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Let’s Talk About Loneliness and Get Rid of the Stigma

Reading time: 5 min.

I started this blog post because I was feeling lonely. There I said it. I have wanted to say it many times in the past, but guess what stopped me? Stigma, the fear of making people uncomfortable, the fear of being judged…

loneliness 

NOUN

  • Sadness because one has no friends or company.
    ‘feelings of depression and loneliness’
    1. 1.1 The fact of being without companions; solitariness.
      ‘the loneliness of a sailor’s life’
  • (of a place) the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation.

    ‘the loneliness of the farm’

Logically, it makes sense that I am lonely. Less than half a year ago, I moved to a new city in a new country where I know very few people. Though I am so glad that I moved, it would be surprising if I didn’t feel any loneliness.

Other lonely times: after a breakup or the loss of a loved one whether it is a pet or a human. There is a space by your side that you wish were taken up by that special someone or pet.

They say that there is a loneliness epidemic around the world. Rates of loneliness eg. Cigna’s U.S. Loneliness Index are on the rise regardless of age, gender, or ethnic background.

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (Japanese writer and translator)

In the UK, the Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness. Over 50% of the adults in the UK haven’t made a new friend in a long time according to the Campaign to End Loneliness (CTEL). My friend Don sent me this cute video on loneliness made by CTEL:

looking for a friend bear
Add the Adjective Good or True – Photo by Marina Shatskih on Pexels.com

“It’s common to feel lonely, to think of yourself as something small and solitary in the vastness of things. It’s easy then to think of a friend as a home territory carved out of that vastness, a kind of living diary for sharing and storing the feelings of the day so that life can go on more or less as usual.” ―Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life by John Tarrant (American Zen Master)

It is possible to feel lonely surrounded by people if you feel like you don’t belong in a place. Social work researcher and New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown calls it the “lonely feeling”. She, her husband, and her kids openly talk about the “lonely feeling”. In contrast, some parents hide their loneliness and discourage their kids from talking about it, leading to loneliness being more shameful or problematic than it should be. I wish more parents raised their kids in an open, honest way.

The first big move I made as a child was lonely. We moved from an international community in one country to the rural part of another country where people almost never saw foreigners unless they were foreign domestic servants. I missed the friends who I grew up with so badly. I know that I wasn’t the only one who felt lonely, but did anybody talk about the loneliness or try to do anything to alleviate the loneliness? No.

Years later, several moves later, as I was putting down a sick, elderly dog, a pet owner told me that he got the dog for his kids because he knew they were lonely. I wish my parents did something to alleviate my loneliness when we moved. I wish I had a dog growing up.

I have one now. Penny loves people. My little life of the party is happiest when she is with a group of people. When she’s not, she feels lonely.

My cat Boo can feel lonely too contrary to the common stereotype that cats don’t need humans except to feed them and clean the litter box. I have talked to so many cat owners who go on holiday and come home to find their cat sick from stress (feline lower urinary tract disease or FLUTD). The cats were probably wondering where their humans went and whether they were ever coming back.

They can’t talk. We humans can. What do most of us including myself do in times of loneliness? We keep it to ourselves.

“I wish I had someone to talk to is” is my internal dialogue. “Someone who gets me without me having to explain.”

For others, the internal dialogue might be, “I wish I had someone special to share this beautiful moment with” while watching a sunset, sunrise, etc.

The challenge with loneliness is not being able to talk about it due to the stigma. “Why doesn’t [fill-in-the-blank name] have any friends or a partner?” “Who would want to be with [fill-in-the-blank name]?” “What a loser, loner, [fill-in-the-blank name].” Yes, there are very mean people in the world.

There are kind people, too. And we can be kind to ourselves… in our internal dialogue and the way we treat our bodies.

Hunger is a warning that our blood sugar is low and we need to eat. Thirst warns us that we need to drink to avoid dehydration. Pain alerts us to potential tissue damage. and loneliness tells us that we need social connection – something as critical to our well-being as food and water… Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying you feel hunger.” ―Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown (American social work researcher and New York Times bestselling author)

Loneliness has been linked to increased substance abuse, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety and in seniors, cognitive decline. Loneliness is no better for one’s health than smoking or obesity.

In addition to the health risks and stigma, another challenge with loneliness is what to do to assuage the feeling. Before I started writing this blog post, I tried calling a friend, but there was no answer. Social media can provide instant gratification but long-term dissatisfaction. The same with alcohol and drugs. Drowning yourself in work will burn you out.

Writing has helped alleviate my loneliness: angsty poems, letters or emails to friends, stories with lonely characters, and blogs like this one.

Pets help a lot too. They can be better company than people. My first dog Zeus, a Miniature Schnauzer and Shiba Inu Mix, knew when I was upset and tried to cheer me up.

11230042_1076615862378504_8434127030969330368_o
I miss Zeus.

Many nights of tears have taught me the following: preventing loneliness is easier than trying to alleviate it. I have to proactively schedule social events instead of waiting for friends to make plans with me (not that I can’t be spontaneous). I have to surround myself with the right people.

Loneliness, let’s talk about it. Let’s say that we feel lonely the same way we say that we feel happy, sick, etc. You’re not the only person who feels lonely. There isn’t something wrong with you because you feel lonely. You’re a live sentient being.

Cheers to being honest and true! Please share this blog post with a friend or loved one.

🐾

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