Today we have more options for connecting to people than ever before, yet feelings of isolation and loneliness are at an all time high. Is it because we feel that society rejects us, because circumstances leave us high and dry, or because we know no better?
Today, loneliness is caused and exacerbated by more factors than ever. However, the solution remains the same as it always has been – making real human connections and understanding people’s differences. Recently, I witnessed loneliness from the perspective of three different generations of my family and friends.
My daughter sends a text message. I can see her typing it, deleting, and retyping from the armchair across the living room. She has over 500 friends on Facebook and numerous friends on various chat apps on her phone. No doubt, I imagined, she was typing something to one of them. Immediately my thoughts turned to hoping she was not doing or saying anything she’d regret. However, within a few seconds of her sending the message, I read it. She was asking me when dinner would be ready.
It made me feel lonely and I realised that my daughter stayed in the house most of the time. She did not go out, did not hang out, did not connect with people except to share photos on Snapchat and to exchange text messages. When not typing messages she watched videos. Yet she complained of always being stressed, alone, bored, and of not being able to relax or sleep properly.
Loneliness is not just for the young
My mother is also struggling with loneliness. Hers is a very different type. In her 70s now, her friends have become distant in a literal sense with many having moved away or sadly, passed away. As a child she dreamed of having her own place with a garden, but in doing so she, like many others, ended up far away from friends. That was not so much of a problem when my father was alive or when we children lived at home, but now she is alone and it’s becoming a real problem. The neighbours are younger and rarely speak to her. She could go to a home or to a senior-friendly accommodation, but she values her independence and wants to make the best of her home. However she can go many days without seeing anyone and it is making her depressed.
Not accepting neurodiversity
A friend of mine recently opened up about life with Asperger’s, and his frequent loneliness, which has led to times where he’s felt suicidal. Sadly, neurodiversity is one of the least accepted forms of difference in today’s world and one of the least spoken about. As a child, my friend was bullied and never accepted by people who thought differently. He struggled to get a job, not because he was not hardworking or talented, but because he was just different and could not sell himself well enough. Isolation can be a hallmark of people on the autism spectrum, when they are either pushed away by other people or pull away to avoid more pain.
Humans need to connect. Those of us who pull away from society often do so because we feel that society rejects us, because circumstances leave us high and dry, or because we know no better. Recently, I met my reflection in these three people who’d disconnected for different reasons and in different ways. They taught me how I had actually kind of disconnected too; I sent phone messages instead of calling people or meeting them face-to-face and spent more time indoors watching Netflix than socialising.
And the solution was simple: I brought my people together. My friend with Asperger’s and I meet once a week now at a set time. He’s also come over to help cook lunch for my mother. My daughter also visits her and helps with the gardening. Now she’s planted cuttings in our garden too and actually asks me if she can help with dinner instead of texting me about it. It’s small progress, but if we see loneliness in ourselves or in those we love, we can step in and make a difference without having to lecture, just connect.
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