The UK announced a Minister for Loneliness in January 2018. Why? Because research has found that more than nine million people in the country often or always feel lonely. It is strange that governments are creating departments for matters such as happiness, now loneliness. The intrinsically personal and private arena of the human mind is becoming a concern of the state!
What is loneliness? It made me wonder. It is often said that in our modern lives, driven by internet and social media, isolated living etc loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions. Type ‘loneliness’ on google and you will get scores of sites that provide steps to combat it. One of the steps that tops the list is to disconnect from the virtual and connect to the real!
Research also says that loneliness effects the elderly more, and that it has an adverse impact on health. I took a survey that the BBC is running for a research on loneliness to find out what is different about loneliness as we perceive it in everyday life. From the questions I found that its not very different.
We all feel lonely at times in our lives – across the trajectory of life. Adolescents, young adults, middle age, older age – in each phase there are episodes of loneliness. We might not recognise it as such when we are younger. What does an episode of loneliness entail? For one, it is divorced from being alone. Being lonely does not preclude the presence of primary relationships in ones life. Parents, partners, spouses, children, friends – they can all be an intrinsic part of life, still a bout of loneliness can overwhelm.
Loneliness is a state of mind or being. It brings a sense of disconnect from people and life. You can be surrounded by people, and yet at times be very lonely. The classic example of this is serious illness or injury. Despite, care and attention – the journey through an illness is the loneliest one. The pain or discomfort, and the pause it brings to an individual’s life is entirely their own.
Taking major decisions that effect life are also intensely lonely quests. When I look back, each time I was faced with a major decision in my life it was entirely my own. People were around to help, advice, support, but when it came to the crux, the decision was mine alone. The internal voyage to these decisions is fraught with fear, uncertainty, and at some level a recklessness too. At work too, when the buck stops at you, loneliness at the top strikes!
Loneliness can lead to sadness and anxiety, but it also has the potential to help one learn and savour the pleasure of solitude. The solitude of the mind, even if people are around.
In a sense, when I dwell on the issue of loneliness I feel it stems from our existence. In essence we come in this world alone, travel the journey of life also primarily with ourselves, and depart alone. Maybe that is why love, friendship, companionship and faith have so much bandwidth in our lives. It is to stem this inherent loneliness that we constantly, throughout our lives seek to connect – with God, with others, with nature and with work.
Episodes of intense loneliness can last days, weeks or years. Most of the time they ebb. I have found that during lonely periods pushing myself into routine things, taking a walk, and pursuing what interests me has always helped. At the loneliest peaks of my life, I have rarely sought out others or leaned towards things to overcome. Simply living life has helped. Standing at the threshold of 55, I can say that till now this has been my experience of loneliness.
However, the loneliness of the elderly is a different matter altogether. More often than not, more and more elderly are living alone. That sense of loneliness – at the sunset of life, with the body betraying in new ways everyday, with everyone you love having a life of their own. The burden of solitude, and the reality of acute loneliness. It is something I comprehend, but do not fully understand. Maybe I should start preparing for it.
Even if the state promotes happiness and measures to counter loneliness, it is ultimately something one has to deal with oneself!