- by Shabnam Riaz

It is human nature to want acceptance. Our thirsty souls yearn for affection and belonging and like the jigsaw piece that searches continuously for the right fit, home to us is that place where we complete the part of our own complex puzzle.

Sometimes in our quest for connectivity and fitting in, we try toohard intrying to acquire space that is not meant for us.

Loneliness can visit anybody and everybody. No matter what age you are or whatever social standing you enjoy, whether you are surrounded by people or not, loneliness needs no invitation or open doors and windows to enter your life. It can creep up on you suddenly or be a constant companion throughout childhood. Loneliness can also force people to make bad decisions and enter into toxic relationships as they strive to fill in the void with elements that, in the long run, actually compound the situation further. Some people are happy to be loners while there are others who feel incomplete without a crowd. The purpose of this article is to identify the detrimental effects of loneliness and take actions so that physical, emotional or mental health is not compromised.

Imagine you are standing in a crowded room with people you know while jokes are being shared back and forth. Everyone is having a great time and you are also laughing along to the rising hum of shared stories. While you were trying your best to have a good time and enjoy yourself, all of a sudden a sinking feeling hits you. An awful realization that somehow, for some reason, you don’t feel you belong and you’re out of place. The sinking feeling takes hold further. It comes with a moment of a silent scream rising up inside. The words being processed inside your brain take the trail and form of a sentence that says, “I’ve just realized how absolutely lonely I am.”

If you have ever felt lonely while being surrounded with people, regardless of whether they’re friends or family, this phenomenon shows that loneliness is a state of mind and is not based on a physical condition.  We can see countless examples of people feeling lonely even though they have been in long term relationships such as marriage. Once they lose the sense of connectivity and belonging, or where they feel they don’t share anything in common anymore, loneliness starts to set in.

So let’s examine the definition of loneliness literally. 

According to our good old friends back there at the Oxford Dictionary, one of the many definitions they give us for loneliness is: 

1) The feeling of being alone; the sense of solitude; dejection arising from want of companionship or society.

2) Want of society or company; the condition of being alone or solitary.

These definitions spark a memory for me.

As a child, growing up in England, I remember the passionate activity that was generated by the teachers who supported the Help the Aged campaign. We were asked to volunteer for it and among our many responsibilities was the weekly shopping for groceries to be undertaken for an elderly neighbor. A few houses away on my street lived a delightful old lady with silver hair who had an infectious smile. When I would bring back her weekly groceries and unpack them for her in her tiny kitchen, she would prepare a hot mug of steaming tea ready on the little wooden table for us both.  

Then, after my work was done she would sit in front of me and talk. Her eyes would light up and as a thirsty parched desert would indefinitely soak up all the rain it would get, she would keep talking. Her stories ranged from the fashions of her generation when she was growingup, her late husband and his idiosyncrasies, her distant children and grandchildren. Most of all, her conversation spoke such volumes of her being lonely. The only words she didn’t say reverberated across her empty house. She would look at me with a twinkle in her eyes and tell me how much she cherished our time together as she had no one to talk to. I would write letters for her and then post them at the Red post box at the top of our street. Sadly she never received a reply from anyone. 

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out  this old lady was suffering from all the symptoms  of loneliness and subsequently, all the people in the community made their own efforts to help her and other elderly people wherever possible. 

This, of course, is a case of loneliness stemming from obvious physical surroundings. But what about those situations where the cause is not so obvious?

Bilal was four years into his marriage and with two children, when he first started to feel the effects of loneliness. 

“I was slowly beginning to realize that my marriage meant I was basically doing everything myself. He elaborates, “There was no support, physically or emotionally in dealing with the issues of bringing up two demanding toddlers. While I tried my best to juggle both work and home errands my wife just did not want to make the effort of sharing what should have been a two way relationship in bringing up the kids. After a hectic day at work and coming home to chaos, I felt crushed and completely alone, there was no one to talk to, no one to share a laugh with, and I felt completely isolated.” Eventually Bilal and his wife split ways and with kids grown up and Bilal actually living alone, he says, “ironically, the feelings of loneliness do not haunt him anymore.”

“I have realized that connectivity and compatibility is the cornerstone for any healthy relationship.” He adds “Now, I’m a much more positive person and I enjoy a thriving relationship with my kids.  There is so much we share now, that even though I’m living alone, I don’t feel I’m isolated at all.”

According to experts some people are more inclined to becoming loners than others and personality disorders define behavioural traits. Dr. Farrukh Hashmi, an Adult and Geriatric Psychiatrist and The Medical Director for the Neuroscience Program, Eden Medical Centre in the US, saysloneliness is also exhibited in cases of Schizoidand Schizotypal Personality Disorder. 

“ While schizoid and schizotypal personalities are loners who don’t have the inclination to make friends and develop relationships, it is important for these individuals to seek medical help as schizotypical disorder sufferers are in danger of developing schizophrenia explains Dr. Farrukh. “Also a point to note here is that Schizoid patients will want to have a relationship but are unable to. On the other hand it is Schizotypal sufferers who have strange and eccentric thoughts.”

“It’s also a good idea to monitor children’s behaviour, parents who observe that their children are becoming withdrawn or are exhibiting loner behavior all of a sudden may be suffering from drug addictions. In that case a child will not want to go out and socialize for fear of being discovered, or will stay in those social circles where there are other drug abusers.” 

Are cases of loneliness linked to depression? Dr. Farrukh elaborates on the answer. 

“Different people have different personality traits. While one person may be more comfortable with staying indoors and the other may be happier in a crowd that is a personal choice. If lonelinessis coupled with sadness and the desire to not do anything, then that’s a warning signal and it would be a good idea to consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist. When symptoms of anhedonia are being exhibited, which means the inability to experience or feel pleasure or excitement or the lack of will to do so, its highly recommended to see a medical professional.” 

Dr. Farrukh also explains the steps needed to counter loneliness and to be able to deal with changing situations that may come your way.

“Make yourself your ‘best friend’,” he states. “Start by making a priority list and put yourself and your own needs at the top of the list. Make time for doing those things that you really want to do. It’s also important to be able to spend time and going out on your own just for a walk, a cup of coffee or even a to watch a film is something that will help you reconnect with yourself and de-clutter your mind. He seals the deal by adding “at the end of the day like it or not , you are stuck with yourself for the rest of your life, people will come and go around you  , so start enjoying your own companionship.”

Expert words indeed.  The identification causes and addressing of feeling lonely or isolated is something we must analyse on an individual basis. Being alone and being lonely are two different situations and we must understand the basics behind them. Surrounding ourselves with fewer friends but those who are more genuine is also a good step towards feeling less isolated.  Enjoying the outdoors, getting involved with volunteer work and spending time away from screens (computer or phone) and the (anti) social media will also help us connect with deeper feelings of contentment. Basically, at the end of the day it boils down to working on liking and loving ourselves. After all, if we don’t like the person we are, how is anybody else going to either? 

 

- Shabnam is a news anchor on PTV World, an author, and freelance writer