Not my thoughts, for once, but some put together by Craig Mod has he prepares to walk the width of Tokyo (found via Kottke). A lot of what he wrote resonated. I’ve said before that there’s a difference between loneliness and being alone, and between solitude and isolation. While we may differ on definitions (the type of aloneness he describes I’d describe as loneliness), he definitely gets it.
Aloneness sucks. It’s insidious and becomes habitual. It’s rapacious. It saps the spirit. It twists a peaceful dude all truculent and paranoid. It renders decision making oddly cumbersome. It’s more difficult to feel elevated as a human when swaddled in aloneness. Self-worth plummets as aloneness rises.
And aloneness as a default is tremendously difficult for some folks to understand.
For many, being surrounded by big families or long-term partners is so normalized, that to empathize with someone who is deep in aloneness (which I distinguish from solitude or quietude, more volitional and opted-into states) is akin to imagining what it’s like to fart your way to the moon.
And then later:
I still feel a deep and terrifying aloneness — mostly when when I’m worn down. But now I can slightly detach myself from it, tell myself that we’ve felt this before, that we’ve come out of it, and believe in that pending emergence. If I admit to a friend that I’m experiencing these grueling bouts of crushing aloneness, I often get responses like: How can you feel alone?! You have so many people in your corner and support and love and friends! This is a terrible response. (But I know well meaning!) Aloneness and depression go hand in hand, and for someone not depressed, the idea of your body weighing ten thousand pounds, of wearing that lead cloak, of not being able to get out of bed in the morning, is unthinkable, unfathomable. So, too, with that sense of aloneness. How can you feel alone? How can you feel so isolated and hopeless?
This is something that I think is important to note: when we say stuff like this, we’re not trying to brush things off as “oh, you wouldn’t understand” — that’s really not the point. The point is that, like so many lived experiences, the reality of the experience is hard to articulate in a way that actually gives enough context for someone who hasn’t experienced it. It’s hard to grok something that is as abstract and arbitrary as feelings and experiences that are almost entirely inside someone else’s head.
Thanks for sharing, Craig. I hope your walk goes really well.
An article from The Guardian that’s been sitting in my backlog for a while (it was published back in January, 2021), Eleanor Morgan discusses “Lost touch: how a year without hugs affects our mental health“. It’s not a particularly long read, but does have some good links to research and other information about the impact not having enough human contact in your life can have.
As adults, we may not comprehend the importance of touch even when it disappears. “We might begin to realise that something is missing, but we won’t always know that it’s touch,” says Prof Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist based at Liverpool John Moores University and a leader in the field of affective touch. “But when we talk about the problem of loneliness, we often ignore the obvious: what lonely people aren’t getting is touch.”
Certainly strikes true to me.
“Touch is a modulator that can temper the effects of stress and pain, physical and emotional. We have seen in our research that a lack of touch is associated with greater anxiety,” says [Dr. Katerina] Fotopoulou. “In times of high stress – the loss of a job, or a bereavement, for example – having more touch from others helps us cope better, particularly in calming the effects of [the stress hormone] cortisol.” Even if we’re used to not being touched a lot, after a while the need can feel very physical – sometimes described as “skin hunger” or “touch hunger”.
I also thought it was interesting to hear about CTs – nerves we have that are keyed for gentle contact:
The two square metres of skin that contain us are teeming with nerve fibres that recognise temperature, texture and itch, etc. One set of fibres exists purely to register gentle, stroking touch: the C tactile afferents (CTs). [Professor Francis] McGlone has been studying this since 1995, when it was discovered in humans. “These neurons, in the skin of all social mammals, transmit slow electrical signals to the emotional processing parts of the brain. They play a critical role in developing the social brain and our ability to withstand stress.”
I’ve discussed loneliness and depression on here before, it’s a bit of a recurring topic. I’ve seen and read other articles discussing the topic of the need for physical contact (and could have sworn I’d linked to some on here, though they seem to be escaping my search at the moment), and it’s something I’ve definitely given a lot of thought to – I’ve gone through various periods in my life where I had very little physical contact, and know from experience what a difference it can make on my general health, happiness, and wellbeing.
But I am very poorly today & very stupid & I hate everybody & everything.Charles Darwin
Not feeling it today. I’ve felt distracted and irritable most of the day, and at odds with time.
I’ve long maintained that I write here at my whim, and not as a brand or for an audience, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t tickled when I see an uptick in readers, get responses or likes, or any other sort of feedback that makes it feel less lonely and like shouting into the void. Then, there’s the personal desire to show some consistency and that I can be reliable, and the feelings of guilt if I don’t maintain that self-imposed schedule.
But sometimes your brain is just sour, and your time is scattered, and your focus is lost in the fog.
It’s been a few months since I wrote, and honestly, I’m not even sure where to start. The tail end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have been an interesting time on so many levels. It’s been stressful and disheartening for many, for a variety of reasons that probably don’t need delving into (the election and resulting shenanigans, for instance). Just for my own sanity, though, time for a check-in.
Continue reading “2021 and Counting”
I’ve quoted or linked to Wil’s depression posts numerous times over the years. Partly because his take on it resonates with my own, partly because I think awareness is important and worth signal boosting. His recent (ish, this was posted in May and has been sitting in my queue for a while) talk about living with chronic depression is another great example, and worth reading.
I was a worrier growing up (and to a lesser extent, still am), though not to the degree he experienced. I will say, in more recent years, it’s been manifesting as more social anxiety, which ain’t great, though I’m at least aware, and haven’t gone full hermit. But the chronic depression, that I definitely get. For me, it’s been sort of a low-grade background radiation in my life. The default level is functional, but present, and then sometimes there’s spikes or troughs where it’s more or less noticeable — more or less manageable. (I doubt this is news to anyone reading this, but if it is: hey, yep, and if I ever seem worn out and a little distant when we’re talking, 95% of the time this is why, and not anything you said or did. If you type “depression” into the search bar for this blog, you’ll see I’ve written about it a fair bit.)
It can be a little intimidating to publicly post about grappling with depression. Potential employers or romantic partners or friends may see this, and not take it positively. Also, exposing parts of yourself in any way on the internet these days can be a little scary. But I think it’s important. As Wil says:
Finally, we who live with mental illness need to talk about it, because our friends and neighbors know us and trust us. It’s one thing for me to stand here and tell you that you’re not alone in this fight, but it’s something else entirely for you to prove it. We need to share our experiences, so someone who is suffering the way I was won’t feel weird or broken or ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. So that parents don’t feel like they have failed or somehow screwed up when they see symptoms in their kids.
Kottke has a nice collection of Things to do to get yourself out of a funk. It’s a good list, and also reminds me of this fantastic List of things to do before giving up by Sinope.
Whether you struggle with depression or are just feeling in a funk at the moment, some nice things to consider.
There’s been several recent articles about loneliness lately, spurred at least in part by the UK’s recent creation of a Minister of Loneliness to help cope with what’s been called an “epidemic of loneliness.” There are a lot of reasons why the surge in both quantity and severity of loneliness is a bad thing (aside from the mental and emotional impacts, it ends up having physical ramifications as well), and while I’d say it’s too broad a topic to point specific fingers at the causes, I do think modern society certainly isn’t helping. It’s sort of telling that (pulled from the above Medium article):
Research on young people’s loneliness isn’t abundant. But what does exist suggests loneliness might not go away anytime soon as a health crisis: A UCLA Berkeley study published last year found that even though adults between 21 and 30 had larger social networks, they reported twice as many days spent feeling lonely or socially isolated than adults between 50 and 70.
In other words, the generation portrayed as savvy, socially connected people are actually feeling the most alone.
A good book to read on the subject of the role technology has in all these (and I do definitely think it has a role) is Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. When it first came out a few years ago, I didn’t want to agree with her, but as time goes on, I fall more in alignment with her observations. (Here’s her related Ted Talk, which gives a good summary of the problems we’re talking about.) A quote from the Ted Talk that seems particularly relevant (emphasis mine):
We expect more from technology and less from each other. And I ask myself, “Why have things come to this?”
And I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control. But we’re not so comfortable. We are not so much in control.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m advocating becoming a Luddite or something. We live in an age of technology, and it’s unrealistic (and ill-advised) to imagine that’s going to change. But I do think we need to change our relationship with that technology. I think we need to foster and teach empathy and emotional intelligence, and help people work through the anxieties of trying to communicate with others and meeting new people.
I have a lot of feelings and thoughts about this subject (both loneliness in general, and our current social climate). I need to ponder some more about how best to express it.
Every day, I open up this editor.
Every day, I sit here at my desk, and stare at the empty space.
Every day I struggle to find something to put into the empty space.
And every day, after hours of frustration and false starts that lead nowhere, I close it.
Wil Wheaton, This is Stupid
Yep, that pretty much sums up what’s been going on. Hi.
I’ve referenced depression a number of times on the blog and elsewhere: it’s not a secret that I’ve been suffering from depression for a long time. Of course, while I say it’s not a secret, some might still be surprised to hear it: at first glance, I might not come off as particularly depressed. There are a few reasons for this: first, I’m usually what’s considered a functional depressive (more on that in a second). Second, not everyone has the same understanding or idea of what to expect from depression. I don’t really blame anyone for that: there is very little general education about mental health issues, and how mental health issues present can vary greatly from person to person. Hence, this blog post: a little peek into my head, and how things manifest for me. Continue reading “Depression and Me”
Depression is a dick, and Depression lies, and even though I know all of that with the rational and reasonable part of my brain, the Depression part of my brain has been really loud and persistent and just relentless for a couple of weeks, now. It’s Friday, and when I look back on this week, I can see all the important and good stuff that I’ve done, I can see the small but meaningful steps I’ve taken toward completing things that are important to me … but those things are all in the shadows that are cast by the giant spotlight Depression is shining on the things I didn’t do.
And the thing is, I could probably come up with good reasons that I didn’t do the things that I wanted to do, and they are probably reasonable reasons, too. But I also know that all week long, Depression was right there on my shoulder like the leprechaun that tells Ralph to burn it all down, and quietly telling me that there’s no point, there’s no reason to do it, it’s not worth my time.
And now it’s Friday, and Depression is telling me that I’m a failure because I didn’t finish the things that Depression helped ensure I didn’t start.
That’s the insidious part of Depression, at least for me, and I know that to a person who doesn’t struggle with mental illness like I do it just sounds like a pity party where all the gifts are excuses.
But here I am. On Friday. No closer to finishing the things I wanted to finish than I was on Monday.
— Wil Wheaton, so distorted and thin
(I’ve posted a few prior quotes/links to Wil’s depression posts, partly because they’re well written, but mostly because it’s so spot on for how my own depression manifests itself.)