Sadly this is becoming an all too familiar situation for young and old alike. Working longer hours, the break down of nuclear and extended families, lack of job security, fragmented communities, physical illness and disability, divorce, old age, mental illness, and the list goes on. All or any of these can contribute to the feeling that we no longer have meaningful relationships or contact with relatives or indeed new friends. Whatever the reasons, it is clear to me from Joe’s expression part way through this short film, that loneliness hurts, the pain is unmistakeable.
There is a distinct difference in my experience between loneliness and solitude. For me, one is enforced and the other a conscious choice. I’d like to think that being alone is, as psychiatrist Anthony Storr believes “a sign of maturity” and in terms of creativity and personal development I tend to agree. Storr cites solitary geniuses like Goya, Beethoven, Henry James, Wittgenstein, Beatrix Potter and Kipling as examples of those who’s work may well have depended on a certain lack of social connectedness, for some of us however this state can have serious effects on our mental and physical health without the resulting production of great works of art, philosophy or scientific breakthroughs.
For us ‘mere mortals’ loneliness can be, as the broadcaster Joan Bakewell so clearly puts it “an inner, gnawing pain born of circumstance and inertia, verging on despair. There is a higher risk the older you get, and no one talks about it.”
Loneliness is certainly not a personal failing. I believe attitudes can change and isolation can be put to good use, but I also believe that for those of us that crave real connection in an increasingly virtual world, there is much we can do, and much to talk about. Taking control of our own lives and interactions seems obvious, but is it that easy to do?
Let’s start to explore the options here over the next few weeks. Remember you really are not alone, as current statistics show there are a huge number of us in this position, but it can often seem impossible to reach out, to make connections and meaningful ones at that. I am hoping that the development of the website notaloneuk.com will address how we as I individuals can alter or make more of the isolated circumstances we find ourselves in. I have a vision for an online space that encourages real connections, a chatting, mapping, learning, and creating meeting place. I am not yet sure what is technically possible, or safe, with all the data controls we will be restricted by, so if anyone reading this has any insight as to what could be possible on the internet or as an app, please do leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, don’t forget books and nature and music and humour and creativity and, above all, compassion for yourself and others.
You are not alone.