Isolation and the Social Network

Toms-Isolation

Tom discusses his recent experiences and thoughts about Facebook and other social networking apps and ponders how social the social network really is.


Modern communications confuse me. This social networking thing confuses me more.  For years I was very cautious of including any personal details on the internet, but a few years ago I gave up and entered the Facebook and Twitter-spheres.

Although I have found some positives of using these mediums of communication I have also found that they carry with them a burden and a loneliness that isn’t easy to describe. Facebook is a medium that demands attention. The way it highlights who has ‘liked’ or ‘commented’ on your posts creates a tally that carries faux social-kudos. Studies have shown that there is an addictive characteristic to this type of social networking and that people start to crave this type of attention. That might be the case, but this type of interaction seems like a very pale shade of what it is like to interact face to face.

Last year I decided that I was just too busy to waste time looking at Facebook and I was in the process of taking all of my photos and posts down, so I could shut down my account. That was until the divorce began. I then started to rely on Facebook to maintain communication with friends. It started acting like a surrogate relationship, but Facebook isn’t a real relationship, is it?

My friends have told me how it is useful to see photos of myself to help rebuild self-esteem, so I quickly uploaded all of my photos again. So here I am, back where I started with Facebook and it still feels hollow. My feed is populated by friends uploading holiday photos, smiling faces, drunken good times or people expressing hurt and loss and crying out for attention. I find it a very strange forum to discuss things, but like everyone else I stay with it because what is the alternative (and I don’t mean what is the next social network, I actually mean: How else can you stay in touch with people these days)?

I have noticed that people’s real personalities and their internet personalities can be quite different. You can meet someone that seems quite confident and chatty in real life and when you make friends with them on Facebook you discover that they continuously post strange needy posts. Comments below these posts including ‘hope you are okay’ or ‘PM me’. These posts often never have a conclusion or explanation, like a story with no ending, so you just feel confused. I don’t think anything represents the loneliness of the modern world better than Facebook.

Tom Social Media

You can make friends with people you have known for years and reacquaint yourselves with what they have been up to since you last met, but there often comes a point when you feel that you should probably bring the discussion to a close, or look like you are becoming some strange internet obsessive (it is probably unfair to generalise here, that is probably just me). Any subsequent contact with these friends then resorts back to the default of ‘liking’ other peoples Memes and images. Although I was late into the Facebook fad, I have watched a lot of the more tailored, personal posts slowly be replaced with the sharing of feel good Memes and heart felt words written by strangers. I find this fascinating. It is almost as if people feel more comfortable expressing their emotions if they can create personal distance from those feelings.

Then there are those moments when you don’t really want to broadcast your emotions across the social network. What do you do then? Private messaging, I suppose. I admit that I also find direct messaging or private messaging confusing. All of my friends have different preferences. Some of my friends use the Facebook Private Messenger App; others like emails (my preference); others like text messaging from a mobile phone; some use Apple’s ‘iMessager’; and I was recently introduced to ‘What’s App’. Very few actually want to talk on a phone anymore. It is quite common for me to not get any response from my friends when I use these forms of communication and I start to wonder whether the message ever made it to the recipient. I then start to wonder whether I have forgotten that particular person’s communication preference.

I suppose the reality is that these messages haven’t been lost, they are just being sent to people who are just as busy as me. I do it too. There are messages I don’t read (which normally involves passages of text as long as this blog).

It is a shame to think that this is where we are in modern life. We are left tapping at keyboards and mobile phone screens and posting out things to no avail with no audience and no contact. We have statistics instead of friends.

On the other side of the virtual/physical divide someone might have been looking at you, thinking that you were attractive or interesting, but you were too busy on your phone or iPad to notice. Is there any more complete form of isolation than this?

So how do we resolve isolation within the social network? Maybe I should go and meet up with all the people I like on Facebook in reality? That sounds like a good idea, or maybe I will just carry on writing blogs about how social networks do not reflect normal social interaction.

Only time will tell, but I suppose most will never know what I do because they never clicked on this post or they stopped reading after the first paragraph.

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An Account of Social Anxiety

Isolation Ade

Adrian shares a personal reflection on the feelings and emotions that manifest when you suffer from social anxiety.


The weight of your body is pulled around your waking day by muscles that try to carry its  weight. Those muscles will be used to their burden, delivering you about your daily comings and goings with relative ease and automation. It could be that one day you realise that you have been carrying around an unfair weight your whole life, unknown until this moment. A weight exerted by the mind that cripples, isolates, dominates and tears at your every joy. A black mental filter that twists words, cast shadows on every event, pulls you away from those you love and shoves harshly at those you care about and who care about you. A mind that torments itself in the silence and relishes in pain and suffering because this is the normal practice.

This heavy burden of long term anxiety was saturated deep inside through your childhood, given to you by the culture in which you live and through unknown instruction from family, friends, school, news and the mediocre of the day to day. Your mind has had many years of practice reinforcing just how bad, useless and worthless you are by repeating this mantra over and over again until it is normal. In the minds desire to see just how correct its view of the world is, it will extract any little morsel of supporting evidence it can from wherever it can get it. The smile of a girl is turned to a smirk, the complement on your physical appearance is a secret joke, the offer of a cake is a hint at how fat you are, the praise by your boss is a subterfuge for redundancy and the trust of a friend is just a manipulation ready for exploiting you. An endless tiredness claws at you earlier and earlier each evening, this exhaustion draws you away from friends and solitary quietness and rest becomes a persistent necessity.

It becomes difficult to spend time with anyone and fear joins the normal run of things, fear of failure, rejection, insult, death and loss of loved ones. The fear sometimes manifests itself when multiple people are present in a room, in a bar or in a restaurant, the knotting ripples down through your abdomen, picking up the baton and running with the dysfunctional messages from the brain, broken and false messages that the body does not question. A repetitive cycle of learned responses, homed and trained over a lifetime.

The consumption of this fear instigates a clinging to your homely sanctuary, wherever that may be: a home, a shed, a toilet or a corner of a woodland. A place to shut off, to re-coupe and prepare for the inevitable social interactions that litter the day and bring persistent anxiety when they fall upon you.

A friend or partner you have known for years will become impatient with your inexplicable intolerance of friends or family and the reluctance to venture outside into the dangerous, critical, brash world beyond. When part way though a group interaction you’ll constantly question your role:

Do I deserve to be here?

What do they think of me?

How will I be remembered?

In the quiet of the evening, you’ll constantly ruminate, question and concern yourself with the social events of the day and how these interactions contribute to other peoples perceptions of you and whether or not you have rectified with the outside world the intended story about yourself.

This persistent burden limits your every waking moment, saturating and draining the joy out of each day. The weight of those extra bags on your shoulders are part of you and learning to live with them, rather than removing them is the most realistic option.

It is actually useful to understand that depression and anxiety is the subconscious’ way of letting you know that something is not right and your thinking is faulty. It is difficult to see when trying to gather up your feet from the thick mud that depression is a positive thing. The recognition of your predicament is actually the baseline from which you start fighting your way out.

It will take courage to firstly except your inherited condition, then to the face the world with it. Social interaction is such a large part of your life that when it becomes a displeasure to instigate this wondrous activity, the fear and anxiety is compounded and hardens within.

So how can an individual move away from this heavy burden of long term anxiety? This is where you will need courage and a new way of looking at the world and, I must confess, I am still working my way free to this day. The key component is slow, careful reasoning, dissection of your outlook and the way you think of yourself.

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No Side Effects Podcast 1: Isolation, Loneliness and Anxiety

 Podcast Icon NSE Tom and Adrian Icons

The debut podcast sees Tom and Adrian chatting around a variety of subjects and questions including; external happiness, social interaction, social anxiety, social avoidance, being overweight, divorce, holidays and custard doughnuts. This is a relaxed, informal discussion with a dubious level of understanding and sense.

Please click on the links below for either YouTube or Bandcamp.


The following articles and organisations are also discussed in the podcast.

Links:

The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us‘ article by George Monbiot in The Guardian

Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi in Glass Box for Cancer Awareness’ article on BBC News

Combating Isolation‘ article by No Side Effects member T Haynes

How To Completely Lose Social Anxiety‘ Youtube Video by Noah Elkrief

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)‘ information from the NHS Choices Website

A Step by Step programme for dealing with Social Anxiety‘ from the the CCI.

Depression Alliance UK

The Samaritans

Podcast 1 is now online

Podcast Icon NSE Tom and Adrian Icons

At last, you no longer have to wait to hear the incredible insights into various topics including isolation, social anxiety, loneliness, holidays and custard doughnuts. Have a listen to the mediocre ramblings of Tom and Ade, a perfect way to waste 50 minutes.

Combating Isolation

Isolated Tom

Tom discusses his feelings about relationships and isolation as part of new series of blog articles about isolation.


 

Me and Ade decided a while ago that as we released our No Side Effects singles we would share some writing and discussions about some of the themes that influenced our music.

Our first release is called ‘Isolation Explosion’ and we were both interested in discussing social isolation in its many forms. This is a wide ranging subject and encapsulates elements of social anxiety, the disconnect between our online and real lives and maintaining effective communication and maintaining or losing belief systems in a modern world.

With the imminent release of this song I have found that the world has shifted beneath my feet and given me my own understanding of isolation due to a sudden divorce.

The sensations that come with such a sudden change in status quo are quite odd. I immediately feel more connected to the world and less able to communicate to anyone about it. I have such a great group of friends and they are all looking out for me, but they can’t truly fill the void that my wife once occupied and it is unfair to expect them to. Everyone has their own lives to lead. Any time they can spare is greatly appreciated.

But what do you do with yourself in those moments in the void? I suppose for many these are very dangerous moments. Do you let you mind wonder into the past? Considering what went wrong? I do this from time to time. It is terribly un-constructive, but sometimes it is necessary. We were together a long time. There are so many memories to explore and redefine. In a perfect scenario you would leave these memories as happy and content moments, but we aren’t perfect.

My mind cycles fiercely, it always has. It likes to find answers to problems. That is what I do in my day job. That is what I do all the time, but this puzzle is the master puzzle and it can never be solved.

This is where isolation creeps in. While trying to find answers to these questions you end up isolated within your own mind. You have no external stimuli. You just have your own problems to torment you indefinitely. This isn’t healthy.

The breaking of trust can also lead to isolation in these instances. A failure of being able to trust seems to be a common theme when relationships fall apart. How long does it take to trust people again? How do you know your friends from your enemies? It is too early for me to tell.  I can only work on my instincts at this stage and I know the people I can trust, and they are the friends I am talking to right now.

There is also a trepidation of moving out of my isolation. My relationship was attentive and didn’t really cater for the more social aspects of human interaction (dinner parties, gigs etc.). Now that such things are likely to occur I have to adapt. Pre-divorce me wasn’t interested in such things, I was comfortable and happy, but now I have to try and step out of this restrictive mindset and enjoy myself.

That doesn’t sound difficult does it?

But I am someone that can spend considerable amounts of time on my own while surveying the Scottish coastline. I’m someone that is quite comfortable in my own company. I prefer an open grassland in winter to a drunken night out.

Despite this I cannot retreat fully, because if I do, who do I talk to about such places? Who will ever listen? More importantly, how will I learn about what other people care about?

I am combating this by getting out and about in public.  I am usually on my own, but sitting in a coffee shop or a bar helps (like I am while I write this). Listening to other peoples conversations, receiving the odd smile from a passerby. This is how I combat loneliness when I am field surveying, so why shouldn’t it work when my relationship has fallen apart?

This modern world is demanding and distracting and leads us to forget who we are.  Maybe sometimes it is important that these events happen so we can reassess ourselves and consider whether we are on the right path. This is much more constructive than wallowing in loss and pain.

No one can save you but yourself.

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