I’ve been thinking about loneliness the past few days because I’ve noticed a shift in my mood. It’s a bit lower than normal and when I think about why that might be, it comes back to feeling lonely. A year and a half ago I moved from a big city where I had spent 6 years making some wonderful friends, to a small town where I only had my brother in a town over. Then 6 or 7 months ago I moved to another big city, where I have my other brother, his wife, and a close friend I’ve known for many years and his partner. While I do see my brother and sister-in-law fairly often, I haven’t seen my friend much due to schedules, etc. I also don’t have any other friends here and it seems to be harder to make new friends at 37 than it was at 30. I also haven’t had a serious romantic relationship for several years.
Loneliness is also something commonly experienced by people with chronic pain and chronic illness. This can be due to not being able to engage in activities you once could. It could be a lack of understanding from friends and family, perhaps even lost contact with them because of it. It could be an inability to work. And so on. While some people are totally content being on their own (and for the most part I’m totally fine being on my own), most of us crave connection. It’s part of our evolutionary history. Humans have always lived in groups, supported each other. And yet we’re always alone…
One of the four “givens” of the human condition, according to existentialism Irvin Yalom, is isolation. It’s something we fear and dislike, and yet it exists for all of us. I think of it this way, who is the only person you spend 24/7, 365 for your entire life with? YOURSELF. No one else. And so, chronic pain or illness or not, loneliness is something we need to be able to deal with. But how do we do that?
Here are some suggested ways to deal with it:
join activities that you can do – this is something I’m personally looking into right now. Is there a sport you can play? An art class you can take? Some other activity you can engage in with other people, even with your pain? Sometimes this involves making room for your pain, which you can learn to do here.
reach out to friends and family – even if you can’t see them in person, connect via text or phone calls or video chats. I talk to one of my best friends every week via Skype. A couple of my other good friends I video chat with every few weeks and text with regularly. It’s not the same but it’s something.
join online support groups – well I have a love-hate relationship with these, they can be a great way to connect and remember that you’re not alone. Friendships can even develop online. Listen to this podcast about it.
Speaking of making friends online, tryonline dating – okay, if you’re in a relationship this may not be the best idea, but you could try Bumble BFF in which the sole purpose is to make friends. Otherwise, I have made plenty of friends in the past via online dating (though that was pre-pandemic and it does seem to be a little harder now).
Become your own best friend – while this doesn’t completely take away feelings of loneliness, it can help you in the in-between times of being with other people. I’m definitely my own best friend. And yes, I do still get bouts of loneliness but they are few and far between (I just happen to be in one of the few).
No one likes to feel lonely, especially when paired with other emotions like sadness and anxiety. While chronic pain and illness can make loneliness more common, there are definitely a few ways you can combat it so that you can keep making the most of it.
This is my little early Merry Christmas/general Happy Holidays post for 2020. This year has been hard for many people, and the holidays are probably stressful or sad for many people this year, especially without being able to see family as normal. I don’t want to repeat my podcast topic for the week (you can find that here), so I’m not going to talk about stress, I’m going to talk about connecting during the holidays. I will state that I am with my parents. As a single person I’ve joined another household and this is my first Christmas not working in retail as well so I actually have time off (though according to my friends in retail this year is not like a regular holiday season there anyway). We’re also very careful, literally take our temperatures every morning and don’t leave the house to go anywhere. Safety first.
Now, for this connections thing. Yes, it’s important to be safe and try to avoid cross-household gatherings. But we’ve all heard this in the news for weeks already. What can we do to have connections? How can we still be social or have a normal Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)? Here are some of my suggestions:
use Facetime/Zoom/Skype/whatever video chat service you like to connect with family on the holiday. This could mean eating dinner together while video chatting. Opening presents while video chatting. Playing games over video chat. Or all of the above. It can help make it feel a lot less lonely and a bit more normal.
use those video chat services to connect with your friends! Much of the same way listed above. This is how I’ve connected with most of my friends over the past 9 months anyway, so might as well continue!
Do some holiday baking and gift wrapping! Whatever you normally do (or maybe this year try it if you don’t normally) and leave it on the door steps of neighbours, friends, or family. Have a socially distanced conversation when you drop it off.
Spend time with your fur babies. They are a great way to feel less lonely and connect.
If you’re feeling desperate make sure you reach out to a hotline or textline for support. That’s what these lines are for. I signed up for a 2 hour shift on Christmas Day with Kids Help Phone. I have no idea if it will be busy or slow but I do know that this year more than ever, people need support. So use these programs if you need them.
Remember, you are loved. This year is not normal. It doesn’t have to be terrible. Try to remember the positive, and make as many connections as you can.
Happy Holidays. Make sure you make the most of it!
As I titled this I realized some people might automatically read “from” family which is 100% not what I’m going for. Rather, taking a break from all of the other things in life to spend time WITH family, is something some of us probably need right now (some of you may have just spent the past 6 months locked up with your family and may need the opposite type of break)! I needed the break for a couple of reasons: (1) I live far from the rest of my family, (2) because of the pandemic this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing them, (3) work has been hella stressful (also due to the pandemic), and (4) while your support system can include many other people, mine also includes my family.
And so, I risked it and went on a plane, taking me from Ontario to BC. (To be honest the airlines are doing a decent job at making travel as safe as possible and all passengers seem to consider safety important). Both of my brothers live in BC with their partners, and it was my younger brother whom I stayed with. The trip itself was a mix of physical activity (hiking, kayaking, yoga – all my faves) and chill time (eating and drinking at wineries and pubs, and watching movies).
There are two parts of my trip that I valued the most. One was hanging out with my younger brother, both the first day I got in when we just toured around town and caught up on what’s been going on with one another, and then when we binge watched three movies back-to-back on Sunday night because we both love movies. The other was when my older brother and his wife joined the other three of us on a hike, winery tastings, and dinner, allowing us all to spend some time together. Interestingly it is my older brother I’ve seen the most of during the past few years as his work often brings him to Toronto to visit. Because of Covid-19, his company has restricted travel until the new year.
Having a mental break and spending it with people I love was so important. I maybe pushed a bit too hard on some of the hikes but it made me rethink where I want to be in the near future, and to be honest, I never consider change a bad thing. We’ll see where the future takes each of us.
If I can also get some thoughts, prayers, whatever you personally do for Spike I would really appreciate it. He is at the vet, having been extremely sick over the past 18 hours.