The Power of Loneliness

I’m an introvert with moderate, sometimes severe, social anxiety. The idea of social isolation is as intriguing and alluring as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Stay away from people? Don’t go to social gatherings? Stay home, behind closed doors, and not see another human being for at least two weeks? Screw Christmas! This is the happiest day of the year.

Then I came in direct contact with a global pandemic and developed symptoms. Right, well, I’ll stay home because I’m not a selfish jerk. I don’t want anyone else to get sick. Besides, we’ve all gotta do our part to flatten the curve. I might survive this but you might not. Caring for each other is the cornerstone of civility and basic human decency.

All of which should go without saying but, it seems, some people need a gentle reminder.

Being immunocompromised puts me at a greater risk of infection and complications. Thankfully, my symptoms are slowly abating and I’m gradually feeling better. It looks like I’ve dodged a pretty scary bullet. Other people aren’t so lucky. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories coming out of China, Italy, Spain, and other hard-hit countries? God, help all those infected, those with the worst symptoms, and those trying to provide them with medical care.

It’s a scary thing to watch and, I don’t know about you, I’m feeling a bit helpless. 

If you aren’t taking this seriously, and I understand some of the reasons, please get your facts straight. Go to reputable sources like The World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019), the Center for Disease Control (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html), or the Public Health Agency (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health.html). Look at the science and listen to the experts. Just because you aren’t sick, doesn’t mean you can’t carry it and you could give it to someone like me. Someone who could die from this virus. None of us want that on our consciences, and we don’t want to lose someone we love because of carelessness or thoughtlessness.

Okay, that’s the sermon over. Back to our regularlly scheduled post. 

I’ve spent the last eight days in quarantine and I think it’s starting to get to me. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me. Still, what I said in Monday’s blog is still true. When it comes to me being ill and this virus? I still feel a sense of calm and serenity. I’ve made peace with my woefully under-functioning immune system and the risks that come with it. That’s the life I’ve been given. I will always have a chronic illness, and that puts me at a greater risk of infection and death. 

I’ve made peace with my mortality and with that comes a certain degree of tranquility. I’ve faced death before and it was warm, welcoming. It wasn’t my time, and I was sent back but my time there, wherever there was, left an impression. It took away the fear that comes with the end of my life. It left me with questions and a genuine curiosity that’s oddly liberating. I guess it’s hard to fear what I seek to understand? 

No, I’m not actively seeking answers and all the wonders, and curiosities, of the hereafter can stay hidden for a while longer. However, when it is my time, I’ll go into that good night with a joyful heart because I don’t fear death. I embrace the answers and the wonders that come with the end because life? Now that’s some scary shit right there! Living, knowing that I’m going to die, is a lot easier than living without end.

Right now, halfway through quarantine, it feels like I’m living without end and it’s brought about an intense sense of loneliness. It’s shocking! Me, the introvert with major social anxiety, craving social engagement? I mean, wow! Plot twist. Whoever’s writing my story got me but good!

It’s not like I’m locked away in an isolation pod at the bottom of the ocean. I have a computer, a phone, and decent WiFi. I’ve been getting a lot of text messages, phone calls, and I’ve met some cool people online. I’m having interesting email conversations with some amazing people. We’ve never met in person but there’s a connection that’s fun to explore. Technology is an amazing thing, especially at times like these, but can it ever replace the connective strength of real-world interactions?

My dad came by to drop off some groceries for me today. He dropped them off, stood six feet away, and we had a short conversation. Seeing a real, in the flesh, human face almost made me cry. The contact was limited, necessarily so, and it only lasted a few minutes but it was like seeing a sunset for the first time. Wondrous. Magical. There is a pot of gold and a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow! 

Normally, I find human interactions baffling and draining but now my cells are reaching out for any connection they can get. A five-minute conversation, standing six feet apart, at my front door. Yelling down over the  balcony just to say hi to a familiar face. Anything to feel a connection for just one second.

Maybe this is why people are so resistant to the calls for social distancing. One woman likened it to marshal law and called it a threat to her freedoms. She would rather die than give up her freedom. It’s an extreme stance but maybe it speaks to the magnitude of our need for connection? We feel the threat as acutely as if we were staring down the business end of a weapon. When our needs are threatened, we behave in an extreme, often irrational, way and do things we’ll most surely regret later. 

I read an article on Harvard Health Blog (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-power-and-prevalence-of-loneliness-2017011310977) that said loneliness has the same risk to our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes in a day. It shortens our lives and puts our health at risk. Loneliness isn’t simply a psychological malady, though its mental toll is intense, there’s a physical price as well. Feeling lonely affects our body’s ability to function in a healthy way. It compromises our immune systems, increases our risk for vascular and cardiac disease, and can short our lives by about eight years.

A lonely heart can kill us? Really? Science is fascinating!

When I began my quarantine, eight days ago, I thought that I had the advantage. I thought that, finally, my social ineptitude would work in my favour and maybe it has? I’ve found ways to keep myself busy, motivated, and entertained. Baking is a stress reliever, and I’ve been playing around with some new recipes. Though, part of the fun is handing out the goodies, and I can’t do that right now. Bummer but on I must go and here I must be. It took seven days for the loneliness to kick in and with it a deep sadness, desperation, and longing. What I wouldn’t give for a ten minute face to face conversation? I’d love to sit in a coffee shop and people watch. Not a good idea right now but the desire is overwhelming.

My need for real-world interactions is surprising but I guess, even us loners need somebody, sometime.

Some of my more extroverted friends lasted a few hours of isolation before feeling the effects, so here’s a PSA: If you know a social butterfly, check on them and make sure they’re okay. I think they might be the ones we need to worry about the most.

I’m eight days in which means I’ve got, oh math isn’t a strength of mine…Six! I have six days of quarantine and then I graduate to social distancing. Sure that doesn’t sound like a big step up but oh boy am I looking forward to it!

Social distancing means I can leave my apartment and go for a hike. Oh, my heart is craving the great outdoors. I want to feel the air on my skin, the dirt under my boots, and hear the birds coming home for the season. I want to see someone’s face, keep a healthy distance, and say good morning, then hear their response. I get to be a part of the world even if it’s in a new and uncertain way. I get to connect with real, in the flesh people and just typing that made me tear up. Again, we’ll have to connect at a distance but seeing your face will be just about the sweetest thing in the world.

As for my health, I’m feeling a lot better. The pain in my chest is gone. I no longer feel my lungs expanding and deflating. I just walked for 30 minutes, inside my tiny apartment, and I only had to stop twice to catch my breath. That’s a massive improvement. I’m healing and I feel lucky. I’ve gotten off a lot easier than some and I’m grateful for your thoughts and prayers.

I’m grateful for those of you that reached out and made sure that I’m okay. I’m grateful that I have people in my life who will bring me groceries, stand six feet away, and let me see their beautiful faces for a few minutes. The phone calls, emails, texts, and Facebook messages have meant the world to me because you kept me from losing my mind. Finding out how loved you are, is a special thing and I’m grateful that I get to feel less alone.

We’re all feeling this pandemic in very different ways but it has an impact on all of us. Fear is normal, but we’re still in this together which means we aren’t alone. We might have to stay home or keep our distance but we can still connect and, at the very least, we can help each other combat the loneliness.

Please forgive me for saying this again but listen to the experts and not a meme posted online. I’ve added links because scientists around the world are working tirelessly. They’re looking for answers and making breakthroughs. Information is changing, it’s evolving, and the more we know the less helpless we feel. Well, the more I know the less helpless I feel.

Knowledge is power and it’s stronger than fear. Listen to the knowledgable, the credible scientists, and do what they ask. The sooner we do, the sooner this sci-fi movie can end and we can all leave a scathing review on Rotten Tomatoes. 

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