So we’ve owned up to depression, but have we addressed loneliness? We do sometimes refer to the anxious insecurities of the elderly in rural regions whose progeny made off to more prosperous prospects in faraway lands, seeing as we do entire villages made up of geriatrics. But urban isolation remains an oxymoron.
Loneliness stems from having no plans, no pals, no pursuit of any pleasure. Loneliness comes from comparisons, competition, that cute boy not smiling. Very few will admit to loneliness though, for fear that others may think it contagious and stay away.
Everyone’s connected to the world via the web. Cafes dot streets and even the darkest alley bustles with late-night shoppers and revelers. It is presumed we enter city limits with our party hats on; the jobs incidental, we have moved locations to get the best out of life. Then an upcoming professional in his late twenties kills himself in his penthouse.
All our efforts are to beat the beast of loneliness that waits at our door with its maw open. Very easily we can disappear into mythical caves. Cancel newspaper and milk, stare into mobile phones with earphones on in public, and no one will know if you are inside your flat all alone brooding over life so far.
After a survey caught over 50 percent Americans admitting to this epidemic, loneliness has been studied from all angles by scientists and psychologists. Dementia and heart diseases are the first physical fallout of this deeply internal secret malady.
Our bodies pay the price of this debilitating social condition. A particular doctor in the US is experimenting with the steroid pregnenolone, which is directly linked to hormones. A pill may just be available over the counter soon; if that feeling of ‘nobody loves me’ is coming on, take two of these with water.
Another research from the University of Western Ontario that studied twins concluded that around 35 percent of our potential for loneliness is genetic, inborn. And that loneliness shares genetic factors with neuroticism.
Of course, if you are all on your own because you want to spend quality time with yourself, for some me-time, then go on. One can feel very used by the world, and need that moment to oneself. But then it can become too much of a good thing, and you are left groping in the dark, losing your way in all that aloneness, unsure of how to make your way back to light again.
Just as depression is now no longer a word by itself – somewhat like coffee (latte, espresso, mocha...?) it brings on numerous questions (clinical, situational, black...?) – loneliness is busy acquiring its own lingo. One can feel alienated, an outsider in a new place, a lack of love, too busy, introverted, painted into a corner, paranoid, like everyone’s talking about you behind your back.
The very idea of combating this self-imposed seclusion with age-old methods of joining a club or activity smacks of desperation. No one’s more self-conscious than the lonely.
So let’s just collectively admit that we are all at some point or the other deeply, achingly, down-to-the-soul lonely. No shame in that.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bengaluru. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.