I picked up a book in the university library. It was simply called loneliness. Not even capitalized. No presumptions. Just the simple word that is bigger than we ever acknowledge to ourselves because, really, who wants to admit to being lonely? The first time I told my husband that I was lonely, it was like saying a bad word for the first time. Like the time I told Ellen that I was “pissed”, and we both got quiet and realized that that word sounded awfully odd coming from my lips… I guess it’s not a bad word, really. But it sure felt like it the first time I said it.
I opened up the cover of loneliness, as we do, and looked down to read the inside flap. This is what I first saw:
“What if being lonely were a bigger problem than we ever expected?”
The authors of this book (Cacioppo and Patrick), which I will be referencing quite a bit, were on to something. The centuries have found us trying to figure out mental illnesses, depression, schizophrenia, and so many other “invisible” sicknesses, if you will. But we put loneliness into the “feelings” category all too often, alongside happiness, sadness, excitement, joy, and selfishness. Prior to this year, it would probably have gone right between Joyce Meyer and I’m an English Major. Now what? on my bookshelf.
Now I would put it with the likes of The Cure for Depression and The Mood Cure.
When I was researching loneliness, I found countless books and articles on the subject. I didn’t know that loneliness could have an effect on your body. I knew that stress could. I became overwhelmed with the epidemic of loneliness today, as opposed to earlier centuries when we lived in villages – in very close community with one another.
In an article on TIME Magazine’s website, Justin Worland reported, just last year “Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public Health Issue”. The claim is coming from universities and academic journals that “the subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%”. This is just as concerning as, Worland writes, “obesity and substance abuse”. People live alone, have more relationships online than offline, and this decreases the amount of in-person, deeply important community relationships.
It’s a real paradox, isn’t it? It’s a common statement, but let’s explore it: I have more friends on Facebook than I see day to day. Indeed, I have more friends on Facebook than I can talk individually to in one year. And I’m not going to lie. I love having as many “friends” as I have. From travelling, from teaching, from working with youth – I get to see what happens in the lives of people who have invested in me, and some in whom I have invested. I get to have connections with my family that I wouldn’t have had living overseas fifteen years ago. Also, let’s be honest… it feels good to have so many people as “friends”, or “followers”.
But, even though I have so many Facebook friends, I still get lonely. I don’t see them. I see and talk to and breathe the same air as one person, my husband, on a daily basis. Sometimes, I get to see my best friend – maybe twice or thrice a week. And I love going to church because on one day a week, there are heaps of other people around me. But I’ve become one of those people that would rather text than call – message than skype. No wonder I am lonely. I live in a lonely world.
So how can I combat this? How can you?
It’s taken a lot of thinking, and a lot of research, but I think at the very basic level of going against loneliness, it comes down to: 1) being okay with myself, 2) being in deep relationships with others, and 3) being at peace in the soul/spirit level.
In effect, knowing the “inner”, “outer”, and “upper” person, will lead us to a place where we can feel okay more often, and in the hard times, know what to do and who to see – whether that person be you, your best friend, or God, or even a mixture of all three. I’ve tried to balance these three in the past few weeks, and, ya know what? I’m getting somewhere. We’ll keep talking about this in the weeks to come. I hope my journey will help you on your journey. And I hope that you’ll comment and tell us any secrets you know in regards to this whole subject. I truly believe that this paradox spiral we’re in has an exit. And so do sociologists and psychologists.
Like depression (on which there will plenty of helpful posts later – don’t you worry), there is a little test you can take to gauge your level of loneliness. It will, obviously, differ from time to time, but if you’re interested, here it is: UCLA’s Loneliness Scale.
UCLA Loneliness Scale
Questions with *, write down 1-4 (1, always, 2, sometimes, 3, rarely, 4, never)
Questions without *, write down 1-4 (1, never, 2, rarely, 3, sometimes, 4, always)
– *How often do you feel that you are “in tune” with the people around you?
– How often do you feel that you lack companionship?
– How often do you feel that there is no one you can turn to?
– How often do you feel alone?
– *How often do you feel part of a group of friends?
– *How often do you feel that you have a lot in common with the people around you?
– How often do you feel that you are no longer close to anyone?
– How often do you feel that your interests and ideas are not shared by those around you?
– *How often do you feel outgoing and friendly?
– *How often do you feel close to people?
– How often do you feel left out?
– How often do you feel that your relationships with others are not meaningful?
– How often do you feel that no one really knows you well?
– How often do you feel isolated from others?
– *How often do you feel you can find companionship when you want it?
– *How often do you feel that there are people who really understand you?
– How often do you feel shy?
– How often do you feel that people are around you but not with you?
– *How often do you feel that there are people you can talk to?
– *How often do you feel that there are people you can turn to?
High loneliness = 44+; Low loneliness = less than 28; Middle spectrum = 33-39
How did you go? If you scored low or middle in loneliness, congratulations! But hopefully these next few posts will help you for when you do find yourself lonely. If you scored high or high in the middle spectrum, then don’t worry. Loneliness, though painful, is not permanent.
Missed something? We don’t want you to feel left out. 🙂
Check out the rest of the “Loneliness Series”:
1. Loneliness: It’s All of Us
2. Loneliness: The Problem, the Paradoxical Virus, and a Cure
3. Loneliness: Finding the “Inner” Person
4. Loneliness: Finding the “Other” Person
5. Loneliness: Finding Meaning in What you Do
6. Loneliness: For the In-Between
7. Loneliness: Understanding Loneliness in All People
8. Loneliness: Helping Others, Helping Yourself
9. Loneliness: Finding the “Upper” Person
10. Loneliness: Final Thoughts on an Un-Final Topic