I felt lonely as hell that day and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why.
Class was fine, I guess. I went for a run at 5 in the morning even though I wasn’t meant to; I am getting over bronchitis. I missed my own bed. I missed telling my friends and family every inane aspect of my day. I am on the trip of a lifetime and I know that.
But I felt lonely and a little bit sad. It could have been pre-menstrual. It could have been the strong antibiotics. I just didn’t feel like being cheerful that day. Not like other days. Quite frankly, I felt like sh*t. Like I was hitting my head against the wall with everything – tripping over shoes, knocking an elbow, dropping things.
Then, finally, as I sat in my single bed in in the humid Hawaii evening heat, laptop on sweaty thighs, hair in a bun, no makeup and my Invisalign coating my teeth with a sexy plastic lisp – I realised something: that it was totally okay to accept that I didn’t feel okay. I didn’t have to pretend that I felt okay.
Because I knew that with a few moments of meditation – and eight hours of resting my head – that I would wake up out of this goddamn funk. As a whole, I am doing fine. Great. Extraordinary well, actually. Just not that day.
A lot of people suffering from depression don’t have this option – to just “wake up” out of it. Or just the fleeting moments of loneliness. For many, it is constant.
I’d had this little fleeting loneliness funk before on this trip and written about it (as a mirror article to Happiness in Japan, and one that has been born out of my ongoing research into depression and suicide in NZ).
Loneliness in Tokyo
After many a long night of study and TedTalks and documentaries and gluten-free noodles heated in the hotel microwave and green tea and study and email interviews and writing – broken up by intermittent and inspired bursts of yoga on the floor of a 10sqm room in Tokyo – I was coming to experience the very thing that I believe forms the essence of all forms of depression: loneliness.
For depression, that might be a physical loneliness, as in social isolation, but a spiritual one as well – the feeling that no-one on the earth can relate to the way that you feel: that you are eternally misunderstand and ultimately, when the chips are down, utterly alone.
Except you are not – it just feels that way. When people commit suicide, family and friends all wish they made that one last phone call, so we could talk them out of it. We know they are not alone: it’s just they don’t.
Could it be that the root cause of depression and suicide is loneliness?
I am imagining people in the medical profession getting slightly up-in-arms at this statement. And they, most decidedly, are the experts.
But let’s just take science out of it for a second.
Let’s just take the raw feeling or emotion you feel when you see the ones you love hurting – the stuff that could potentially be measured but by very virtue of what it is, should not be, for it completely undermines what the thing is. (That is, we should not quantify feelings or love, for these things should only be felt, not measured. It reminds me of a quote from Nobel Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus (referring to economics): “Mainstream free-market theory suffers from a ‘conceptualization failure’, a failure to capture the essence of what it is to be human.”)
Let’s just do a little bit of that for a second – let’s feel the thing.
A big clear message that I am getting from my interviews with people about post-natal depression is the overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
Yes, undoubtedly, the black and white scientific and medical factors are important.
But, if we can look at ways to reduce loneliness – and not just by connectedness, I mean the loneliness one may feel even when surrounded by others – are we one step closer in at least alleviating depression?
I am keen for views.
I will also part with this Hunter S Thompson quote as food for thought:
“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
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3 thoughts on “Not always sunshine and roses”
I think what you are talking about is important. I have a sister who has at times struggled with depression and social isolation. I have watched and listened to her fraustrations with a keen ear. She has been placed on drugs by doctors, only to feel a sense of fuzziness in her thinking (her description). This led her to thinking she is different from others and alone. A cycle of taking drugs and not taking drugs ensued. She has attempted suicide twice. She currently has a happy life with a partner who cares for her and it seems to work.
I think the point you are trying to make between loneliness and social isolation is an important one. It is ok to be alone, I think allot of people are able to highly function alone. Being alone and still having a social network creates a healthy mind state in my experience. Social isolation on the other hand is a different beast. I think a lack of connection and understanding from family, friends and community is when people really struggle. I think we can be living with friends and family but still suffer from social isolation. Isolation to me means a lack of being heard and understood.
I think it is a two part problem. The person with the inner turmoil often does not have the ability to convey their thinking or feelings as well as they would like to be able to. The second problem is the person or people listening need to be able to be empathic and listen actively. Active listening means being able to convey the other persons thoughts and feelings accurately enough for the person to agree that they have been heard.
We live in age where people are more disconnected than ever. Computers, telephones, Tv and other devices take us away from actively engaging one another on meaningful topics. We no longer socratic lives. When was the last time we leaned over the fence to have a chat with the neighbour?
I hope that more people like you write about these things. I think we need to connect with our family and friends in an empathic and nonjudgemental way. I thinking by doing this maybe we can lower the suicide rate.
Look forward to your response and wish you the best,