Loneliness has been a huge issue this year and a Covid Christmas is proving to be a time when we in The West feel aggrieved, for whether we believe or not, Mid Winter, the darkest day, induces a primal awe which predates Stonehenge, so celebrating it is taken as our ancestral right. Yup, in normal times, but these aren’t. Yet we who’ve not caught this nasty virus are lucky compared to people being unjustly bombed in Syria, the Yemen or our forebears devastated by years of war in Europe, .
Missing the faux-vison we have of Christmas, we imagine others are out there enjoying themselves in great company as we fester in our own vile stew. One Christmas when poor health meant I was alone, a dear friend cooked and delivered a ‘take-away’ meal; when I told her I felt left out of it all, she said, “It’s an illusion. Seen from inside it’s different - friction mounts in the family. Enjoy being in your own good company!” Spot on, for that’s the rub. We feel alone because we imagine we need other people. I once had the energy to be the lynch-pin of our inspiring social set, the instigator of fun activities, picnics, beach or home parties, the guy who everyone knew, the house they used to pop in to on their way to or from work, the place where they’d stop the night when trouble brewed in their own lives. I’ve always felt friends are the most important thing, apart from obvious factors such as health. However, when my bounteous health was forever taken, I discovered that you can live with apparent devastation, you can exist under the continual threat of death, you can find joy when pain wracks much of your body, I also discovered that loneliness is a factor of continuous poor health.
Friendship, I felt, was sacrosanct, you must have it to thrive. But in the midst of others, you suffer alone, people love the joy you impart, few have the stamina for the dark stuff. At first your pals are worried, but ‘concern fatigue’ sets in even though you make light of your situation, only your most stalwart friends are interested to get you to speak about your condition, yet even they have limits. As my ill health continued, year upon year, I felt ever more lonely inside.
The other day when my wife was off with friends, after another difficult and complex health-year, I felt my loneliness. My reaction was to unpick this thing called loneliness. Winter clouds billowed over distant hills, shifting light illuminated the rolling land, shards of sunshine ignited bared branches and I realised that, beneath the electric desire to interact with others, I am comfortable on my own. I always have been. As a kid ostracised by other white kids because I adored the tribe who lived around us, as a lad mocked because my intelligent mother had dared to divorce my violent father, at school I had no choice but to find solace in my own company, until, aged 13 I faced my bullies. It was then that I discovered others found me likeable.
Watching that winter light the other morning, I understood that we are lonely because we don’t like ourselves, we aren’t at ease in our own skins.
You might say, “I’m fed up with me. The many months of lock-in have been a pain. I want the stimulation of others.”
Yes, but, when immersing yourself in company, are you escaping your own reality?
“To heck with that! It’s well-know that mental health decreases when our social life is impoverished.”
Yup, but the point is that you can’t gain all that you need from others before you are at ease with yourself, before you like yourself. Until that point you suck their energy rather than stand as an independently vital character who has something to offer and who is sufficiently stable to glean what others have. To reside in your balanced, collected being, a bit of effort is required, but it’s worth it. Here’s a link to a helpful exercise, but remember to attain self appreciation without narcism’s nastiness creeping in.
Only then can you glissade through life getting the most from every encounter. Even when you are alone. Yes, when its Christmas and there’s only you to encounter - your days can still be rich.