Aisle Of Wit

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Loneliness. Such An Honest Word.

I typically write these musings when it’s quiet and dark in my room, often with little more than a desk lamp illuminating my screen and my mind.  Like anyone who would like to consider themselves a decent writer, I do this alone.  Which is fine.

Except lately I seem to do virtually EVERYTHING alone.  Most days.  Many nights.

And, ironically, based upon several reports that came out last week, I’m anything but alone in being alone.

Per Nada Hassanein of USA TODAY:

An epidemic of loneliness is plaguing Americans, jeopardizing well-being, health and sense of belonging.

On Tuesday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an advisory detailing a framework toward a National Strategy to Advance Social Connection.

The advisory raises the alarm on the issue. Murth“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives,” Murthy said in the statement. “Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders.”y recently wrote an op-ed talking about his own experiences with loneliness and has published a book on social connection and reducing loneliness.  

Added Jocelyn Solis-Moreira of sheknows:

The Surgeon General reported a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent risk of stroke from loneliness. Additionally, being alone makes you more vulnerable to viruses and respiratory infections. Lacking social connections also increases the risk of premature death and is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

My mother died a few days short of 58 from smoking half a pack of Marlboro 100s a day, which I suppose is the equivalent of at least 15 cigarettes.  Yes, she was also five foot square, which didn’t help.  But she at least had friends and family she regularly saw and heard from.  She didn’t live in an era of COVID, either, which has only intensified the severity of these results.,  As Solis-Moreira further detailed:

This problem has been brewing for a while, says Minaa B, a therapist, mental health educator and author of the book Owning Our Struggles: A Path to Healing and Finding Community in a Broken World. Back in 2017, the US Surgeon General sounded the alarm on the growing rate of loneliness and its impact on our well-being. But any effort to reverse the damage done by loneliness was undone three years later with COVID. The COVID pandemic intensified these feelings of solitude as businesses shut down and people stayed home.

In a NEWSWEEK opinion piece authored by Ian Corbin and Joe Waters detailed a series of suggestions from Murthy that I’d like to believe should be fairly reasonable expectations of someone like myself:

Murthy explains that “the keys to connection are simple,” suggesting four: answer a phone call from a friend, invite someone over to share a meal, listen and be present during conversation, and seek out opportunities to serve others. “These steps may seem small,” the surgeon general acknowledges, “but they are extraordinarily powerful.”

But, sadly, an overwhelming majority of people I once considered to be friends became so enured and still continue to be petrified by the mere thought of social interaction that they are paragons of caution and consider me to be a crazed, asymptomatiac superspreader, five vaccines and revised CDC mandates be damned.   I don’t get phone calls often–actually, my onetime best friend literally NEVER picked up a phone during my most trying times–,  I haven’t been welcomed into anyone’e home for a meal in more than a year, and most are simply way too busy with their own lives and adamantly self-reliant where the concept of serving them is an anethema.

The Newsweek piece offered some intriguing and, to me, all too relatable explanations for why, like myself, Murthy’s report rings as hallow as the majority of the draconian and now proven to be overexaggerated reactions to COVID that came from other well-intentioned but questionably prioritized government agencies:

The deep sources of our current disconnection are difficult to fully understand, never mind to comprehensively articulate in a government report. But there are some things we can say.

The advisory document includes an analysis of the concept of social connection; a survey of its various impacts (especially on young people); and a list of recommended actions for governments, public health departments, philanthropic organizations, schools, tech companies, media, parents, caregivers, and individuals. Also asked to do their part: “workplaces.”

It is good to see workplaces on this list, but one wishes more attention were paid to the role played by economics in our current predicament. Although economic prosperity is commonly listed as one of the key social determinants of health, the advisory opts for vague language about “communities harmed by structural barriers” and the impact of “financial insecurity” and related “life events.” This was a missed opportunity to point out the volatile mix of economic precarity, status anxiety, and disconnection from meaningful work that afflicts Americans in the age of neoliberalism, where the maximization of shareholder returns is the central, and often the only, guiding value of our commercial enterprises.

As most readers well know, my economic situation is anything but optimal these days, atypical to many.  And my workplace these days, turned down for now more than 800 jobs of all kinds in the last 38 months, is my car.  I get paid the equivalent of a dollar a mile (plus tips, which thankfully are beginning to improve), which is a lot lower hourly rate that I’ve gotten in the last four decades. But I have no HR department to even make suggestions to.

Corbin and Waters continued with words that truly brought me to nods and tears:

Loneliness, as author Johann Hari pointed out in his 2018 book Lost Connections, is not merely about social isolation from other people. It flows from multiple kinds of disempowerment. These include disconnection from meaningful work, from childhood nurture, from status and respect, from the natural world, and from a hopeful or secure future. Disconnection from these vital sources of meaning cannot be considered without reference to an economy that manages workers like cogs, automates dignified work, forces all able-bodied adults into the workforce, deprecates any work not done on a laptop, allows for insecure gig work and easy summary firings, and treats all values as ultimately subordinate to the financial bottom line.

That’s my life these days in a nutshell.  Why do I pen such intimare details here?  Because unless you’re an open-minded passenger of mine, save for my best friend (who this week is in the middle of some hectic life changes of their own), this is the only way I’ve been able to find a way to express my consternation, frustration, fear, anger and regret of exactly how freaking LONELY I feel.  Apparently, that level of honesty makes some people uncomfortable.  But hey, I’m a Billy Joel fan.  He penned a song called HONESTY decades ago that also brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it.  If he can back up being honest as a way a life, I’m more than inclined to follow his lead.

Murthy released a series of suggested “tools” which were reported by the quartet of

  1. Strengthening social infrastructure, which includes things like parks and libraries as well as public programs.
  2. Enacting pro-connection public policies at every level of government, including things like accessible public transportation or paid family leave.
  3. Mobilizing the health sector to address the medical needs that stem from loneliness.
  4. Reforming digital environments to “critically evaluate our relationship with technology.”
  5. Deepening our knowledge through more robust research into the issue.
  6. Cultivating a culture of connection.

All well and good.  I’m down with that.  I’d truly love to get involved in some sort of work that would develop all of that.  I certainly could contribute to the research.

Because I’m finding that even some of the suggestions that these articles suggest, besides trying to count on friends, are out of reach for me.  Minna B. did make a few suggestions:

First, map out your circle of support. Start with who you consider to be your innermost circle such as family or a best friend. The next layer involves people you connect with over a shared interest. Your outermost layer is professional networks such as your therapist. While you might pay them for their service, there is still value and trust in the connection.

If your circle of friends is looking empty, Minaa B recommends sites like Meetup.com or Eventbrite to attend events and network with people in your area. Note that not everyone you meet will reach bestie status. “We might yearn so deeply for friends that we often overlook people who are just a connection,” sats Minaa B. “But friendship is something that cannot be forced.”

My Meetup membership recently lapsed, and the majority of the groups that interested me have lapsed due to lack of support.  I’ve had one therapy session in months. Self-help meetings I’ve attended continue to be dominated by socially distant members zooming in, making the trip to the meeting feel even more isolating  to me.   So sorry, Minna, I took your advice, and it hasn’t quite worked out.

So I’m asking all of you to at least consider meeting me for coffee, picking up a phone, sharing a minute of your time at least once in several months, just to let me know you’re alive and you care I still am.  Since so much of what I aspire to do does involve money, yet again I’ll provide a link below for those inclined to help that way.  I’ve got a particularly challenging stretch of days ahead, so every little bit will help immensely.

You think I’m overreacting?  Well, that’s your opinion.  I’m fighting for my life.  Just like Murthy suggests I should.

Aren’t you glad I’m finally listening to a government agency?

Until next time…

Fundraiser by Steven Leblang : Steve Leblang (gofundme.com)