Archive for the ‘Long-term 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.
Was going to end 2011 with a retrospective of everything that’s happened to me this year, and then I thought, Why bother? Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows about my losses, and most of them are losses I’d rather not relive.
Instead, I thought I’d write about a question that’s been running through my head for the last little while. Partly as a way of dealing with holiday loneliness, I’ve been following the news quite a lot, and have been struck by the stories coming out of the Middle East, especially the brave and innocent people protesting and dying in Syria.
In the midst of everything that is going on in the world–deadly protests, species extinction, day to day cruelties–does loneliness even matter? I think it does. I’m *not* saying that feeling lonely is the same thing as laying injured in the road in a middle eastern town. It’s not, and never will be.
But I don’t think a challenge needs to be life-threatening in order to be significant. I think the key (which I sometimes lose sight of) is perspective. I think we need to appreciate that loneliness can make life hard, and then use this knowledge as a way of building empathy for the sufferings that other people (and other species) are enduring. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that lonely people are sensitive. And, being sensitive, it can be easy to respond to the pain of the world by retreating. But I think the answer to loneliness has to involve *reaching out* and trying to connect with some of the hardships we see and read about.
I realize I’m being vague. Partly, this is because I’m more than mildly strung out after the holidays. I need the return of routine. And I hope I’m not sounding glum on New Year’s Eve. I don’t want this post to be read as a downer. What I am trying to get at is the notion that one of the ways we can respond to loneliness is through reaching out, either in the form of donations (if you can afford it), or letter writing, or taking part in a demonstration (and, if you live in a state that stands to be affected by the Keystone XL pipeline, this means you!).
We can use loneliness, in other words, as a way into the world. I’m not being mystical. I’m just saying that the awareness of hardship can sensitize us to the hardships that others face, and that this awareness can lead us to action. Think about it.
And, to everyone: it’s 12:05 pm by my clock in Toronto. Twelve hours to the end of the holidays. Twelve hours, people! Will write again in 2012. Best wishes to everyone on either side of the international date line.
Hello fellow LonelyTheBook friends. I’ve been reading a lot these days about environmental psychology–the impact of place on our thoughts and feelings. The subject appeals to me because the move from St. John’s to Toronto has signalled major “environmental” changes. There’s no ocean here, of course, but Toronto is also hotter, brighter, louder, and much more quickly paced.
There’s a lot in the enviro psych literature about depression and mania, but not a word about loneliness. This strikes me as an oversight. I know that when I was living near the ocean in St. John’s, I simply felt less lonely. This was the case even though I was objectively alone most days. But on those days I could walk through big parks, or go hiking on sea-side cliffs, or just sit on the deck and smell the fresh ocean air.
I wonder if part of loneliness can be seen as a failure to connect not just to other people but to the world around us. I know that what I “miss” in Toronto is not just the close companionship that Danielle used to provide but the sense of being woven into a much larger, greener (and bluer) fabric. There are simply fewer natural prompts here to make me feel good and whole, fewer sights to make me marvel, fewer miles for me to walk.
The irony, of course, is that the ocean-side hikes I loved so much in Newfoundland were entirely de-populated. I could walk for an hour and see no one. Whereas here, where my loneliness is much more profound, I am rarely objectively “alone.” There are crowds on the street, on subways and buses. But I’ve lost a sense of natural presence that made the world feel closer and more comforting. Without the natural world, I’m doubly lonely, and that’s a shame: it’s just one more thing to miss.
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.
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.