the pace is relatively manageable, so I’m going to stick with it.
What I like about yoga is what many readers of this blog have identified: it provides you with the chance to just be with others in a meaningful and quiet way. I was a bit worried about pre-yoga chitchat, but I walked into the classroom to find all the other participants resting on their backs, eyes closed, and quiet. It was a relief, after many days of being alone, to take my place on the floor, and simply *be* with others without having to interact or extend myself too much. (Not that I’m against extending myself, but I deeply don’t have the energy for it right now.)
I’m thinking more about this quiet togetherness, which I like, and wonder where else I might find it. There are meditation classes (which I love), and of course there’s church, though that can get a bit tricky, doctrine-wise. There’s the pool, and the library (thank heavens for libraries), and I suppose there are coffee shops, though I rarely feel connected with others there. And of course there’s this blog, which I adore. If you have any other suggestions for quiet, low impact togetherness, send them in.
A number of readers have sent me this article on reaching out for “warmth” when feeling lonely. I found myself thinking of it just now, when I couldn’t bring myself to get out of a very hot shower. The research follows other findings on loneliness making you feel “cold.”
I like the notion of subconsciously reacting to loneliness through a hot bath or shower. This doesn’t mean that the overwhelming heat of a Toronto summer will necessary make you feel less lonely — I think the key finding in the study is that the warmth has to be comforting, and it’s hard to feel comfortable in the midst of 35 degree summer days.
Still, I wanted to blog about this finding. I like it when psychological research aligns with what many of us are already doing. Hot tea, hot baths, exercising to generate a sense of warmth — all of these things, in their own small way, can make us feel a bit less alone.
Thanks to everyone for sending encouragement as Hodge and I sought digs in Toronto. I have found a cat-friendly apartment, and the move is on for around July 3rd. Please note that there will be a break in my email and blog capabilities for a few days around this time.
Did a radio interview with a UK station last week, and it was odd. I didn’t know what tense to use when talking about loneliness. I was lonely? Am lonely? Will be lonely? Loneliness used to be a past tense event for me–Lonely was about my early to mid-thirties–but it seems to be recurring in my life again now.
Sometimes interviewers say really smart and interesting things, and I’ve blogged about this before, but I keep coming back to it in my mind. About a year ago, a journalist told me that what he found most useful in battling his demons was “daily maintenance”–that the threat of loneliness (in my case) needs to be something I confront and try to subdue every day.
Send tips on what might constitute a daily maintenance strategy for loneliness. Does meditation help? Yoga? Dog-walking? Connecting with a friend over coffee? I feel that it’s very important right now that I not just let myself drift back into loneliness. Thoughts and guidelines and tips for “daily maintenance” would be most welcome.
Saw an article recently about a project aimed a creating robots for the lonely. I’m not making this up! On one hand, the notion that someone is taking loneliness seriously and thinking of responses to it is encouraging. But, a robot?
I had the opportunity, a few years ago, to interview Dr. Aaron Katcher, an American psychiatrist who’s been at the forefront of developing animal-assisted therapy techniques. This was right when little robots were being marketed as possible helpers and companions for the elderly. I asked Katcher what he thought about this development, and he was horrified. He described it as pushing the aged and the sick “into the matrix,” away from the life-giving people, animals, and natural settings we all need.
This is how I feel about the idea of developing robots for the lonely. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong! Lonely people need other people (and pets!). To think that we can substitute technology for human warmth is a bit terrifying. If someone had given me a robot during the years of my most intense loneliness, I would have thrown it across the room. I wanted human companionship, not technology.
If any lonely people out there would entertain the notion of interacting with a robot, let me know. Right now, I’m not sure where the researchers will get their experimental lonely subjects. I can’t imagine anyone signing up for such a loneliness “cure.” Would you?
Hey, peeps. Due to popular demand, I am writing a blog post on Valentine’s Day. I had to be encouraged to do this, because I seem to be one of the few women in North America missing the “V-Day” gene. Maybe it’s because I’m gay, or because I dislike chocolate, or because cut flowers kind of creep me out, but I’ve never really had emotional trouble with Valentine’s Day. Other, less notorious days, such as the first day of spring, often hit me much harder in terms of loneliness.
I do live in the modern world, however, so whether or not V-Day is significant to me is kind of immaterial. Just like the rest of you, I’ll be subjected to the “cover your lover with chocolate” stories, and the images of hearts and flowers. This is all pretty predictable.
What strikes me as more interesting is the new storyline that’s emerged in the past few years. This one is all about risk and danger. It’s about how being alone and lonely on Valentine’s Day is this toxic, horrible state that just might kill you. Valentine’s seems to have emerged not just as a day to celebrate all things romantic, it’s become a day of getting hysterical about the risks associated with loneliness.
If you’re lonely, prepare yourself for this. Give yourself a day off from the paper and from cable TV. If you see some screaming headline about the risks of loneliness, take a deep breathe and try to ignore it. Yes, loneliness does carry some risks, but so does riding in a car, and we do that all the time. (I’d actually love to see a Risks of Automobile Travel Day, but that’s a different story.) Loneliness isn’t anything to panic about. It’s a natural state of mind, and a natural way to feel if you’re too much on your own.
I’m not saying that loneliness isn’t hard, or that long-term loneliness isn’t awful. Loneliness can be gruelling. But the media isn’t doing lonely people any favours by treating loneliness as some sort of freakish, dangerous disease state. It’s not. It’s a part of being human. It’s what some of us came into the world with a predisposition for. It’s something we have to manage and struggle our way through, but not anything to become alarmed by.
So I wish everyone a calm, non-anxiety provoking Valentine’s Day. If you see a story about the “health risks of loneliness,” skip it. Instead, do something good for your health, like running or taking a walk or writing in a journal. And treat yourself to something nice–good food, chocolates, a bubble bath. And remember that, by February 15th, it will all be over.
In the early days of writing Lonely, my agent said that I should take the UCLA Loneliness Scale every month or so, and see how my scores turned out. For those who have Lonely, the Scale is reproduced in the book’s introductory pages; for those who don’t have Lonely, the Scale is a test developed by the psychologist Dan Russell to assess how lonely someone might be. The test includes questions such as “How often do you feel starved for company?”, and a final score can range from 10 to 40, with a score of 25 or higher indicating real difficulty with loneliness.
I never followed up on my agent’s suggestion. I grew so familiar with the UCLA Loneliness Scale when writing Lonely that I effectively stopped seeing it. But, feeling lonely here in Newfoundland, I decided to sit down and take it once more. My score today was 30, which reflects, according to Russell, “a very high level of loneliness.”
A reader of Lonely once flamed me (is that what the cool kids say?) for writing a book about loneliness and still being lonely. He wanted, I guess, to hear about loneliness from someone who had totally mastered the state. I think there are some strategies you can bring to bear on loneliness (I’m going to post a lecture by a British researcher on this topic soon), but I’ll say in advance to anyone interested in Lonely that loneliness is still a problem in my life.
I could blog about this for pages and pages, but the very nature of blog posts means I’ll have to wrap this up shortly. I want to do more thinking about the persistence of loneliness in my life: I think it’s really complex and significant. And I’m going to follow my agent’s advice and take the UCLA Loneliness Scale every month, to see if I can spot ebbs and flows in my score. Readers of Lonely might want to do the same, to see whether their score remains static, or whether it dips and rises in response to life events. This won’t solve the problem of loneliness, but it will provide more information about a state that can seem so maddeningly hard to pin down.