My friend Bonnie posted a link on Facebook that contained an image of a letter a 90-year-old woman wrote to a neighbor. She asked her if she would be her friend. All of her friends had died, and she was very lonely.
It reminded me of my younger days when I delivered Meals-on-Wheels. So many of my clients lived alone. The ones that seemed the happiest were the ones with pets. They’d greet me at the door if they could, and I’d pet their dog or cat and exchange some pleasantries. I’m sure I may have been the only person they saw that day. It was my first window into the world of the extremely lonely.
There is a loneliness epidemic going on across the world. When I first moved here and had few friends, I felt really lonely. I reached out to a therapist, and I stumbled upon a website about The Loneliness Project. This project collects stories and videos about the lonely people in the world. I watched some of them and became a bit fascinated by the fact that millions of people go for a week at a time without seeing anyone.
I’ve been the most lonely when I’ve relocated to a new area. It takes a long time to get adjusted and create community. Before technology it was even harder to find like-minded people. I was always grateful to my recovery groups because at least that was a place to go where I was always welcome. But I was also very lonely when both of my marriages were failing. And I was significantly lonely from the time I was 16 until I got married at 23.
The research shows that the peak times of loneliness are in the late 20s, mid-50s and 80s and beyond. It’s sort of obvious how older people get left out of the mix, but I was a bit surprised at the loneliness of young people. Even though I experienced it myself, I thought it was because of my addiction issues and my issues around connecting with other people. I wasn’t aware how common this is for the younger generation. And they say it’s gotten worse for today’s youth because social media and technology have change the way people relate. No wonder the suicide rate is soaring.
We don’t talk anymore. When I was loneliest in the past I used to go to coffee shops to meet people. Bookstores were great places to walk around and talk about books. Now, bookstores are almost nonexistent, and coffee shops are filled with people looking at their phones or computers. Rarely does anyone even say hi. And we can blame technology or Millenials or whatever we want, but the fact is it’s us. Tech turns off, it goes onto airplane mode, or it can be silenced. It will not keep you company when you are lonely. But the person next to you can. It’s literally life or death.
Tonight I popped over to The Loneliness Project website because I haven’t been there in awhile. They have a cool interactive visual with stories of loneliness at all ages. It literally provides a window into the causes of loneliness and the struggles people face with it. Loneliness is a higher risk factor for death than obesity. It’s serious. And it steals people’s lives.
Our society is so fractured right now. Politics, rampant addiction, increasing depression and anxiety, the high cost of health care, narcissism and abuse pushes people apart. I know from my many relocations that starting over once loneliness has set in is extremely difficult. And I’m healthy. If I was suffering from depression or a serious health issue, I’m not sure I would ever be able to pull myself out of it.
I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe it’s as easy as saying hello or bringing a treat to a neighbor. We have more people in the world than ever. The last problem we should have is loneliness. But here we are.
What is the loneliest you’ve ever been? How did you get out of it?