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Posts Tagged ‘isolation’

Loneliness — the new epidemic

In aging, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, urban life, US on November 27, 2013 at 12:24 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Loneliness

Loneliness (Photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac])

Powerful piece in The Globe and Mail:

In Vancouver, residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern. More Canadians than ever live alone, and almost one-quarter describe themselves as lonely. In the United States, two studies showed that 40 per cent of people say they’re lonely, a figure that has doubled in 30 years. Britain has a registered charity campaigning to end chronic loneliness, and last month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt gave a speech about the isolated many, calling attention to “a forgotten million who live amongst us ignored, to our national shame.”

It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.

The issue isn’t just social, it’s a public-health crisis in waiting. If you suffer from chronic loneliness, you run the risk of illness, and premature death.

“This is a bigger problem than we realize,” says Ami Rokach, a psychologist and lecturer at York University in Toronto, who has been researching the subject for more than three decades.

“Loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, interpersonal hostility, increased vulnerability to health problems, and even to suicide.”

The holiday season is a time of year when feeling unconnected, or disconnected, can be more painful than ever.

As someone who’s been working alone at home — with no pets or kids for company or distraction — since 2006, I know how isolating this form of employment can get. Yes, I can go to the library or a cafe to be surrounded by people, but that’s not the solution. They’re not friends.

I realized the other day where my community lies, and it’s not at all what I would have answered if you asked. It’s the YMCA in my small town. I go there three or four times most weeks, taking classes in jazz dance and choreography or using the work-out room. I also sometimes take pool aerobics. So every visit now means running into one of my teachers or a fellow student or a neighbor.

It feels really good.

Loneliness is something I’ve fought for years since I moved to New York in 1989, jobless, knowing only two people, my fiance (now my first husband) and a high school friend of my mother’s. To my dismay, she never bothered to invite me for coffee or, even though she worked in the same industry, make an introduction to anyone. It was very tough indeed.

Getting divorced five years after arriving here was also difficult. I had only one deep friendship, with a woman (sadly) since gone from my life.

Only in the past four or five years have I felt at home here, thanks to finally having found several good friends. No matter my professional achievements, it was a long, long time of feeling disconnected and unwelcome. When you live in a suburb, and don’t have kids or hobbies, it’s tough to find and nurture new friendships. And New Yorkers endure the nation’s longest commutes, their spare hours devoted tend to work or family.

This year, Jose is working on Thanksgiving but I’ve been adopted for the holiday — strolling only three doors down a warm, dry hallway on my floor to join friends for their Thanksgiving meal tomorrow.

I love this smart, creative solution. (Yay, Canada!)

The Vancouver Foundation has another answer: It is giving out grants of $500 to people who will organize a community event that brings strangers together – a knitting circle, an origami workshop, a pumpkin-carving jamboree. Mr. McCort attended one gathering recently, and was struck by an unfamiliar sight: “No one was on their phone, or checking email. There were a hundred people, just talking and making new friends.”

Do you feel lonely?

What do you do to try and alleviate it?

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR IS “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”; 4:00 p.m. EST Nov. 30. I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

In Solitary, At Least They Bring You Three Meals — The Joy Of Working From Home

In behavior, business on April 5, 2010 at 9:38 am
Working at home

Image by gibsonsgolfer via Flickr

Many people dream of the day they can work from home. No commute! No office politics! No nasty boss!

A piece in today’s New York Post addresses some of the challenges involved: loneliness, isolation, no one to chat or brainstorm or joke with. Tech support? Try your computer’s “help” tab:

Victoria Porter, a medical writer, used to work in a Manhattan office, until she was hired a job a few years ago by a company based in Minnesota. The offer: full-time telecommuting from her Long Island residence, an idyllic setup to the many cube dwellers who dream of working from home in their pajamas all day.

So, how did it feel to be liberated from the need to slog through a commute and show up at an office every day?

She hated it. Instead of feeling liberated, she felt isolated and cut off — and found herself fighting the temptation to call friends and colleagues at their desks just to chat.

“The loneliness was acute, and I just wanted to go back to my old job,” she says. “If not for my cats, it would have been really, really depressing.”

She stuck with it, but one colleague who faced a similar fate decided to go back to office work.

“He wanted to work with other human beings,” she says.

For many workers, the ability to telecommute — to work remotely, enabled by laptops and wireless communication — is one of the prizes of the digital era. An estimated 33.7 million US employees now work from home at least a few times a month, according to World at Work, a nonprofit that studies telecommuting.

A National Geographic documentary crew is spending a week in solitary confinement to see what it’s like, reports The New York Times:

Heightening the sense of imprisonment, the volunteers can send short posts to Twitter, but they cannot read any responses. The live-streaming at ExploreSolitary.com started when the three volunteers entered their cells somewhere outside Washington, D.C., last Friday, and it will continue through this Friday. The documentary will have its premiere on April 11.

It’s a marketing stunt borrowed from reality TV — or perhaps a psychology experiment. National Geographic prefers to call it a complement to the documentary, intended to prompt conversation about a part of the prison system seldom examined by camera crews.

Russell Howard, a spokesman for the National Geographic Channel, said the experiment was rooted in a question: “In a day and age when everyone is hyper-connected, what is it like to be severed socially as well as to be kept in such a small space?”

I started my day driving my sweetie to the train station (get dressed, brush hair, wash face, leave apartment)l ate breakfast at a local diner where I saw a neighbor and type this listening to BBC World News, as I do every weekday morning for an hour. From 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or later, it’s my workday. Alone.

Those of us who work alone at home all day — especially without a separate office space — face our own challenges: when to stop working, finding social contact within the workday, trying (hah!) to control the clutter of books, newspapers, magazines I use for work while my “office” is a desk in the livingroom, staying visible and audible within our industries. I offer some tips on how to handle isolation on my website. Michelle Goodman, who’s written several great books about working freelance, has some helpful tips on her website, including this one.

The only way I’ve stayed sane while working on my book (and blog and freelancing) are two young researchers I found (through trusted colleagues), one in San Diego and one in suburban New Jersey, neither of whom I’ve met. Their energy and attention to detail have allowed me to focus on my own tasks.

When you work on your own, it’s not always easy to find someone dependable to help you and it’s easy to forget to delegate — I found an intern from a local university one year and hired her (at $12/hr, this a decade ago) after the unpaid internship ended. It helped enormously having a fun, friendly helpful assistant.

Do you work from home? What do you enjoy? What (if anything) do you miss from working in an office or more structured/social environment?

Any tips on how to cope?

Approaching Your Idol: Ray Bradbury Wrote To Somerset Maugham (Who Replied), And I Wrote To Bradbury (Who Replied)

In Media on April 1, 2010 at 11:15 am
Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Ray Brabdbury, one of my idols. Image via Wikipedia

If you ever dreamed of entering a specific profession, you might have found someone, even you were very young, who inspired you. If you were bold, and lucky, and wrote to them, they might have written you back:

Contact! Connection! Inspiration!

Ray Bradbury, whose work I discovered when I was 12 — and which so made me want to become a writer — did this when he discovered the work of British author Somerset Maugham.

From a recent story in The Wall Street Journal:

On an upstairs-corridor wall, for instance, hangs a sepia-tinted photograph of the English author W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). “He was a big influence,” says a white-thatched Mr. Bradbury, seated nearby like a benevolent wizard. “I loved his short stories, and I wrote him when I was 39 years old; I wrote a fan letter, and sent him my first book of stories. And Somerset Maugham wrote back and said: ‘I think Edgar Allan Poe would have liked some of these stories.’ Isn’t that a great thing for him to say?”

I was at summer camp way up north in Ontario when I wrote to Ray Bradbury, begging him to not stop writing, I so loved his work. I was 12, and hopefully mailed my letter to his Manhattan publisher, Ballantine. To my delighted shock, within a week or two, I received a blue paper personalized postcard from him (with his return address) with his felt-tip-pen signature — and his typewritten reassurance that he would, indeed, keep writing.

I treasured his card then, as I still do today. I wrote, twice, in my 20s, to John Cheever — whose former home lies about a 2o-minute drive north of mine — and he, graciously, wrote me back both times, also on personal stationery.

I simply couldn’t imagine writers of their stature and skill taking the time to read and answer, but they did. And that left an enormous impression on me. I was touched by their graciousness and, since then, have realized that the life of a writer — certainly pre-Internet and email! — can be an isolated one. Even though millions of readers enjoy your printed, published work, depending what you write and for whom, it’s rare for some to reach out and let you know that, and a treasured moment.

Every writer shares this: you put your bum in the chair (as Margaret Atwood told me, when I was the editor of our high school paper and she, a graduate of that school, became my first Big Name interview) — and write. It’s what we choose to do, but lonely. Hearing back from someone so insanely accomplished I remember the plot-lines of several of his short stories decades after reading them made me realize he, too, appreciated being appreciated.

Have you ever reached out, in gratitude and admiration, to someone well-known and accomplished whose work you distantly admire?

What happened?

Sick At Home Alone? How Social Media Are Helping

In behavior, Health, Technology on March 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Day 6/365

Image by SuperFantastic via Flickr

I found this New York Times story compelling — selfishly — as someone recently largely confined to quarters recovering from a bad bout of osteoarthritis and a back spasm. Two friends, both self-employed writers, one living in a fourth-floor walk-up, are also at home with their own back issues. Comparing notes, checking in with one another and commiserating has made it more bearable.

Thank heaven for email and Facebook!

A diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness is bad enough — but the added, enforced social, physical and emotional isolation that often comes with it can make things a lot worse.

If you are, as many are, much younger than those typically facing a specific illness or condition, friends in your peer group may have no idea what you face, and may find it depressing or frightening to discuss.

If no one in your family has it — my Dad, 80, and I are comparing athritis meds these days! — who really understands your daily struggles?

You need people who get it and can help:

For many people, social networks are a place for idle chatter about what they made for dinner or sharing cute pictures of their pets. But for people living with chronic diseases or disabilities, they play a more vital role.

“It’s really literally saved my life, just to be able to connect with other people,” said Sean Fogerty, 50, who has multiple sclerosis, is recovering from brain cancer and spends an hour and a half each night talking with other patients online.

People fighting chronic illnesses are less likely than others to have Internet access, but once online they are more likely to blog or participate in online discussions about health problems, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation.

“If they can break free from the anchors holding them down, people living with chronic disease who go online are finding resources that are more useful than the rest of the population,” said Susannah Fox, associate director of digital strategy at Pew and author of the report.

They are gathering on big patient networking sites like PatientsLikeMe, HealthCentral, Inspire, CureTogether and Alliance Health Networks, and on small sites started by patients on networks like Ning and Wetpaint.

Have social media helped you cope with an illness or injury?

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