Sunday, May 17, 2020

Does Anyone Like Us?

     I remember my Aunt Hanna. She was a widow with no children, who lived by herself in a small apartment. She came over to our house to visit as often as she could -- not because she liked us kids, in fact I think we annoyed her -- but because she was lonely and my mother was one of her few friends.

     Feelings of loneliness and social isolation have been around for a long time. Even under normal, non-Covid circumstances, surveys say that somewhere between 20% and 30% of us admit that we lack regular companionship and feel lonely on a regular basis.

     This is a particular problem for older people. According to the U. S. Census, less than 10% of Americans in their 30s and 40s live alone. But 18% of 60-year-olds and 25% of 75-year-olds live all by themselves.

     Now I know that living alone does not necessarily mean you're lonely -- and conversely, you can be lonely even if you live with a large family or in a group home -- but being forced into isolation during this time of Coronavirus can bring on loneliness even for those who are most socially engaged. It's especially true for people with hearing loss and mobility issues, and for people -- like me -- who don't always like their own company, who tend to brood about their regrets and past mistakes.

    Loneliness is different from solitude. Solitude is a voluntary and enjoyable experience that can lead to creativity, spirituality and self-growth. Loneliness is more a state of mind, a feeling of being unwanted and unloved. It can be a chronic problem that leads to feelings of emptiness and pointlessness.

     "Loneliness leads to poorer mental and physical health," according to the New York Times. Lonely people feel helpless and abandoned, separated from the community and discriminated against by other people. Loneliness is  associated with higher stress levels, as well as depression and dementia. It can adversely affect the immune system and the cardiovascular system.

     Fortunately, there are a number of "interventions" to improve our social well-being. It's a "treatable rather than an irreversible condition," as the literature says. Strategies to ward off loneliness include keeping busy, sharing feelings, involving yourself in activities, helping others, joining interest groups, staying in contact with family and friends.

     Of course, a lot of these "interventions" are easier said than done, especially these days when we're prohibited from gathering in groups, and the opportunities for meeting new people are limited.

     But here are a few practical ideas that we've found useful. Maybe you have some other ideas.

     We've found that we've been able to Zoom or Facetime with our kids. During normal times, they are often too busy with work and their own kids to have much time for us. They only afford us a quick phone call, or the dreaded text. But now they are as bored as we are, and happy to spend 30 or 40 minutes sitting with their phone or computer and entertaining the folks.

     We've also found it easier to keep in touch with old friends who, again, are looking for things to do to fill their hours. They're not rushing off to play pickleball or to try out a new restaurant, and so they're happy to spend time with us. We've also reignited some old friendships for the same reason.

     Ditto with family. I'm talking with my sister in Phoenix every week now, when before it was more like once in a month or two. I've also been in touch with three long-lost cousins -- first by email, then by phone -- to catch up on their lives, find out what their children are doing, and laugh about some old escapades we stumbled into when we were kids.

     We've also joined up with a few new groups in town. For example, we belong to our local independent movie theater. But we don't really know anyone there. When the theater management arranged a Zoom meeting for members, we ordinarily would not have attended. No one knows us. But now? What the heck. We've got nothing better to do. So we met a dozen fellow theater-goers -- and now when the theater does reopen we will have someone to talk to.

     Our regular volunteer activities are curtailed. But again, we've paid attention to some emails that we would normally have ignored. And now we have an opportunity to help with some online ESL training.

     One thing we have not tried is online chat, such as quarantinechat, which offers people the opportunity to find like-minded strangers -- kind of like a dating app, but just to give people a chance to talk with a friendly voice. But we may very well get to that before this is all over.

     Finally, we live in town. People walk past our house all the time. Normally we ignore them. But B put a teddy bear in our window and a sign out front that says, "Wave to the teddy bear." Now people stop and smile, and sometimes, if we're out in the yard, we end up talking to them and sharing stories -- always keeping our six-foot distance. We've met several neighbors just standing out in our front yard, talking and joking about our current absurd situation.

     Covid-19 is no fun, and neither is self-isolating and social distancing. But there is a silver lining. And maybe when things get back to normal, we'll have a few new friends, closer ties to our town . . . and fewer times when we're sitting at home feeling like no one likes us.

19 comments:

Terra said...

I like this post, you share some good ideas and insights. I live alone and my dog is a great companion. He likes to go on two walks each day which is good for me too. Yes, I am now on Zoom, which I had not tried before. My church is streaming services live in a hour so I will attend that. These are tough times. I look forward to being able to be out and about, and for people to be able to return to work safely.

Tom said...

Yes. We lost our dog about a year ago. Now we're thinking of getting another one. It would be a perfect time.

WD-40 said...

Different strokes for different folks. I've always looked at "alone time" as "soak up tranquility time". It must be tough viewing the time as some do.

Laurie Stone said...

I love the teddy bear in the window! Maybe the only good thing out of all this is we're finally getting to know our neighbors, the people we see all the time, but don't know. Even this horrible pandemic has its silver lining.

Rian said...

It is a strange time, Tom. And yes, we are communicating more with family and friends. The kids call or text several times a week. Our son in Hawaii sends little gifts and this week 3 cute face masks! I do the same... sending face masks to friends who haven't any and don't sew. We may all need them for some time. We've learned to Skype (haven't zoomed yet), buy our groceries online, and order things from Amazon (this is new for us), trying new recipes (made yeast rolls for the first time), etc. We're also sending e-cards for birthdays, Anniversaries, and Graduation as we don't get out to buy cards. Grand daughter is one of those 2020 graduating (or perhaps non-graduating) seniors and I wrote her a graduation letter telling her how much we loved and missed her and even if we didn't get to celebrate with her, we were very proud of how hard she worked and how well she did. The neighbors all wave to each other when out walking - but stay socially distant, and our next door neighbors check in on us occasionally (being the old folks next door). So, yes... as tragic as this Pandemic is, some good has come out of it.

gigi-hawaii said...

I used to feel lonely, but now that I am married, I don't feel lonely at all.

Tabor said...

I wish I was better about pushing Zoom meetings with the kids, but they have not offered and so I am accepting the isolation and the weekly phone call.

Kay said...

We enjoyed our first ZOOM call with our daughter in Illinois and son in Maryland. It was poignant to hear our 5 year old grandson ask, “Can I come to Hawaii, grandma?” He also asked, “Are there germs by you?”

Tom said...

Tabor -- Getting my son to talk is about as easy as pulling an oak tree up by its roots. But yesterday I called him and suggested a Facetime ... and he agreed! We talked with his illusive girlfriend too. Miracles do happen.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom~ Glad to hear you and B are staying connected. I too have been thinking of all those who undoubtably are having a difficult time living by themselves. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to live with my best friend but even then, I still have been making an effort to reach out to friends and family because I MISS PEOPLE! We have stayed mostly isolated but I do walk and sometimes chat with friends (from a distance of course!) and that helps. Like most of us I am looking forward to the time when we can meet face to face with more people and go from there. ~Kathy

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I've been doing Zoom calls with groups I belong to. I hadn't heard about the quarantine chat. I'll have to check it out. My dogs and I keep each other company. I'm reading a book about how to communicate with them telepathically but so far, I haven't gotten much out of them.

Olga said...

Amen to that.The world will be a better place if we do come out of this with that better sense of connection to others.

Tom said...

Rebecca -- You might try "The Dogs of Babel" a novel by Carolyn Parkhurst. I don't know how scientific it is, but the author sure had me convinced that the main character was communicating with his dog. Besides, it's a good read.

Arkansas Patti said...

You have really found some sound and interesting ways to communicate during these isolating times. I haven't Zoomed yet but my ear has become glued to my head with all the phone calls. Family, friends and even neighbors that I only use to wave to are calling every day. There really is some good coming out of all this.

Carol Cassara said...

Thanks for this very uplifting message. Agree!

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

How often do the words: 'It was the best of times--it was the worst of times' apply? They certainly do here!
Lovely post, Tom!
Great suggestions!
And I love the Teddy Bear in the window!

Linda Myers said...

I have six or seven Zoom meetings each week: Two for 12-step groups, two or three for church, one for OLLI (lifelong learning), one for friends with a common interest. I enjoy all the meetings, but also like the days when there is nothing on my calendar. This is new for me, and I'm actually surprised to like it.

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Sue said...

Dear Tom and Friends, it's the drive-thru banking that bugs me - the lines of vehicles burning gas. Yeah i know, could shut off the engine, then back on to move up one car-length, then off again, then (hopefully) on again. But the whole scene is so impersonal - yeppers, that's what the covid scam is all about.