It’s funny how some totally insignificant item can lodge in your brain and remain there.
A very long time ago, I remember coming across a one-caption cartoon – possibly in the ‘Dublin Opinion’ magazine. Here was this guy, obviously marooned on a little desert island. The length of his hair and beard told you that he had been here for a long time.
The dishevelled man was standing on the beach, with his hand outstretched in greeting and saying; “It is great to see another human being, I feared that I was beginning to crack up from the loneliness and isolation.” But there was nobody else in sight …
Funny of course, but also a salient reminder that an isolated human can ‘crack up’ from loneliness.
Neither man nor beast will thrive in isolation. There are breeds of monkeys, where if you took one away from his troupe, he would pine and die from loneliness within a year. Anyone having anything to do with cattle will tell you that if a heifer gets separated from the herd, it will literally go mad to break back to its comrades. If the heifer finds herself isolated among neighbour’s cattle, she will ‘take up’ with them within a few hours.
Years ago when cottiers had just the one cow, it would become inseparable from a pony, ass, pig – and even geese. Even the smallest insects need company. Ants allowed to socialise, will live ten times longer than isolated ants.
It is very much stating the obvious to reaffirm that we humans need the interaction of fellow humans for our well-being.
Covid is responsible for a dreadful increase in loneliness amongst our people. Increased isolation has to have had a detrimental effect on society. People need people – it’s as simple as that. Right now, we all should try a bit harder to reach out to family, friends and neighbours. There should be a big ‘catch-up’ movement launched.
There is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue. Contacts through texting, WhatsApp, and emailing is great … up to a point. But here is one guy who has more than a bellyful of Zoom meetings and WhatsApp videos. We need human contact: We miss ‘touch and feel’, natural instinctive emotions and reactions to each other. Facebook has a lot of stuff going for it – but it also brings on anxiety and feelings of inadequacies.
There is evidence that the mental health of the elderly in particular has been adversely affected by the lockdowns of the past two years. There is little doubt but that some nursing home residents went down-hill physically when deprived of regular contact with family and friends. ‘Losing the will to live’ is a very real contributor to bringing forward the end of life.
Loneliness is actually a state of mind. In my early twenties, I remember being dreadfully lonely working in the city of Liverpool, and yet I would never now be lonely no matter how long the solitude I enjoy down the fields. This tells me that loneliness isn’t all about being alone, but more about not being connected to the people around me. Low self-esteem can be a cause of dangerous loneliness in a young person.
Regular exercise is a proven antidote against loneliness. Most of us are blessed with access to a good walking route. Walking is the greatest exercise and improves both body and mind. Many of these columns are born whilst pounding the road. (Ah Lads …Lads …please…)
The sad thing is that lonely adults will exercise far less than their contented peers. The experts tell us that lonely people show distinct signs of premature aging: And in the words of my late Uncle Paddy, ‘Sher they must know something!’
Could ‘Facebook Friends’ be multiplying at the expense of real friends? This column certainly thinks so. A survey I read somewhere showed that 25% of adults between the age of 18 and 27 reported having no close friends. This is a frightening statistic for people of that age group.
As you may have gathered, I am not a fan of social media. I flirted with Facebook for a while some years back and upon checking after a lull, I found there were 37 people wanting to be my friend. So, this was my final entry before I got out. ‘If you want to be my friend, tell me to my face – and we’ll go and have a cup of coffee!’
Go face to face with your friends, dear readers and before too long, you’ll be wondering where did all that loneliness go to!
We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.