Revisiting loneliness and isolation

Tom revisits some of his thoughts on loneliness, overpowering subconscious thoughts and relationships


Ade suggested recently that I ‘revisit’ some of my writing on loneliness and isolation from back in 2015. Most of it was written at a time when the divorce process was just beginning, and I was left to react to a world and life situation that was incredibly different to what I had been used to for most of my adult life.

One change that I am aware of is my own enthusiasm for sharing my thoughts on these subjects online. I would like to think that it is because I have become so comfortable with such subjects that I no longer feel the urge to write about them, but the reality is probably more to with confidence. There is so much written on the internet, by so many people; what gives me the right to contribute and what would I be saying that adds value to this whirly web of thoughts and opinions? These thoughts might reflect a lack of confidence in my writing muscle, or maybe I have had many of these discussions in the offline world and don’t feel such a need to do it anymore? Even so, here I am, trying again.

Thoughts of loneliness and feelings of anxiety certainly crop up more than they used to, but my perception of their arrival is much stronger. In recent months I found it difficult to achieve a meditative state while so many things were going on in my personal and work lives and I am aware now, while returning to the meditative practice, how much of a toll that has taken on my mind.

I have spent some time dissecting the thoughts of loneliness. I have sat and looked at them. I visualise them to my left and the more rationale part of myself to the right (for some reason). They encapsulate a constant bickering of conflicting points of view and self-deprecation. As I have looked at these thoughts I see more clearly that they have very little to do with loneliness itself. They are a mix of other thoughts: the fear of letting go; longing for meaningful and reciprocal connections; doubting the people you trust; replaying events with different, fantasised motivations; fear of rejection. It interests me that none of these things are specifically or exclusively connected to being alone or to loneliness, but they do empower the negative feelings of isolation. If you spend too much time listening to such voices then you just become trapped within yourself.

Many people are quick to defer much of this negative thought stream to the hunt for a ‘significant other’ who, they fantasise will chase all these unwanted sensations away. This seems to be entirely unfair on the other person. We are talking about the acquisition of happiness, which is something that can’t realistically be attributed to a single person.

*In reference to what I mentioned earlier, that voice has just appeared; the voice that says ‘why are you writing this? Everyone knows all of this already. You don’t have the answers’. Thank you for the reminder, brain!

So where am I with loneliness right now? I am aware of it. I see it. I know that I am actually quite happy on my own and always have been; it is the battle against the stream of negative thoughts that is the main thing I struggle with. This negative stream of subconscious can be combatted or, at least, postponed by being sociable. I have been quite sociable in various forms in the past couple of years, but I am also aware of a need for my own space and time away to process things and empty my mind, so I am trying to find a middle ground with this.

I think relationships hold great value, but probably more for their ability to help two people cope with the ever-increasing demands of life, rather than a means for combatting loneliness. If both people (or more, if that is your bag) are invested in it then it can be a wonderful thing. It is great to have people you can turn to for support, but I am aware of the ever changing nature of things. The fight to keep things as they are is fruitless if life is inevitably about change. Change is not always something welcomed, but it pays to be prepared for it.

The world around us in 2017 is one of perpetual changes in political landscapes and crises which contribute to anxiety and division, but it is important to tune out from time to time to allow essential perspective to flourish. Knowing there is ground beneath your feet is an important realisation.

 

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New Album Trailer

The day is almost here where you can get on with your lives and no longer have to cope with the perpetual, nagging numbness of a massive musical chasm. Until then, you’ll have to make do with the following trailer for the No Side Effects debut album ‘Reinventing Failure’, coming very soon.


 

New Single ‘Final Forecast’

 

Final Forecast Single Cover V04

The latest creative offering to the world of musical and visual entertainment from No Side Effects is available today. Why not overcome your total indifference and have a listen, what do you have to lose? You can even add this to your endless music collection for FREE, if you are moved to do so.

Firstly, have a listen and/or download

 

Secondly, enjoy the music video

 

Alternatively you can stream though soundcloud

This track features an ambient mix of live drums, electronic keyboard and a great guitar solo from Tom. This is one of Ade’s favourite tracks off the new album ‘Reinventing Failure’. We hope you enjoy.

New track Fa(i)l[l]ing released

Fa(i)l[l]ing Cover (LR)

What were Ade and Tom up to this weekend?


As part of a long delayed meet up, Tom and Ade discussed life, relationships, Brexit and even managed to have a go and turning their recorded tunes into live performances. They even managed to set dates for their next proper single and album releases (ooooh).

As would be expected, the session descended into a mirage of noise at around 2am and gave birth to our new drone song – Fa(i)l[l]ing.

Enjoy!

Will these memory flashes fade? Coping with the coping mechanism

Coping Mechanisms

Following Ade’s recent blog on loss, Tom considers how we walk through the maze of healing and tries to understand how the brain reacts to loss.


Ade’s recent blog about death and how we cope with such things has made me think about the ghosts and shadows that haunt my life. It has been almost 12 months since I separated from my wife and the pain of that event is still present. Ade wrote that ‘much in life becomes trivial and is rendered superfluous in the wake of a loved one’s permanent absence’. I have said many times that it would have been easier to cope with my wife’s death, rather than the circumstances under which we parted ways. In that scenario there would have been an end to our story, but there wasn’t one, there was just a sudden transition to a different form of life.

I am still haunted by her. Not long ago I left an important work meeting and drove away in my car, really pleased with the day’s achievements. I turned my gaze to the passenger seat, where she often sat, and I was ready to tell her what I had done today, but the seat was empty. I had to go and sit on my own for a while after that and process this lingering memory of familiarity. That was a very direct version of such hauntings, there are others that are subtle, but more frequent. Certain colours that held some association with her were difficult for me to cope with, but this issue is starting to leave me. TV programmes, films, sayings… anything that allows access to some of these abandoned memories of our relationship often bring a sudden rush of images and sounds and emotions that I can no longer abide. As time has passed, I have started to accept these experiences as part of a healing process and have felt more comfortable in the knowledge that these things will dissipate with time. I have tried hard not to run away from such experiences and tried to face them and accept that I will, of course, meet people that like similar things or wear similar clothes. I think I have put some barriers in place that I consider to be ‘too similar’, but I assume I will know them when they occur. I think people who haven’t experienced such loss find it difficult to understand the mental effort required to push past such issues and avoid shifting into a very negative and defensive mental space.

It’s funny how you can make yourself believe that you have overcome something like loss or trauma and then you find yourself moving into a new stage of the healing process and struggling to overcome an aspect that was previously beyond your understanding. This recently happened when I started to re-engage in relationships with others. My friends had told me that I would have difficulty trusting people again, which I knew would be the case, and I thought I had coped well with this, but it was only when I entered into a new relationship that I could actually see the amount of damage I needed to fix in my own internal wiring. It takes all I have to convince myself that other people will not treat me the same way as I have been treated before. What helps with this process is knowing I don’t actually need anyone else in my life, that I can survive quite comfortably on my own and I can maintain my own self-sufficiency, and that the people in my life are there because I want them to be.

I don’t want the events of the past year to define my life, so I am annoyed when unwanted thoughts careen back into my consciousness, but those friends that are close to me, tell me that it is still early days for me and that I should talk about these things when I want to and allow myself to feel the emotions that come forth.

Ade also wrote ‘in a world of opposites the more you experience one side, the greater the secrets of its opposite are revealed’, this is so true to my recent experiences. The feelings of freedom and peace that I have felt around the darkness and trauma have been so uplifting that I wouldn’t change a thing. I have met so many new friends and experienced so much, that I can’t conclude that all of this has only brought me pain and suffering. Anyone that has been through a similar set of events knows how far reaching the fallout is. It effects everything in your life, but it also cleanses at the same time. I have enjoyed losing the set predictable patterns of my old life and following this bumpy completely unpredictable one. I can see things differently, hear things differently. The world just isn’t the same.

You do have to be cautious of the type of people you communicate regularly with, as some types of discussion can be hard to cope with if there is a lot of difficult things going on in your life. Some people’s attempts to empathise can be damaging, as some people can’t help but reinterpret your issues via their own insecurities. I have been the recipient of some astronomically damaging advice and support over recent months. I include some of my favourites below with a few of my internal reactions:

It must be so difficult for you, you must see no future’ – all air in my lungs suddenly departs, and all I can say to myself is ‘wow, just wow, I totally don’t agree’

I feel so sorry for you, you have had such a terrible year’ – I don’t think it has been a terrible year actually, but I get what you mean.

The loneliness hasn’t kicked in yet, you’ll feel it in another couple of years’ – How patronising, thanks for the support, this assumes that I require some kind of permanent ‘other’ in my life, maybe you should read my blog about solitude.

I would have killed myself if I was in your situation’ – ummm… that is a bit weird to say and isn’t that helpful, because I immediately have to consider that specific train of thought. I’ll internally reform this into a sentence that says ‘wow, you are doing really well’.

You have plenty more years to start a family’ – another patronising comment and making further assumptions of what I want my life to be in the future. Thank you.

The best support has come from people that accept that I will have difficulty coping at times and that I should take every day as it comes, and have emphasised that I am doing well. Positive support, patience and positive distraction is just fine to help me along the way. Someone recently showed me a David Attenborough documentary about bioluminescence when I was feeling particularly low, which allowed me to refocus my mind onto other things. These experiences are so important.

‘Time will save you, you don’t need to save yourself’

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Consolation, Memories and Lessons of Death

In this blog, Adrian recounts the loss of a close pet and the thoughts that help with consolation. This inevitably leads onto the memories of others and what can be learnt from the ultimate finality without the comfort of a religion.


SUNP0003

As I sprinkle a last handful of soil into Dumplings final resting place, the wind whips. A giant Holm oak in its winter greenery grows next to our garden. It’s girth is wide and itssprawling muscular limbs are dark-set against the bright, overcast sky. The wind pulses violently again. The air is cool.

As I look upon Dumpling for the very last time I feel tired. I imagine Dumplings molecules dispersing back to the earth. The multitude of compounds and atoms that were gathered up at Dumplings creation, held together to give him life for a short time, are now free of the energy that bound them. Those same elements that were born within stars billions of years ago, today return to the vast and timeless earth on which I stand. Dumpling, and indeed all of us, are testament to a mind boggling collection of inherited miracles that started at the birth of the universe.

In years to come, some of those elements will eventually soar up into the sky continuing the epic story of our physical bodies as our energy moves on. The molecules of Dumpling will surround me for the rest of my life and when my life ends, I, as my constituent physical properties, will join those same molecules and altered energies soaring the landscape.

There is some solace to be gleaned from the absence of consciousness and the discontinuation of being. Dumplings current experience, of which there is nothing, is devoid of all life’s joys but also pain, suffering and hunger. The ultimate indifference. The suffering is currently only felt by those of us stood around the lip of his tiny grave. Dumpling will now be ‘experiencing’ exactly the same thoughts as before he was born. A total and absolute absence of consciousness.

The physical effects of loss are common to all who experience it. A tight stomach, a numb throat and burning eyes. I try, painful as it is, to etch these feelings and the discomfort of this moment onto my life with Dumpling in the hope of making the memories stronger and more permanent. Dumplings life is held within the memories of those of us still alive. This is all that remains.

In the rawness of separation, a smile. A small furry Lagomorph shared a house with three apes in a weird interspecies relationship. A bizarre situation really, but the soreness of the final departure is equitable to any I’ve experienced before. As far as our understanding of rabbits extend, we consul ourselves with the hope that we have made Dumplings life comfortable and maybe even happy, whatever concept that forms within the mind of a rabbit. As a product of modernity and separate from the ethics of a society that breeds pets for our own amusement and comfort, we did our best by him. He was plucked from a rescue centre, paired with another, and we were witness to signs of affection and contentment in Dumplings behaviour that we now hold onto.

Over the next few days, it’s the little reminders that stretch a smile of reflection. The habits that once saturated the mundane and the everyday. The expectation of Dumpling greeting me at the front door, the stretching out relaxed as I stroke him by my side, the half used bag of favoured kale in the fridge, the eagerness of Dumpy’s attention as he’d stand on my slippers as I tried to walk past. These are little shadows of moments that my thoughts still fall upon. An expectation for a continuation of Dumpy’s life before the regular, intermittent dawning that these times have passed.

The Reflection on other Losses

The loss of Dumpling is not just about Dumpling. His passing stirs up the memories of an  amalgamated line of losses that pepper my life. The times I’ve walked through the sunshine, wind or rain to watch a coffin disappear behind a curtain, marking the sombre melancholy of a passing. We all have these moments.

Death is our only certainty. It will happen. Sometimes it appears sooner than we would like. To avoid thinking and talking about death is to deny ‘knowing’ this single piece of clarity. The encroachment of age also forces me to consider my own mortality and the questions of how to deal with death, both of others and my own. The calm reflection during and after grief is a ‘good’ time for this. To dwell on the joy and enrichment other people and animals have brought into my life and absorb any lessons to which I may be instructed.

It is worth having some further clarity here. It is a fine line between calm reflection on the close people that have departed your life and the permanent lamenting of the past in an overly sentimental shroud and self diminishing flagellation. There are the memories of the direct experiences which have now ended, but their absence should only serve to illuminate the space that is left. That space of our own lives.

Death as a Reminder of the Urgency and Limits of Life

Why should I think any more of the inevitable, final, painful death? It is because it is the opposite of life? In a world of opposites the more you experience one side, the greater the secrets of its opposite are revealed. The more discorded a chord, the sweeter the harmonies. The deeper the depression, the more exciting the joy. The colder the winter, the more elating the arrival of spring. Pain and joy. Dark and Light.

In the melancholy and quiet after Dumplings death and of those before him, there seems to appear a clarity that sets life on a pedestal. A further insight into an understanding that is usually buried by the distractions of every day. Just how fragile and fleeting life is when viewed from enough distance. Just how beautiful. How urgent.

Much in life becomes trivial and is rendered superfluous in the wake of a loved ones permanent absence. Often I dwell too long and apply too much concern and attention on activities and thoughts that I feel drawn to against my will. To be vigilant against these unnecessary distractions in the hope that the magical moments of life will not pass me by unnoticed when they occur.

There are occasional times when fear of loss of the close people still alive in my life threatens to overwhelm me. To torture oneself with the imagined loss of another close friend or family member. To think that the last glimpse of your loved one could be the last. This is the flip side of an acceptance of the uncertainty and unpredictability of death. We would like to see order, to see a carefully fulfilled narrative from birth to death, hopefully a reasonably long narrative. As the saying goes ‘Life’s what happens to you when you’re making other plans’. Except the uncertainty. If someone dies it is painful, but we have time to heal. There will be new experiences and the slow, inevitable drip of time will eventually sooth, hard as that appears at the moment.

I am also aware of my own insular, more fortunate world as separate from the incredible suffering and unfairness that curses so many around the globe. The reflection in grief shines a little light on my position as a Human Being and brings certain things into focus. The oppression of people under theocracies and tainted governments, the gulf between the rich and poor and even the distractions and illusions of celebrity importance when brilliant minds go unnoticed. The suffering and unfairness is packaged as entertainment in 15 minute news articles. So many of us are touched by a dying pet or close family member but seemingly so dispassionate to other human beings, so dismissive of their desperation, unable to transpose the emotions conjured at personal loss and extend them to a fellow human. The gulf between the connection we have with a family member or pet and the plight of human beings we see every day is so vast.

Finally, and it is difficult to avoid cliches at this point, but existence is truly in the moment. A tiny moment perched on the top of an finite wave that quickly gathers up the future and sweeps away the past. This very moment has already passed. If you can at least momentarily glimpse that moment, sandwiched amongst the myriad and busyness of thought and rumination, maybe through meditation, you can see time’s persistent march through your life. We can choose to engage those moments in whatever way we wish.

I have promised to myself that I will take good photographs of the day to day. I realised when looking for the photographs for this blog that my memory is not as sharp. I strain as I reach for those distant links to smiles, touch and smells. As time moves on, memories fade. Those photos, if only snippets, can help focus and recall the smiles, laughs and pains I had with each of them and if possible, share them with others who knew them.

Dumpling has gone. The memories of him and the others I have loved, still love, are reinforced within me during another important period of reflection. A new shift in outlook feels right, better, clearer. I am left with my life spread out ahead of me, however long that is.


Notes and Further Reading

Rizvi. Ali. A. 2013: ‘Grief Without Belief: How Do Atheists Deal With Death?’ A Blog from Huffington Post. 22/10/2013.

School of Life 2016: ‘How to Use The Thought of Death’ from School of Life You Tube Channel. 5/11/14.

The British Humanist Society (BHS) 2016: ‘Humanist Ceremonies: Funerals

Hitchens. C. 2012: ‘Mortality’ Published by Atlantic Books. 25/08/2012

Christina. G. 2011: ‘Grief Beyond Belief: How Atheists are Dealing with Death’ Blog article on www.freethoughtblogs.com. 15/08.2011

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Who fancies a Grasslands music curated Bank Holiday?

Grasslands takes control of Bank Holiday Monday

Are you bored this Bank Holiday Monday? Want to listen to some music? It’s been a very productive period in the cold and wet meadows where Grasslands hangs around and he’s happy to present his current musical offerings, so look no further, Grasslands can keep you occupied for hours.

No Side Effects
Over the past few months Tom has been releasing electronic music with his wildlife partner-in-crime Adrian as ‘No Side Effects’.

They have released three singles which reflect on how we all cope with this rapidly changing modern world. First up is their debut, ‘Isolation Explosion’, which is a dark synth laden mid-tempo tune with some fuzzy guitars and beat boxing.

Their second single ‘In Your Brain Right Now’ is a crazy jamming session built around a lecture by philosopher Sam Harris about controlling the mind.

Their third single ‘Dark Light’ is a synth heavy number with Tom on…

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