Some thoughts on isolation and loneliness

Generic cliche stock image symbolising loneliness

We are living through a not-so-splendid isolation. Cooped up indoors, anxiously watching the news, our routines have had to change drastically. Where once we had access to a blessed spontaneity, now we’re inside. But not all experiences are the same.

Watching the daily stream of morbid updates, you’d be led to believe our daily lives are exactly the same, compelled by work not by living. Indeed much of the focus from the political sphere has been economic; how to stop a society’s collapse without breaking the bank, literally. We’re not all able to work from home or easily entertain our kids whilst keeping our elderly loved ones safe. The pressure on politics is huge. Though our individual burden is relative to our circumstances, this pressure has transferred with ease: the world is on our shoulders.

So when this oft-spouted ‘British spirit’ gets exhumed every time a crisis occurs, the cultural expectation is that of muddling through. We don’t muddle through. We suffer with battles raging in our heads and high streets, waiting for a semblance of normality to return. We’re not at our best in a crisis, as the second-in-line to that scuffed royal seat of England would presume. We struggle and suffer. In this crisis, our adversary isn’t just coronavirus but loneliness — a death-dealer and merchant of ill mood.

But the reality for many is that our coronavirus lockdown represents a restriction not far from regular life. Isolated, sedentary and in constant despair; an anxiety too hard to put to task baking bread or gardening. No going outside, save for daily exercise? Completed it mate, with a wardrobe of t-shirts to prove it.

In my case, loneliness was a base stock for whatever vile soup this coronavirus would end up as. My contact with others was limited to a few friends and family members, and of course, the world of Twitter which still remains a lifeline. Ironically, as reliance on others has been highlighted, so has my personal persistent loneliness.

Loneliness isn’t a superficial attribute. It’s not as simple as that. Those experiencing its tendrils in every fold of life will know that it consumes you like a madness. It becomes every core cause, every substantial reason for sorrow. My loneliness is formed of the idea that I shall never be romanced, just a passing ship. Of course, this links to different facets of mental health which are all chugging away like a steamboat’s engine through our current times. Loneliness is depression, jealousy, regret. If the philosopher Descartes could see us now, he’d say “I think, therefore they are.”

Isolation isn’t a simple case of blessing or curse for those suffering. And so when mental and physical health are discussed by pundits and politicians through this crisis, it should always be remembered that every poor soul drums a different beat. Social media is undoubtedly playing as an arena for entertainment and sanity, more so than pre-lockdown. However it should not be understated how it was already this arena; a bustling Colosseum for the lost and yet-to-be-found.

What will society look like post-coronavirus? Any expectation on people to step out of their homes and return to the avenues and alleyways should be immediately disregarded. That is the talk of economic necessity, fuelled by government will. Any decent representative would know that people with or without work will find this return very difficult — especially the lonely and depressed.

“I can’t wait to get back to normal” says someone in the evenly-spaced queue for groceries. What is normal? Normal is a privilege. Some will have lost their loved ones through this pandemic, now the centre of attention on what is their moment of sorrow. What does post-corona mean for them? Scars such as that will be hard to cover with makeup and Bio-Oil.

People have highlighted the length of time since their last hug or kiss from a partner. It’s become a dark contest to measure loneliness when our relative experiences cannot be compared by time or task. Yes my last physical moments were years before this pandemic blew gales onto our lives. But loneliness is an eternal yet unique trait. Only through empathy and shared understanding can our judgement of this mental hellscape be muted to the point of compassion for our fellow human.

Loneliness: an epidemic within a pandemic. Our coping strategies are restricted. The ways in which we distracted ourselves seem a million miles away, opening us up to frustration and anger. Indeed, such a situation only breeds more problems. How do we adapt to this? How can we help ourselves and others through this crisis?

We’ve had to quickly change our living habits to meet the enforced demands of health officials. To combat the hidden killer of loneliness, we must be open in a closed society. This openness isn’t a formative pressure on everyone to suddenly burst into mental health activism like an eager boy scout. Instead, it should mean a gentle, kind face. A text message. A meme sent at 4am when we’re struggling to sleep. Gestures of hope and camaraderie to remind us we’re here and always will be.

Coronavirus is a devastation still forming. We’re bombarded with graphs and numbers, dreary press conferences sending us into a maelstrom of apathy. And maybe that light at the end of the tunnel won’t spark for months, even years. But until then, our phones will be buzzing and flittering at all hours. A beautiful light show. Find comfort in others beyond this silence.

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