Since the start of this pandemic loneliness has been skyrocketing to epidemic proportions, but loneliness is something that has always existed even before our world came crashing down in 2020. That feeling of having a deep ache and longing for connection and interaction is intrinsically part of the human condition. It is complicated to connect with people when our world is so fixated on technology — that while can be useful in bringing us together through mediums like Zoom and FaceTime, often only widens the chasm between us. Social media has replaced social connection. For the record I’m not one of those people that demonizes social media in an attempt to blame all of society’s woes on Facebook and Instagram. However, I would be remiss in not bringing up the many examples of how it has hurt our world more than has helped it. It’s rather unfortunate because social media does have the capacity to create community if used properly — and certainly there are examples of that as well.
Having a chronic illness can be very lonely. You don’t have to be completely alone in order to feel this loneliness, as often times, those of us who are sick are surrounded by many people that cannot imagine what it’s like to walk in our shoes or sleep in our beds. We feel that deep ache of being the only ones going through what we are going through. This is because more people doesn’t equal less loneliness. It’s the quality of people around you and their willingness and capacity to understand and empathize with you that can make the difference. Many of us can be in a room full of people and still feel alone. Many of us can have tons of friends and still feel like nobody really gets us…because the truth is, we need people in our lives who are able to connect with us on a more than basic and superficial level. In order to ease those lonely feelings, we need to know that we are heard and understood and valued by the people that mean the most to us. It has become increasingly more difficult to find these connections in a world that keeps separating and dividing and distracting humanity from the deepest cries of our soul.
There are no easy fixes to this problem in general, but even more difficult to rectify for those of us who are chronically ill. Friendships can be hard to find and cultivate and rarely come out of thin air. When they do come along, there are often challenges to navigate. How much do you reveal about your illness to a new friend? Will they be accepting of your limitations? I won’t even mention how difficult and complicated dating can be. I’ll save that for another post.
When I was diagnosed in my late 20s, many of my friends did not know how to handle the situation. Some of them just disappeared. It can be an extremely painful experience to watch relationships that have been built over time deteriorate and destruct over something you have no control over and it often leaves you wondering if you’ve ever really had a true friend to begin with.
The same situation can be said for family members as well. People in your family who you thought would always have your back and support you can become awkward and distant. In the worst case they can be very callous and cruel.
I mentioned chronic illness here because this is, after all, a Blog about chronic illness and I’m writing it from my perspective, but in reality, you may be perfectly healthy and will still relate to everything I’m saying. This is because loneliness is universal and not contingent on health or sickness.
Things have gotten so bad, that there are actually telephone numbers you can call if you are experiencing loneliness and anxiety. They are not suicide lines, although if you call with those feelings they will connect you to the right people. No, these are lines where you can call at 2 a.m. in the morning just to talk to an actual human being and tell them that you can’t sleep — that you’re stressed and lonely.
They say one is the loneliest number but is that always true? Let’s say you’re in a relationship with someone who’s very abusive and you walk away from that relationship. You may find yourself feeling able to breathe again. You may feel your soul beginning to open up and feel alive again. You may be alone but you’re not lonely.
I think as long as there are human beings there will always be loneliness. It’s a part of who we are. We come into this world alone and when we leave it, we can’t take anyone with us. But there are things we can do to minimize it. We can start talking to each other and really listening. We can start accepting people who are different than we are. We can learn to love ourselves in a healthy way so that we can love others in a more healthy way. Instead of using social media to feed our narcissism, we can use it to reach out to those who are marginalized or use it to inspire change and use it to educate and uplift. We can check on our neighbors. Literally. Do you know who your neighbors are? Have you ever taken the time to get to know them or to say hello and wait for a response? If you have, good for you. If you haven’t, maybe it’s time to start. You just might be surprised at what happens…