Archive for the ‘Stigma of Loneliness’ Category
Hello! I received some messages after my last post that made me realize my ironic tone might not be carrying through the blogosphere. No, I won’t be writing about kittens or cakes in my next book. I’m sticking with all of you, and with social isolation and loneliness, for my next book project. That’s my life. That’s my work.
Actually, and this makes me grin, there will be kittens in the next book. One way that I’ve responded to social isolation is through fostering animals (at this stage, one cat, four kittens, two dogs). I also have four cats in the house. Cuteness aside, I’m actually really interested in the role(s) that animals play in the lives of the lonely and socially isolated. I know that my eldest cat, Hodge, who is now 15, has seen me through more solitary times than I can remember.
Feel free to write with your own stories of animal love or comfort. If you post a message to the blog, everyone will be able to see it, and I’m sure many will be able to relate.
First, I want to thank everyone who has decided to “follow” me on Twitter. Second, I want to apologize for being such a lame Twitterer. I just can not get the hang of it.
I don’t understand what the problem is. I mean, I’ve written a 350 page book, and I have no problem blogging. I write every day. But I open my Twitter account, see the little box for the message, and my mind goes blank. This never happens to me. I can write anything. I once faked my way through a securities exam by simply writing down whatever came to mind (and I passed!).
I think the problem is not the message so much as the medium. I find it very strange to know that my thoughts and observances are linked to other people’s networks, and to know that they can be read, searched, and forwarded. Some people probably find this liberating. I find it kind of freaky. And Twitter is not the place to talk about loneliness. I’m good at talking about loneliness. But I can not talk about my loneliness, or social isolation, or anything else “uncool” on Twitter.
Why not? Is the problem me, or is the problem the “network” aspect of the medium? Am I simply replicating online what I do in real life? In real life, I retreat, I leave parties early, I don’t open up to strangers. Am I just doing the same thing on Twitter? Or is there a “majority rules” aspect to social media, one that has the effect of silencing odd or dissenting voices?
I really don’t know what the answer is. I am going to try to continue Twittering: don’t give up on me! But I will close by saying that I completely relate to what several readers have said, which is that social media really open the doors on other people’s lives, and it’s hard not to feel as though your own social life doesn’t live up to what’s “normal.” To counter this feeling, I will close with a stat I just read, which is that roughly 40% of info posted on social networking sites is false…. Hmmm…. maybe this is it. Maybe I just haven’t cottoned on to the fact that not everything you say online has to be true. Maybe I’ll create an “alternate” Emily White, who has 500 friends, and a party every night, and…you can see where I’m going here…Twittering would become easy!
Was in Toronto for a holiday recently, and I went into a large bookstore to buy a gift for someone. The bookstore was entirely unlike the one in my town: it was glitzy, and bright, and filled with busy, fashionable people. I saw my book in the self-help section, and scanned the distance you’d have to cover to get it to the cash. I thought about grabbing a book called Lonely, and walking across the store with it. And I thought, “That takes guts.”
Many people have written in to say that I’m brave, but I think the bravery runs both ways. To those of you who have stared down stigma and grabbed Lonely at a bookstore, I say, “Thank you.” Until I went to Toronto, I don’t think I realized what was involved. Picking up Lonely isn’t easy, and everyone who’s done so deserves a pat on the back.
When I was talking to potential publishers about Lonely, the question that came up time after time was, “Aren’t you just depressed?” I found this question maddening. I wasn’t depressed. The problem was long-term loneliness. But most of the people around me just assumed I had “the blues.”
I wrote a guest blog for the Huffington Post on this issue a few weeks ago. (Note: I got the name of my book wrong!). My main argument, which I stand by, is that people say they’re depressed because depression isn’t as stigmatized as loneliness, and because depression is less threatening than loneliness. Loneliness, after all, refers to gaps in our social lives, and that inevitably involves other people. It’s precisely the people closest to you who might not want to hear that loneliness is a problem.
I think it’s important to sort out loneliness from depression. Many lonely people are on anti-depressants, whicn they might not actually need. I think that loneliness is harder to treat than depression, but talking about and trying to treat depression when the problem is loneliness won’t amount to much. It’s much better to try to tackle a hard problem than to miss the mark completely, and go after something else.
I was thrilled to get an email from the Guardian a few days ago, asking for an article about my experience with loneliness. The editor and I both agreed that we wanted the piece to be very personal, and I had no trouble writing about the worst aspects of my loneliness. The article is about my past, but since I’ve been feeling really lonely here in Newfoundland, it was easy for me to access those feelings and really tap into them.
I experienced no stigma anxiety while writing the piece, but yesterday afternoon–after the article was submitted–I was sitting on the stairs, and I thought, “What have I done?” I don’t usually think about numbers, but I knew that the Guardian reaches a lot of readers. And then stigma hit–the feeling that I’d admitted to something I was supposed to keep private, that I might be judged, that people would think I was off my rocker.
But I stuck by my mission statement, which (if you’re new to this blog) is to make lonely people feel less alone. I have a lot of people giving me support in admitting to long-term loneliness–my editors, my agent, my publisher–and I thought, You have to do this.
And now that the piece is out there in the world, I’m hearing from people saying thank you, and that makes it all worthwhile.
It’s odd. I just wrote a piece for a British newspaper about loneliness, and it was very personal — about the “voices” that overcame me when lonely, the jealousy I felt, the sense I had that I just might disappear. And I was fine with all this — largely because I didn’t know who was going to be reading the article, or when.
What’s interesting (to me at least) is that, when I try to Twitter about loneliness, I freeze up. And I think that’s because I know exactly who’s going to be reading the tweets. The audience is so clear — I have a list of “followers” — that I can imagine the reactions.
This may sound strange, given that I just published a book about loneliness, but I need a sense of privacy in order to confront and overcome the stigma attaching to loneliness. When I blog, or when I write an article, the audience is very broad. You, my readers, are important, but I don’t know when you’ll be reading the posts, or which posts you’ll read, or which ones you might come back to and read again.
I think that loneliness needs “space,” in a sense. I have that on this blog, but not on Twitter. It will be interesting to see if I can overcome stigma on Twitter and be as personal as I am in Lonely, or on this blog. You can follow my tweets if you wish — but if you do, you’ll see it’s a different me emerge, one that’s a lot less personal, and maybe a bit less honest about my loneliness.