I am currently wrestling with a deep sense of loneliness. In my search for wisdom, I have just re-read a Wakley Prize Essay, Dr Ishani Kar-Purkayastha’s moving essay An epidemic of loneliness and it was a timely reminder of the problems most recalcitrant to our research based and outcome-driven health care providers.
Loneliness involves both social and emotional components – aloneness and sadness . It relates to the subjective difference between people’s expectations of relationships and their social experience. It is a response to isolation of some kind, real or perhaps even imagined. I agree with Mother Theresa’s quote pictured here, likening loneliness and feeling unwanted to a most terrible poverty.
But as is happening more often, I digress… Below I have I quoted from An epidemic of loneliness:
“She lets out a forlorn noise that is neither laugh nor cry. “Doctor”, she asks, “can you give me a cure for loneliness?” Her courage takes my breath away.
I wish I could say yes. I wish I could prescribe her some antidepressants and be satisfied that I had done my best, but the truth is she’s not clinically depressed. It’s just that she has been left behind by a world that no longer revolves around her, not even the littlest bit of it.
There are probably thousands like her. Men and women who have lived a lot and loved a lot. Men and women who are not yet done with being ferocious and bright but for whom time now stands empty as they wait in homes full of silence; their only misunderstanding to have lived to an age when they are no longer coveted by a society addicted to youth.”
It takes my breath away, reminding me of the sadness of my loved ones who died in a nursing home, and of the desperate loneliness they must have felt in between our visits, and perhaps, even during visits. The tales of sadness and loneliness many of my elderly friends feel are poignant, and often bring tears to my eyes. In my experience, older people who live with a partner, have no idea and show little sympathy towards their peers living alone, facing old age and loneliness alone.
I am lucky enough to still have friends, but because of our ages, most of them are busy and working. Even having my husband give up work may not cure my loneliness, as it is bearing down on me as the symptoms of dementia take over more areas of my life. Often, not even joining a room full of my own friends would fill the gap; the reduced ability to fully and equally participate actually causes a deeper sense of loneliness. Just like dementia, there is no cure.
This blog is not being written to evoke or elicit pity or sympathy, but to help with understanding, for myself, and for others. I have been plagued the last couple of days with loneliness, enough even to stop me blogging. For me, social media and online support groups, and advocating for the human rights of people with dementia and the elderly, goes some way to fill the gap, but it does not fill them. Most of my days, I am alone with my pc and cat, no visitors, few phone calls and four walls.
No drivers license, challenges catching a bus, changes to cognition and memory, deteriorating maths, writing and language skills, changes to interpersonal relationships, lost relationships, reduced problem solving skills and many other changes due to dementia which all go towards increasing the sense of loneliness.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like if I lived alone; at least I have an amazing husband who comes home every night, and is with me on weekends. And two wonderful children, who phone or visit regularly.
It’s not really possible to understand the added loneliness of living alone, even when I am home alone most days, as in the back of my mind, I know someone I love is coming home later in the day. I’ve written poems about loneliness and on being alone and a blog called Loneliness, dementia and dying but no matter how often I write about it, I always feel there is so much more…