A few years ago I ran a blog on another site, it was supposed to be a general blog about what projects I was involved with at the time and things I was interested in. Unfortunately, at the same time, I became extremely ill through withdrawal from medications I should never have been prescribed. I’ve since deleted the blog however, I am using some of the posts as part of a book I am currently writing.
The blog, as planned, was never to be as while my mental health took an extreme turn for the worse I chose to pour out what was going through my head onto the blog. However, on pressing ‘save’ I forgot the blog was linked to my Facebook and Twitter profiles at the time and accidentally shared all my woes over the internet. I’m not going to go into my health on here, as that’s for another time, however, I will say that the response was more than I could have expected. Mental health wasn’t something that many people felt comfortable speaking about openly and seeing my post, and continuing posts (why bother stopping now? also this was long before I was diagnosed with Autism) helped a good number of people start to speak openly and not feel alone in what it was that they were going through, and that’s what I’m talking about today.
I’ve been trying to avoid talking about COVID in my personal writings, or as part of The Pilgrim magazine, I’m personally going through lockdown fatigue, and I think it’s fair to say that many others are feeling the same way. However, there is something that many people aren’t talking about and that’s our mental health, in particular loneliness, and this is a very important matter that needs to be in the open.
While I was fumbling around in my own darkness I was essentially confined to the house, and the sofa for the best part of three months while the effects of years of needless medication worked its way out of my system and allowed me to regain my life again. During this time I was using the internet as a doorway to communicate with the outside world and happened upon this brilliant video, The Innovation of Loneliness by Shimi Cohen that I’d like you all to watch.
What appealed to me when I first watched this, back in 2015, is that we have allowed social media to replace our real-life connections, we’ve replaced who we really are with fictitious online personas which in many ways allows us to create fake lives for ourselves, avoiding the reality of our own lives. Of course, a bit of fantasy is fine and can be fun, however, we are becoming in danger of ever more embracing these fantasies.
This is something that has grown even more relevant during the past year we’ve been predominantly under lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. I don’t need to talk about that as we’re bombarded every day with facts, theories, conspiracy theories and a whole load of nonsense that really doesn’t help matters. What is being ignored though are the effects of prolonged lockdown and our increasing distancing not just from our friends and families but from life in general. We are becoming very much in danger of becoming the loneliest species in a crowded room.
Since the start of lockdown in March 2020 we’ve had to close ourselves off, not see our friends or family, not see our work colleagues, not even enjoy a quiet drink and our daily lives have been brought into the spotlight by those who don’t mean others well by targeting and abusing people who dared to venture outdoors for a walk, or general exercise, or even go shopping for food for that matter. This has led to an increasing level of isolation within ourselves, mistrust has set in with people scared to go outdoors in fear of being reported to the Police by their neighbours, or reported online for not locking yourself inside the house. The effect of this creates isolation, and that isolation leads to a change in our social norms wherein we no longer communicate in person but replace our lives with ‘online personas’.
As you’d have seen from the film (if you watched it, and I hope you did) we create ‘connections’ online, these are not real friends, yet we think of them as part of our lives because we have no ‘life’ at present. These connections allow us to promote our online personas in place of the ones that genuinely exist, but this is not real as the connection is always predominantly one-sided. We may see these connections as our friends, our new social circle, but we are unaware of the intention of the person/people at the other end. The reality is is that people are living their own lives, dealing with their own issues and more often than not briefly go online to check in for whatever reason. This leaves the person here stranded and more alone than they were before this dependency on social media took hold, and thus real loneliness becomes more apparent and threatening.
This increasing loneliness of replacing our lives with online personas is becoming increasingly dangerous, as this lockdown will end and following from that our old regular lives will have to replace these fantasy lives we’ve created. However, the real problem exists in how we adapt back to those lives. The personas created by Social Media dependency are not something that we can just cast aside and carry on as if they never existed. These were created from a form of addiction, an addiction to social media as a replacement for our regular lives. Also what of our relationships with our friends and families, many of whom have moved on over the past year and created new lives for themselves? This is something that will also have an effect on our well being and increase our loneliness.
As there are relatively few discussions regarding loneliness during lockdown this is going to present a real problem for many people. As Lockdown has become a way of life for many people we no longer socialise, we connect online instead. Yet, we are social creatures, we need to interact in real life and not preparing for a return to our regular lives will leave many people in a kind of ‘social limbo’ unable to re-connect with their regular lives when the other person turns off their computer, leading to ever-increasing levels of isolation and loneliness when awareness becomes apparent that there is really no one there.
What can be done? This really is up to the individual. I can only offer my own experiences in indulging in hobbies. I still see friends, albeit at a distance, and we are allowed ‘bubbles’ which are a great way to maintain our relationships outside of the door. I see my own life as a series of adventures, every day cantering something new, however banal it may seem at the time, every day can create a new experience if you let it.
Through my own period of illness and isolation I had to slowly build to get myself out of the house, this even meant laying my clothes on the floor at the side of the bed so I could step into them immediately from waking and going for a walk straight away before anything else became a distraction. I still go for a walk in the mornings, not only is it good exercise, it wakes and clears my mind for whatever else the day brings.
Of course, I am not talking about opposing lockdown, there is a genuine threat to people’s health, and we need to take care of ourselves, and each other, but there is a real need for discussion (whether it’s online or not) to help people through loneliness and stay connected to our regular lives and I hope that whoever reads this understands the need to stay in contact with our regular lives. If we replace our lives with fantasy online personas then we really lose a sense of who we truly are. And we can be amazing creatures when we want to be.
In the words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (from Hill Street Blues), “let’s be careful out there.” And take care of each other.
Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently researching folklore and early Welsh Christianity and curator of the archives of the lost village of Pontyddim.