Loneliness affects all of us at one stage or another; it hugely affects those with both mental and physical health challenges and whilst technology connects us in so many ways, studies show that we are now more disconnected than ever. We are glued to our screens, we don’t talk on phones, and when we do meet up with others, we are too busy posting about it and taking selfies to take time to connect with those who we are with. We can give the appearance of having a fantastic life on social media but still be very lonely if we are craving ‘likes’ for our validation.
Loneliness certainly impacts those who have chronic illnesses; we feel different from those around us and that nobody understands what we are going through, we stand out, we are often seen to be ‘swinging the lead’ or lazy, and people will often stare at us which just adds to the isolation. Meeting new people can mean that we have to explain ourselves and our needs; all of this scrutiny just adds to our anxiety. We lose our sense of identity and who we used to be and what we used to be able to do, we lose our independence, we are forced to leave behind our old identities to forge our ‘new normal’; all of which can be very distressing and traumatic. We often withdraw from social situations as we feel disconnected, crowds overwhelm us, but we do find solace in online forums or support groups where we are amongst our tribe and those going through the same issues that we are.
I am fortunate in that I love to be alone by choice and I need time alone to recharge after a period of ‘doing’ or being with others. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing support network who understand that I need to balance socialising with them alongside my own time to just be alone. Social connection is essential for cognitive development but so too is quiet time. I never take for granted how lucky I am to have a choice in the matter, and I appreciate those who let me either show up or decline offers as I decide.
I don’t have all the answers on how to help those who are lonely but I know that one way to help is to be kind to others, we have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives and it must be awful to look back on your day knowing that you have caused pain to someone else. Do you add to other people’s burden? Do you make people feel that they matter? Don’t underestimate the power of a kind act; kindness is a laudable trait that we should want to possess. Would people describe you as kind? You can be an amazing success financially, and in your career, but what matters most is how you treat people. I truly believe that what we put out will return to us; that can be unkindness on social media, thoughtlessness or trying to make ourselves feel better by bringing others down.
Equally, this kindness works both ways; resentment strikes when it is one way and none of us should be a doormat, kindness shouldn’t leave you drained and exhausted, it is good to be empathetic but not if you are risking your own mental health and fatigue. We can be supportive without trying to solve other people’s problems, we don’t have to be the solution as we are not the keeper of other’s happiness, just our own!
We are all dealing with something others may not know about and small acts of kindness can make more of a difference than we will ever know, those who are lonely often feel that nobody cares, so go on and show them that indeed somebody does…