The Lethality of Loneliness

I just wanted to share an article and some quotes from an article in the New Republic online magazine I read about loneliness.

But first, an impossibly long preface:

I have known profound loneliness at times, even though I have a husband and children.  It’s not that I don’t have acquaintances.  I do and plenty of them through my work as a substitute teacher and the parents of my daughter’s friends.

I used to have a great circle of friends when I worked in the microbiology lab in college and later in the crime lab and again when I worked at a private and prestigious university hospital clinical laboratory.  I worked with intelligent people all day long, people who had their Ph.D’s or M.D’s – very brilliant minds who were experts in neurology, genetics and forensics.  I was on very friendly terms with many of them.  And, we would go out after a hard days work from time to time to socialize and talk shop over a drink or dinner before heading home.

And then I left my field and my colleagues turned friends after my second born was 9 months old and lost both the intellectual stimulation and the camaraderie that comes from working very closely with others on a daily basis.

I lost a great deal more than just my paycheck when I came home to take care of my children.  A choice I’d made again in a heartbeat, even knowing the tradeoff I was making.

I had friends after I quit my job.  But they’ve come and gone, now.

One friend I’d made at Borders bookstore when I took my daughters to their weekly story time dropped me as soon as her son went to kindergarten since our children were going to go to different schools.  She at least warned me in advance.

I had another close girl friend.  The wife of my ex-first-love.  Yeah, strange I know.  But our families had gotten really close after she had become pregnant within 2.5 months of my middle daughter.  There’s something really neat when you are pregnant at the same time as your girlfriend.

We were so close that we’d spend four days together each fall in Wisconsin Dells.  We’d rent a condo at Wilderness on the Lake in Lake Delton and our families had a great time together.

When they were having trouble conceiving their second child after that round of IVF didn’t work, I even briefly thought of being a surrogate mother for them, and if it weren’t for my age at the time, I would have.  Instead, they opted to adopt and I was able to write a glowing recommendation for them.  Only to find out that within two years, when they separated, she dropped my friendship too.  Later, I had to drop his friendship when he kept dropping sexual innuendoes in my presence.  That got old, really quick.

I lost another close family when a friend’s husband kept hitting on me and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and confused at his behavior.  We had gotten so close they invited us to an overnight trip to Wisconsin, where our two families went to Deer Forest and a Children’s Museum together.  But after his comments kept escalating (to the point where he didn’t care if my husband was around), I started limiting contact with them, and he responded by acting really hurt and complaining about why I couldn’t make time for them anymore.  The final straw was when he played a dirty trick on me, involving him, his daughter and his wife.

I’ve been trying really hard to find friends.  I even asked my dental hygienist out.  We had a really good time together…but I’ve lost touch.  This one I’m not sure why.  I think that time I’d really dropped the ball.

I got so desperate that I even asked my daughter’s gifted class teacher out for coffee late last year.  It turns out that she postponed it till summer because she was so busy during the school year and mentioned that I should email her.  When I did email her with my cell phone number, she never responded.  All summer long.

I am trying again with the mothers’ of friends of my daughters.  But it’s so hard for them to find time.  They either have work or their kids have so many activities.  I make it a practice to get out once a week at night and go to the coffee shop.  At least if anyone wanted to meet me, they theoretically could.  I’ve been going for about 3 years now and never met anyone for coffee.

The only time I really get to talk with them is in the presence of our kids.  Have I mentioned kids stress me out?  And I’m talking about mine.

When I’m substituting, sometimes I get lucky and find a nice person who has time and the interest to talk to me on break.  I’ve met two lovely people and I got to talk to them for a half an hour each.  One I’ve never seen again, and the other, well, I’m hoping to see again, too.  They were older mothers and so they had the time and the interest in talking to me.

But those were only two people in the 9 months I’ve been working in the schools.

And it is something to give me hope.

And…for the most part it does, yet these far and few between and brief connections only make it harder sometimes.  I know I am capable of making connections…but long-term friendships are just not blooming out of them.

Most of my spiritual work involves dealing with loneliness and the pain I deal with as a result of feeling this craving for community I can’t seem to find.

I feel so pathetic sometimes that I need reminders that it’s okay to be my own best friend.

 photo DSC_0555.jpg

Believe it or not, while I love this little artist trading card I made…I feel so lame for having to make it to affirm my self-worth.  But, from what I am learning in my healing journey, such self-affirmation is the best medicine.  If you wait for it from outside, even if you get it, it never lasts.

Though I have lovely internet friends I do enjoy.  Like Bruce, and Beth, and Paul, and Erik and Debra and Phil, blogging friends who are lovely people I’d really like to meet in real life.  That helps a great deal.  It does.

But…the OTHER side of being lonely that’s also a problem, sometimes, is when I DO find someone real who willing is to talk to me, I can get quite…anxious and quite honestly, spazzy.

Like the time when I met that graphic artist making art at the local bookstore.  I was the queen of “trying too hard” to make a good impression.

I should write about that sometimes…after learning how to be socially adept in my career and learning grace under pressure in the courtroom, how I’d suddenly been redorkulated and feeling as socially awkward as I did in the 8th grade.

Or J the sociopathic jazz musician.  I am still unable to really write about that sad, botched attempt at friendship that really wounded me.

But before I do that…the article and quotes I found I could relate with a great deal:

The Lethality of Loneliness 

“Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.”

“Today’s psychologists accept Fromm-Reichmann’s inventory of all the things that loneliness isn’t and add a wrinkle she would surely have approved of. They insist that loneliness must be seen as an interior, subjective experience, not an external, objective condition. Loneliness “is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness,” writes John Cacioppo, the leading psychologist on the subject. Cacioppo privileges the emotion over the social fact because—remarkably—he’s sure that it’s the feeling that wreaks havoc on the body and brain.”

“Steven Cole was a young postdoctoral student in the lab itching to move beyond his field’s mind-body split. At the time, he told me, psychology was only just beginning to grasp “how the physical world of our bodies gets remodeled by our psychic and conceptual worlds.”

“Who are the lonely? They’re the outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different. Surveys confirm that people who feel discriminated against are more likely to feel lonely than those who don’t”

“A key part of feeling lonely is feeling rejected, and that, it turns out, is the most damaging part.”

“Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity, that tallies in detail the difficulties of “passing” as someone else. He learned that the closeted man must police every piece of information known about him, live in constant terror of exposure or blackmail, and impose sharp limits on intimacy, or at least friendship. “It was like walking around with a time-bomb,” says Cole.

Cole figured that a man who’d hide behind a false identity was probably more sensitive than others to the pain of rejection. His temperament would be more tightly wound, and his stress-response system would be the kind that “fires responses and fires ’em harder.” His heart would beat faster, stress hormones would flood his body, his tissues would swell up, and white blood cells would swarm out to protect him against assault. If this state of inflamed arousal subsided quickly, it would be harmless. But if the man stayed on high alert for years at a time, then his blood pressure would rise, and the part of his immune system that fends off smaller, subtler threats, like viruses, would not do its job.”


so yeah, that…

That is why I write what I write and focus on what I focus.  I know my health has been run roughshod because of this very real predicament of loneliness.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Affirmations, Healing Through the Arts, Loneliness and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Lethality of Loneliness

  1. ptero9 says:

    I can relate. For me it seems loneliness is situational. Facebook makes me lonely, but blogging and exchanging ideas here on wordpress does not.
    I need to be heavily engaged not only in ideas, but in feeling that I am sharing and opening myself up with others, and that happens more easily here than a lot of other places.
    I am probably not a very good friend to some of my friends because I find it hard to always give myself over to their interests when I know, because they’ve told me, that they are not interested in mine, especially the more esoteric interests.
    But, my husband encourages me to be social more than I would left to my own choosing, and it’s good for us to have mutual friends, most of which we have met through playing music.
    I do need down time though – time to read, walk, and just be quiet with my thoughts.
    Thanks for sharing yourself again with us here Casey!

    • Casey says:

      I have exactly 21 friends on facebook.

      One lives in England and he was the administrator of a now-defunct forum for gifted adults. I was one of the only active moderators, though we technically had four mods. I met a few people very intelligent people through that site. After 5 years and different iterations of the group, my friend shut it down in October. I miss it, but I hung out there whenever I could. It filled a nice niche. And I was actually okay with it disbanding because I was tired, too. I put a lot of me out there.

      There’s a few college friends. One of whom is now dead and I wrote him a letter he never received, but he still has a facebook page his family still posts through. He was one of the few real life people I knew that was tatted up, was a big hulking body builder/wrestler type, was a chemist and could quote Nietzsche. The man had a huge heart and touched a lot of lives.

      Most of our friends just got stupid after college. I mean sure, they are engineers and all, but talking to them, they only care about beer, car racing, and more drinking. There was one wife I really liked, but I had a hard time with the lifestyle this set of friends had.

      Husband’s friends were my friends too since we went to college together, but in recent years, I pulled back on my attendance in their parties as I just didn’t have anything in common anymore with them. And, after husband’s DUI a few years back, he’d stop going out with those friends as much, thankfully.

      Basically I think most of what is posted by my college friends is crap, and I wouldn’t even bother having a page (which is totally fake by the way so I won’t be looked up by people whose cases I worked on) but I have a lot of science websites – physics, biotech and non-mainstream parenting, natural living or gifted education pages and Psychology Today. Then I have a few authors and creativity coach pages. And my husband’s massage therapy page.

      There are some family members that live in Colorado, but I had to unfriend half of my mother and sisters because of the fallout from my post about my sister unfriending me in REAL life for my questioning her decision to elope after only 7 months after her divorce. So, there went 5 people. Not that I really wanted my mother and sisters in my virtual business anyway. They are sociopathic sometimes and I want no part of their coercion.

      One thing I really like about facebook is having the daily updates of intellectual things I like. But sometimes it can be just too many rabbits to chase down the rabbit holes. Or some distressing things. Like I just learned about the Hasidic Jewish elders who are conducting sexual assault on boys in Brooklyn but it is part of what they consider “spiritual cleansing” rituals in the bathhouses. I’m pretty sickened by what I read. It disturbed me for quite a bit today.

      I want to slow life down, and have real life connections. I want to get out of my head sometimes and just laugh with someone who tells great stories. It’s been a while since I have laughed. I miss it.

      I have only met his massage friends once or twice. I didn’t really care for them because I thought they were kind of flaky.

      And…I’m a very bad friend, because mostly I tend to feel uncomfortable around Christians. If they keep their spiritual beliefs on the down low, I don’t mind. But when they are pushing me to join their groups or finding any excuse to talk about turning my troubles over to God, I honestly feel sick. It’s a trigger for me. I’ve been through too much spiritual damage to handle it right now.

      And…well, I’ve progressed somewhat in my development that I now see all kinds of mental and emotional distress that people are hiding in addictions (shopping, eating, drinking wine, controlling) that I get overwhelmed. I know where people are hooked, I know the shadow sides of people, and I know the delusions and illusions humans participate in, and yet I haven’t been able to cope with what I see. I want to help, but there is no way I can. No one wants to know about shadow sides and unmet needs and all this stuff I have learned.

      I’m just in a weird place.

      I still get hooked on my own triggers, so in a way, it’s best I don’t get too deeply invested in anyone. But at the same time…I can’t really practice what I’ve learned if I have no intimate friends in my life.

      • ptero9 says:

        It’s hard to find good friends, there’s a lot of hurting, wounded people who don’t want to do anything other than immerse themselves in ______, fill in the blank. I cherish the few I have and my husband, who is always supportive of me, no matter how different I can be from others.
        It’s good to be able to allow yourself to pull back when you need to.

      • Casey says:

        “It’s hard to find good friends, there’s a lot of hurting, wounded people who don’t want to do anything other than immerse themselves in ______, fill in the blank.”

        I get this. All too well.

        Lately, for the males in my neck of the woods, the _______ is sex. For women, it’s wine and whine.

  2. ksbeth says:

    it can be very hard and i think most people experience this at least once in their lives. it will come again, and we support you in the blogosphere, at least that is a beginning. )

    • Casey says:

      I’m hoping. But not until i can stop being so socially awkward.

      You get to the point where you are so hungry for friendship that when you find a kindred spirit, you hope you don’t scare them off because you forgot how to let things unfold naturally.

      • ksbeth says:

        yes, that is very much a double-edged sword. hard to create this connections while feeling awkward, yet yearning for them and feeling lonely not having them. don’t give up.

      • Casey says:

        Thanks, I’ll do my best.

        I’m trying to build a connection 20-30 minutes at a time, even in the middle of the chaos when I drop my girls off for a playdate with a woman who I like.

        It’s imperfect, and the intensity of our kids around ramps up my anxiety…but I am forging ahead as best I can.

        This wouldn’t be so important if every healing website and book says the best way to heal is build a support system of trusted friends. Not so easy.

      • Casey says:

        You’re right.

        Sometimes it’s hard to wait.

      • Casey says:

        Thanks Beth.

        I’m going to bring the kids to pick up a video from the local video rental place.

Would you like to share your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s