Archive for the ‘Effects of Loneliness’ Category
Wasn’t sure what to call this post. What I’m trying to get at is this: I’ll see a headline in the NY Times about something like US combat dogs being abandoned in Iraq, and I won’t be able to read it. I mean I am viscerally unable to open the link. The same goes for stories about shark hunting (shark populations are collapsing), drowning polar bears (thank global warming), and leopards being kept in tiny enclosures as pets.
Is this just me? I think not. I think that loneliness, especially if it’s experienced on a long-term basis, really does sensitize you to suffering. And it involves this terrible vulnerability — you feel too much alone, too unguarded. And I think that sense of vulnerability leaves you uniquely attuned to people and creatures who’s vulnerability is being exploited & who can’t fend for themselves. This could mean street kids, or women involved in the sex trade, or whole families starving in Africa.
Do other people find this to be true? Do stories of pain feel like they’re aimed right at you? And is it one “domain” or many? In my case, I find I can’t read or watch animals-in-distress stories. The thought of watching a documentary like “The Cove” (about the dolphin slaughter) makes me hyperventilate. But I have read long stories about the sex trade and I find that, while they are disturbing, I can tolerate them.
What interests me about this “can’t look” phenomenon is that I think it provides me with a clue about how to start responding to my feelings of disconnection. Put simply, I have to start looking. I ripped a story out of a magazine last week about shark drownings, and it’s been sitting on my kitchen table ever since. I’ve now piled other things on top of it, but can see the photo (a man casting a net) peeking out from under a book. I intend to *read* this story. This may seem like a silly goal. Like, just read the story already! For others this may be a simple thing to do. For me, it isn’t.
I plan to study my reactions as I force myself to read things I normally avoid. (And it is mostly reading, since I no longer have a TV.) Perhaps the act of reading and learning won’t be as bruising as I expect it to be. Or maybe it will be. Either way, I’m going to start turning to the things I’m now studiously avoiding, all in the hopes that this act of what is essentially caring might make me feel more connected.
Greetings people, or at least those of you still remaining after my long silence. I have found it absolutely impossible to write lately. I had done a lot of thinking (and some writing) earlier on the subject of loneliness and creativity, but I’ve never experienced anything like this. I stare at a page and the words don’t come. I think about blogging and my mind goes blank. I try to do research for Book The Second and my brain just fizzles.
Never before have I had such trouble getting thoughts done on paper (or on the screen). I think this has a lot to do with post-separation isolation. Writer’s block was one of the things that scared me when Danielle announced that she was leaving me. On top of everything else I was facing — the separation agreement, the chaos around the house, the goodbyes to all the pets — at the back of my mind I thought, “I’m not going to be able to write.”
That was three months ago, and I’ve barely written a word since. I can journal, which is a relief and a blessing, but I can’t think about publishing anything. Publishing feels so exposed, so risky, so…public.
If I had any doubts about the relationship between loneliness and creativity, they are over. It is hard (impossible?) to be creative when intensely lonely. I can read, and I can journal, but I just can’t write. I know what the problem is: I need a sense of emotional security in order to feel creative, and I just don’t have that right now. I feel vulnerable and insecure, and those feelings choke out anything that might be interesting, fruitful or new.
I am, however, going to make a renewed pledge to blog. A blog is a nice mid-point between a diary and a published piece of writing. I figure if I can blog at least once a week, that is a sign of some progress, and I think I have to be measuring progress in very small steps right now.
So please stay tuned…more blog posts to follow as I try to work my way through through isolation and towards (hopefully) the ability to write once more.
Received a note from a reader a week or so ago saying that I should write more about what is happening to me. My first response upon opening the message was surprise — why would anyone tell me what to write? But upon reviewing the note, I realized the reader had a point. One of my main points in Lonely was the need for emotional honesty, and I should practise what I preach. And this is a very safe forum for me to discuss things in.
But the separation is still too new and raw for me to discuss. So, instead of talking about myself, I’ll talk about the cat, who is my closest companion in my new apartment. The cat is taking things hard. He seems disoriented every morning — walking around the kitchen and crying as I try to tempt him with food. He seems lonely, as though he misses the other cats who stayed behind in Newfoundland. And he seems a bit angry at yet another move this late in his long life.
Am I projecting? Partly. For sure I’m partly projecting. Disorientation, loneliness, anger — these are all problems in my life right now. But I can’t seem to face them. I can worry about them in the context of Hodge’s life, but can’t fully acknowledge them within the context of my own. There’s a sort of emotional blankness that’s settled down around me. The pain is there, but often invisible. I’ll feel it as fatigue — which will hit in the middle of the afternoon — or as lassitude, a complete inability to focus or apply myself to anything.
So, I did just wind up talking about myself, at least a bit. Thanks to everyone who has sent warm wishes my way — the kind thoughts are much appreciated. This blog post is a bit rambling. An indication, methinks, of my state of mind. Things will return to normal Lonely The Book standards again soon. Promise.
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.
Headed out to the ocean this weekend to deal with my social loneliness. The Atlantic is about a ten minute drive away: I like to go to a big park with a 150 year old lighthouse and views clear to Ireland. The sun was bright, the waves were huge, and the day was fresh.
At first, I didn’t feel a sense of connection, but as I walked, and felt my step bounce against the heather, and thought of the whales that would soon be in the waters all around me, I began to feel more connected.
In Lonely, I talk about “biophilia,” which is the notion that human life is intricately related to the life all around us — the idea is that we don’t exist in silos, but are rather deeply connected to the world we live in. If biophilia is true (and I think it is), then we can’t hurt the world around us without being hurt ourselves. As species die out, or become dangerously rare, we’ll begin to feel the gaps in our own lives.
And staring out at the Atlantic this weekend, and loving the sense of being part of something, I had to think about the BP oil spill in the Gulf. It’s essentially the same body of water — though I’m a lot further north. I couldn’t help but think that the damage that’s being done to the Gulf — otters! sea turtles! nesting birds! — really affects us all. When I tried to express this idea to a newspaper editor, he said I had no proof, but I could feel the proof in my own body: there was an empty feeling inside me when I thought about all the species affected by the spill.
So the trip to the shore was a mixed blessing. The ocean was beautiful, but it inevitably got me thinking about the spill, and its effects. Ultimately, I’d like us to arrive at a point where it’s normal to talk about loneliness in terms of our relationship with the natural world. This shouldn’t be seen as some off-beat, wacky idea. It’s not. Deep down, I think we are connected to the world around us, and damage to that world will hurt us in ways we might not expect.
Some readers of this blog have written in to ask how they can respond to some of the health problems loneliness seems to trigger. I’ve been mulling this, and trying to think of a response that’s both reasonable and workable.
I don’t want people to think that loneliness is utterly dire, that it will immediately land you in hospital, and leave you instantly sick. This isn’t true. I talk about having my health and sleep go all wonky when I was extremely lonely, but–when I think back on those years–I realize I wasn’t taking very good care of myself.
I think that part of the response (when thinking about the health effects of loneliness) is to recognize that loneliness is capable of cuing changes. This is Step One. Step Two involves treating yourself kindly: eating as well as possible, getting as much sleep as possible, treating yourself to massages (touch!), and exercising every day (if this is possible for you).
In other words, I think loneliness has to make you more health conscious. If you’re lonely, you need to take care of yourself. “Self-care” is a phrase that bugs me–I want others to care for me!–but I think it’s an important part of responding to loneliness.
Another response involves writing. Keep a journal. Write down what’s happening to you. If you’re not into diary keeping, write songs, or sketch something, or listen to your favorite music. I think that loneliness can be profoundly non-creative: it shuts down communication. Communicating in your own way, privately, through a journal, or a piano, or a painting, can go some way towards off-setting the feelings of aloneness that can lead to health risks.
Send me your thoughts on this. I don’t want lonely people to think, “Well, there are health risks, so I might as well throw in the towel.” This isn’t true! Taking charge of your health, and finding some way of externalizing feelings of loneliness can, I think, be a route to better health.
I’m going to be blogging about this more in the future, as I continue to think.
The problem with writing a blog after writing the book is that I’m not repeating material that’s in the book. This leaves my “effects of loneliness” a bit lop-sided, since I’m only blogging about things (e.g., induction, cold) that came to light after the book went to press.
That being said, I think it’s important to point out that loneliness (especially long-term loneliness), has many profound effects. It alters our sleep, dampens our immune systems, alters blood pressure, and has been linked to a higher risk of dementia. The state, in other words, packs a solid punch. It’s for this reason that we need to understand loneliness more fully, and offer more help to people struggling with the state.
I want to comment on the recent study by John Cacioppo and colleagues about loneliness being “contagious.” This study, which can be viewed at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34209727/ns/health-behavior/ makes the case that loneliness can spread: if you’re lonely, you’re more likely to withdraw, and thereby increase feelings of loneliness in those around you.
This study—for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me—has gotten a lot of press. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it means that loneliness is making the news, and talk of loneliness in big public forums like MSNBC is welcome.
But you need to understand that there are countless studies of loneliness out there that haven’t been covered this way. There’s something about this study in particular that’s fascinating people, and I think it has to do with the word “contagious.”
John Cacioppo has stressed that he’s using the word “contagious” to mean that the state can spread; he doesn’t mean it’s linked to germs, or infection, or disease. But I think the word is a dangerous one. We already see lonely people as having something wrong with them, as being less attractive, less intelligent, and needier than the nonlonely.
And I think this is why the “contagious” study is spreading (pardon the pun) through the news: because it ties in with stereotypes, and buttresses stigma. It lets us think of the lonely as sick, as dangerous—and these are old and tired ways of thinking.