This might seem a bit premature as I realise we as a global community are only at the beginning of a long road. But I started writing this post to deal with the crushing sense that the thing I have been working to escape, or deal with constructively, is just about to overwhelm me. So I’m digging in, thinking back and taking hold of what I have – my own experience – to see what I can make of it.
Last night …
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.
from ‘Alone’, Maya Angelou
Lonely, save for a few faint stars, the sky
Dreams; and lonely, below, the little street
Into its gloom retires, secluded and shy.
from ‘The Little Dancers’, Laurence Binyon
Times we hear nothing but the sound
Of our loneliness, like a cracked bell
From fields far away where the trees are in icy shade.
from ‘All of Us’, Kit Wright
- Recurring doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same
There are perhaps certain times in many of our lives when loneliness predominates, such that we feel it a lot of the time. It’s not just circumstantial, but the feeling might hang around a particular set of circumstances. Living alone, or losing a partner. Having a job that cuts you off from ordinary kinds of social contact. Moving to a new place, or finding it difficult to establish friendships.
Sometimes this improves with time, but to me it feels like the prolonged bouts of it can stick in the memory as something that you would hate to have to repeat. And yet the very memory of it can make it feel as though it is part of you. The risk, of course, is that loneliness can become ‘chronic’ – the term researchers might use for it.
This is where I have to remind myself, on this occasion, that a feeling doesn’t tell the whole story. So: it returns, and there is a part of me that says ‘I know this, and I really don’t like it. Let’s get out of here.’ But another part of me is aware that things are somewhat different to how they were last time. I’ve learned a bit more about how to be. So whilst the threat is there, and I don’t expect to be able to avoid it, this is not just a case of straightforward repetition.
2. It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong
Loneliness is punishing but that doesn’t mean it’s a punishment. This is confusing because enforced isolation often is used as a punishment, and perhaps this gives us some of our first or most deeply held ideas about loneliness. ‘Go to your room.’ ‘I don’t want to hear from you until you’ve had a think about what you said.’ Or if you’re really bad: ‘Lock them up and throw away the key.’
I think subconsciously I carry the idea that it’s because of some failing that I end up feeling lonely. There are, certainly, some shortcomings and some things I could do better, but we have to give ourselves grace. The world is not perfectly ordered to suit us and likewise not everything – especially not a feeling – can be easily ‘fixed’.
3. It teaches you things
It teaches you that there’s more to the world than what you can see. If one life can go unseen, even for a little while, how much more must be taking place ‘behind the eyes’ of the people filling the houses and streets around us. To gain this perspective might even seem like a gift in the hands of our best writers and thinkers, but it is of course one that is hard-won.
If you can stay open-hearted, the other thing it might teach you is to able to appreciate with a new clarity opportunities for connection with others. I guess we can end up almost measuring the social circles we are in, as consisting of so many people in different constellations – around geographies, interests and beliefs. It can feel very diminishing to find that your own circle is actually very small. And yet some of the most wondrous occurrences can happen outside of these normal circles, on the edges of human interaction – where we don’t expect anything to come of it. Perhaps that is the key.
4. You might feel forgotten, but try to remember someone else
I find it helpful to think of someone who is in a rather different situation to me. This might not feel like imagination, but it is a prompt in that direction. ‘Things being various’, Louis MacNeice calls it: seeing not just my own world but seeing that the world is also inhabited in quite different ways elsewhere. The older person I speak to who is housebound due to her failing sight. The boy in the book whose only family will not visit him in the children’s home. The single mum. There is a way to populate our minds and it doesn’t have to be hard.
5. The natural order of the day and night is a help
‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years’. I love all those divisions in Genesis: this idea that it is good for one thing to be different from another, for the day to be defined and set apart from the night. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that, and life all seems to blend into one. But thank goodness for those ‘signs’ that serve as reminders to us: not least the sun and the moon, which must also have offered comfort to many a solitary figure throughout centuries past of human wandering.
Tips and support from other places
From respondents to the BBC Loneliness Experiment:
“Find distracting activities or dedicate time to work, study or hobbies.”
Advice from Mind, the mental health charity:
“Think about things you can do to connect with people. For example, putting extra pictures up of the people you care about might be a nice reminder of the people in your life.“
“Listen to a chatty radio station or podcast if your home feels too quiet.“
The Samaritans have a few different ways of getting in contact and are looking to set up an online chat service in the future: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay
Beautiful Grace. Love you. Stay strong. Love Geoff and Lisa xxx
Thank you Geoff. Love to you both too!
Thank you. Mary x
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Lovely thoughts Grace. Very timely. Blessings to you and your precious family. From Johanna in New Zealand. 😊
Oh it’s lovely to hear from you Johanna. Thank you for reading! Hope you are all managing ok – as far as possible – at this very strange time. x
I recently came across a great read which encourages us to take an open mind when considering such states of being: https://longreads.com/2020/03/17/solitude-isolation-loneliness-brackets