I am engaged in a writing practice with a friend, a practice I call Page A Day. We write a page – of whatever arises – every day, and share with each other. In the past I have had some success with this practice, producing short-form work that I could edit for publication. These days it seems to be mostly a kind of journal. I’m not happy about that, but there is not much I can do, it feels. It is what ‘comes up’. There was one piece my friend said she thought should be published in some way, part of a longer essay perhaps, as it was about one of those subjects no one likes to talk about, not if it applies to them: the subject of loneliness. It’s the same with chronic illness, and death/grief, the other things I have in fact written about in this blog, not really wanting to, but somehow feeling compelled to do so. I have written before about loneliness, but I suppose it’s asking to be talked about again.
This isn’t an essay, but it’s the best I can do for now. At the end of the blog I will copy the “page a day” I wrote.
As a writer, and an introvert, I actually need to be alone for long periods, to create, to recharge, but being alone and loneliness are two very different things.
Loneliness is of course a ‘side-effect’ of having a chronic illness. And, as I wrote in the above mentioned blog, there are other circumstances in my life that contribute: my beloved partner David’s work takes him away for nearly six months of the year (each trip about 10 days to two weeks long) and the fact we don’t have children and that we have moved around so much and don’t have roots where we live. Most people our age have full lives and families and enough friends, so it is hard to make connections – particularly for myself, being a writer and so my ‘work’ is at home, but mostly because I am chronically ill.
Friends drop away. This is a fact for those with a chronic illness. We often have to change plans last minute, or we can’t travel far to meet people. These limitations have a knock on effect: in the end it’s just too much trouble for people to fit into our limited lives. And, when I’m sick, I feel quite vulnerable, there are not many people I feel truly comfortable being sick around. Instead I tend to over exert myself to fit in with their level of energy. So it’s easier just to wait things out before I suggest meeting up for a tea or coffee. But it’s a vicious circle: loneliness actually alters the immune system. And another great article in The Cut on this subject: What Loneliness Does to the Human Body by Ashley Fetters.
I have a number of close friends in the world, but very few living near me. Yes, there is the phone and WhatsApp and Skype, but it is absolutely not the same as meeting in person. I can literally feel it in my cells, a shift, a brightening even, when I’m with someone and engaged in a meaningful interaction.
I have in the past year made a concerted effort to make sure I at least get out and sit amongst people at a café, and my monthly writing workshops are not only a fulfilling experience for me, but have also brought some lovely people into my life. But still, I have frequently found myself in that empty, despairing place that is loneliness.
This is the piece I wrote during one of these times:
When I go upstairs for my lie down, Ronan follows me, and if he doesn’t I call him. He usually starts to knead and purr by my side and hopefully will curl up next to me. I put my arm around him. Sometimes he moves away a little or stretches and I stretch out too, so that a part of me is touching him. Sometimes I hold onto his tail. I love the softness of his fur. The warmth of him. But it doesn’t ease my loneliness. I’d like someone in the house. They can be doing their thing in their own room, but I want someone nearby. Just to know they are there. The worst is at night when I’ve watched too much TV, too much Code 37 Sex Crimes and First Dates. When I’ve had enough of TV I feel the dark cloud fill my stomach. Usually I get up and go to the computer, but I know I should sit with it, and just be with the feeling, to let it come through. To be present with myself, with my loneliness. To be the person in the house, just there, doing their thing.
Photo is very matching with the feeling which you express. I can imagine every movement which you describe nicely. I feel I am there and looking at you.
Seedra, thank you so much. I feel you here with me xox
I loved this piece, Sandra. My brother is a writer living in Eastbourne and he needs the solitude too. His family have to respect that he keeps office hours and cannot be disturbed. I am by myself now most of the time, although my youngest is coming back home to study for her Masters, and I’ve stopped working. Loneliness is horrible and can happen even with people around. I think that I was lonelier in my marriage than I am now, strangely. I have a new partner but we live separately which works well. My street is very friendly which is unusual in London and I think that helps.
Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Philippa. I agree, loneliness can absolutely happen with people around. In some ways I’m more lonely here than when I was living in a more rural area – with just fields and trees for company! But yes, also within relationships it can happen, that can be very distressing. I’m so glad things are working better now for you.
Nice piece, and I hear you. It sounds very quiet where you are. I wonder what the difference is when the windows are open and when they’re shut. Waking up with the windows open and hearing movement and birds and the beginning of day always feels like being at a private outdoor concert. But it’s different being alone as the first one in the place to wake up, or alone because they’re all gone that weekend, or if you went to bed lonely. I keep pushing out into the world to keep from going mushy, but as any good introvert I really treasure a bit of alone time. The only loneliness I experience is the type you feel when you are surrounded by people whose real interests have nothing to do with you.
Hi Rob, thank you so much for ‘visiting’ and sharing. It’s actually very noisy here, we live above a shop on a street that has other shops. There is a seagull nest above our bedroom, so that’s noisy but I don’t mind it, and there are the sound of wood pigeons if I’m lucky. But more often than not it’s the sound of delivery vans and hedgetrimmers and wood saws (carpentry studio across the way) and construction. For me loneliness hits mostly in the evenings (if I’m alone in the house for a few days or more). When my health is bad I can’t go out further than the shop or the little alleyway behind our building where I take Ronan for ‘walks’. We lived in a very rural area for some years prior to here, and I don’t remember feeling lonely – and I had no access to getting out at all to any kind of village or town as I don’t drive and there were no buses – so really for months I honestly saw no one but the postman (months – years – if I add up the weeks I was alone in the house). Then coming here, to ‘civilisation’ – has it’s benefits, but also in some ways is harder – seeing people with other people, with family/friends and so on at the cafe opposite us, when I so often have only myself to take for a coffee. But I think the situation for me now is the result of the accumulative effect of isolation. If I add up the days I’m alone in the house – generally 10 – 14 consecutive days at a time – in this house and the house in the rural area – it would add up to years that I have actually had no meaningful, in person interaction with others. I think this is hard to get across to people, the reality of this. It’s not chosen although I suppose this has happened because of choices I’ve made, but I have not chosen to be reclusive. It’s not my desire to live this way, and never has been. I often describe myself as the most social anti-social person I know. I need my alone time, but also to be with others in an engaged, authentic way. I guess what I was trying to talk about in the blog was the impact of isolation on the body/mind. A very real impact – I’ve developed an anxiety disorder, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with isolation, and my health has plummeted in the past years. Who knows for sure why, but I truly believe that having a small group of supportive friends who you can actually get together with every so often, and someone to call to come over for a tea etc, is critical to mental and physical health, at least for most people. I used to fantasise about being a nun – not in a religious sense, but the quiet, the simplicity – but I imagine there is a very real sense of community in any religious order. But you are right, nature – birds, trees, water….. when I am in nature, I feel myself held and supported.