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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How lonely is your solitude?

IMG_0026NSEPSCTom discusses his recent thoughts on what it is like to be alone


Let’s talk about loneliness and being alone. Seriously, let’s do it now, before anyone notices. Of course if you are actually alone then maybe no one will notice anyway. I’m alone. I’m alone right now. Well, not exactly: I’m on a train. I don’t know anyone on the train so I suppose that counts.

I’m starting to spend a lot of time on my own. It isn’t that bad really, but it does take some getting use to. When I was in a relationship I use to spend a lot of time on my own too. Usually when I was doing fieldwork. That was difficult to cope with at first. I was a very homely person. All the things I use to love doing were things that I could do at home (building things, making music etc.) but I had to adapt, so I did. I started writing again, building imaginary worlds while away from home helped me concentrate and stopped me missing home. I also managed to find a method of recording music while away (one of our B-Sides was recorded in a little house in North Norfolk). Before long I was starting to enjoy these experiences away from home. I enjoyed seeing new places, meeting people, learning new things and challenging myself to get out and about. This was always easy in the framework that, at some point soon, I would be home with my partner, comfortable in my known surroundings and with someone I trust. Things change.

What do you do when a relationship ends? How do you cope? I’m learning that right now.

There is a song on Daughter’s new album that describes the feelings of loneliness in a very visceral manner. I like this song, but it isn’t the way I feel about being alone. I am starting to feel quite comfortable about it.

 

It isn’t that different to how I deal with being away for my survey work. It involves all the same things. You have to learn to cope first. Becoming use to a new routine can be really difficult, your domestic duties double, minimum (unless you were the one doing all domestic duties anyway), your financial outgoing increase and beyond all that there is this absence, a pain, but what is this absence? If you look close enough what does it actually look like and what do you want to do with that absence? This has been something on my mind for a few months now.

What I am starting to see and learn is that people can be incredibly lonely and isolated within relationships. Some relationships can be overpowering and oppressive, but they can still be comfortable. I wonder how many relationships are clung onto due to a fear of change? I’m not sure those situations are built on respect or love, or if they were it might have dissipated with time. There are so many people that look lost or drained within their coupling. I’m not sure I want that in my life. Life is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? Maybe being alone isn’t that bad, after all.

So if I start to consider that loneliness is not systemic to an absence of a relationship, then maybe it is related to a lack of communication with other people in general? I talk to a few people, not loads, but those friends I have, I am close to. In fact, these days I’ll talk to pretty much anyone (to start with). It’s usually uncertainty or fear of new things that slows my progress, but it is easier just to throw caution to the wind and just get on with trying things out.

I’m actually starting to find a lot of comfort in solitude. I suppose that can be classed as ‘comfortable alone time’. I can define the parameters of my existence, I can go where I want to go, do things when I want to do them, and there is little need to compromise.

I have my weaker moments, but I try and deal with them as best I can, but they are rarely any different to anything I have felt before when in a relationship, so what is the problem with being alone? There is a social stigma to it, which is discussed in this interesting blog on Brain Pickings. I’ve experienced a few of the things mentioned in this blog before and just one such experience can be damaging to progress, but you just have to chalk it up to ‘experience’.

 

And home, what is home anyway? Is it where you feel safe? So many people cling to this idea. Four walls of safety. A lock on the door. I’m starting to consider home as a broader concept. It’s not just the place I live in Swindon, it’s starting to become many places. Home is anywhere I feel comfortable. The more places I visit and the more things I do, then the more comfortable I become.

I do hope I meet someone I’d like to spend time with again (maybe it will be soon or maybe it won’t), but until then I might as well work out who is under this Midlander’s skin and go places and meet people and do things. Why the hell not? A friend told me recently that we are always alone and yet we are always not alone. I suppose I need to learn to find peace within both scenarios.

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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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Podcast 1 is now online

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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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