Linda Crampton is an experienced teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. She likes classical literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.
The Problem of Loneliness
News reports today talk of an epidemic of loneliness or a loneliness crisis. Even allowing for some exaggeration, it certainly seems that the number of lonely people is increasing. There are multiple ideas about why the problem appears to be getting worse. Whatever the reason, some people need help.
The inspiration from this article came from a writing challenge. As part of the challenge, participants had to pick a sentence from a book. They were then required to create a story or poem based on the sentence according to prescribed rules.
I chose my sentence from a memorable short story called "The Return." The story was written by Brenda Chamberlain, a twentieth-century writer and artist from Wales. Both her tale and her life inspired me to think about loneliness and the problems that it may cause. They also inspired me to use the topic as the theme of my poem and this article.
Being Alone and Experiencing Loneliness
Being alone and experiencing loneliness are not necessarily the same thing. Sometimes they are, however. Severe loneliness can lead to depression. Researchers have discovered that loneliness is bad for physical as well as mental health. Investigations suggest that a chronic problem can disrupt sleep and increase the risk of some diseases, including cardiovascular problems.
Some people are content in solitude. Creative people may deliberately seek solitude in order to concentrate on their work. Others simply enjoy being in the company of their own thoughts and are happy with their solo discoveries and endeavors. For some people, though, the desire for connection with other human beings is strong and unfulfilled. This desire may emerge only at certain times in life or may be persistent.
It's often believed that elderly people have the greatest risk of becoming lonely as their friends and relatives die and their mobility decreases (if in fact it does). While older people can become lonely, researchers have discovered that loneliness can be a problem for people of any age, including children and teenagers.
In the video below, a NHS (National Health Service) representative discusses social isolation.
Why Is Social Isolation Increasing?
The cause of increasing loneliness appears to be multifactorial. The theories that I've seen have linked the phenomenon to our modern lifestyle. They are just theories, however. There doesn't seem to be a clear understanding of the situation yet.
One contribution to the problem may be the increasing digitalization of many societies. For example, automated supermarket check-outs and ticket purchases and self-service devices and institutions are gradually removing opportunities for people to make even brief connections with others. Though digitalization and mechanization may sound like minor problems in relation to loneliness, for some people they can be major ones. A conversation with someone such as a cashier or a food server can be important for reducing social isolation.
Using social media accounts may sound like a great way to maintain connections with others and relieve loneliness. Some research suggests that this may not always be the case, however. Online communication with someone that we know in person may be helpful for creating a feeling of being connected. Communication with strangers or people that we know only from their social media account may not be so helpful. The connections may be superficial and ultimately unsatisfying.
An Important Note
I've explored the topic of loneliness, but I'm not a mental health professional. Anyone who is experiencing chronic or serious loneliness should seek help from a qualified person. Self-help after reading suggestions from professionals may be successful. If personal counselling or therapy is necessary, however, it's important to get it.
Possible Ways to Overcome Loneliness
Many people are lonely at times. A person who is frequently or chronically lonely may need help, however. An organization, a counsellor, a relative, or a trusted friend may provide this help. In addition—or instead—lonely people may find ways to help themselves.
Loneliness can be caused by a variety of factors, including knowing or having access to only a few people, having superficial or unsatisfactory connections with people, or feeling uncomfortable during social interaction. Solutions for loneliness therefore vary. The ideas below are often recommended as potential solutions.
Join a Group
Joining a group that explores a topic of interest or helping people or animals in need by doing volunteer work may reduce the feeling of loneliness. Shifting our attention to something outside ourselves and perhaps bigger than ourselves can be helpful for others and for us.
Get a Pet
Getting a pet is often recommended as a tactic to relieve loneliness. While a pet can be wonderful company, a person should think about the pet's wellbeing as well as their own before they bring it into their home. Pets require suitable care to keep them healthy and happy.
Walking into a safe area containing people and exchanging a greeting, a comment, or even a smile with someone else may be helpful for people who find social interaction difficult. Determination and repeated practice may be needed, especially if some of the attempts to interact are unsuccessful, but the end result could be very worthwhile. Reaching out to friends and relatives could be helpful for those who have connections.
Change an Attitude
Taking steps to reduce social isolation can be important for solving a loneliness problem, but it may not be a complete solution for some people. Improving a negative attitude about being alone could also be important. As one of the references below says, "rewriting the story" and learning to enjoy our own company could be helpful in some situations.
Doing research to discover how other people have dealt with loneliness or their reaction to the situation may be useful. Specific people and written material can be inspirational. I find the quote below inspiring, since nature is an important part of my life. Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931) was a Lebanese-American writer and poet. He was also an artist and is often considered to have been a philosopher as well.
Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea. We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange.
— Kahlil Gibran
A Brief Biography of Brenda Chamberlain
Brenda Chamberlain was a Welsh artist and writer who lived from 1912 until 1971. She was born in the city of Bangor in Wales and trained as an artist at the Royal Academy Schools in London.
While in London, Chamberlain met John Petts, an artist and a craftsman. The pair married in 1935 and returned to Wales in 1936. Here they established the Caseg Press, which published greeting cards, postcards, and bookplates.
During the second world war, Petts became an ambulance attendant in Europe and the Middle East. Chamberlain remained in Wales and temporarily became a poet instead of an artist. She published the Caseg Broadsheets with Alun Lewis. These contained poems by Chamberlain, Lewis, Dylan Thomas, and Lynette Roberts.
Chamberlain and Petts divorced in 1946. After her divorce, Chamberlain continued her writing and also returned to art, for which she won awards. Unfortunately, in her later years she suffered from major bouts of loneliness and depression. These ultimately led to her death.
If you look at the long and thin projection extending from Gwynedd (region 12) in the map above, you may see a small island at its tip. This is Bardsey Island, where Brenda Chamberlain once lived. The island may have partly prompted her writing of the story entitled "The Return."
"The Return": A Story by Brenda Chamberlain
As a writer, Brenda Chamberlain is known primarily as a poet, although she also wrote novels. She wrote at least one short story as well, which I have in my copy of The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories.
"The Return" is a moving tale of a woman named Bridget who is in love with a dying man. He lives on an island separated from a mainland village by a dangerous sea channel. The man is married to someone else, but the couple are separated. Nevertheless, Bridget faces disapproval from the villagers for her relationship with the man. Though her home on the island is located not far from the village, she is an outsider.
After a short time away, Bridget travels alone from the village to the island in a heavy fog. At the start of the trip she learns that the wife of the man she loves is planning to visit the island in the near future.
During the difficult boat voyage, Bridget becomes surrounded by fog and is forced to lay anchor overnight. As she sits in the boat, she thinks about her life and her love. The quoted sentence shown above my poem describes Bridget's experience as she awakens from a dream during her night alone at sea.
Bardsey Island in Wales
Brenda Chamberlain lived on Bardsey Island for fifteen years. The island is located two miles off the coast of northwest Wales in the county of Gwynedd and is known as Ynys Enlli in Welsh. The Welsh name means "Island in the Currents." Dangerous rip tides surround Ynys Enlli. To me, the island sounds very much like the one described in "The Return."
Bardsey Island in only one and a half miles long and a maximum of only one mile wide. Historically, it was an important religious center. In the Middle Ages, Christian pilgrims travelled to the island. Today the island is a nature reserve. It's known for its interesting wildlife, including dolphins, porpoises, grey seals, and birds. Remains of gravestones from the tenth or eleventh century can be seen on the island as well as the remains of a thirteenth-century abbey.
A writing prompt is anything that stimulates new ideas for writing topics. It may consist of words, a picture, an object, a scene, or an experience. Attempting to create a piece of writing from a prompt is a type of writing challenge. A writing challenge can stimulate the creation of new work, as it did for me.
A Writing Challenge and a Poem
Participants in the writing challenge that triggered the creation of the poem shown below were asked to choose a sentence from a book. We were then asked to write a poem, starting each line with a word in the chosen sentence and using the words sequentially. As an alternative, we were allowed to base our composition on the sentence in any way that we wanted.
I've used all the words in my chosen sentence in my poem, but the words aren't used sequentially and they appear anywhere in a line instead of always at the start. The poem describes a woman's escape from loneliness and depression and her fear that the companionship and happiness that she is currently experiencing are only temporary.
Out of dream, she swam into consciousness, painfully leaving the dark figures of fantasy.
— Brenda Chamberlain in "The Return"
Loneliness Lies Sleeping
Loneliness lay sleeping
and depression curled within;
dark figures of the night
asleep in strange repose
She crawled away from darkness
for fear of waking pain,
and heard the distant call
of friendliness and care
She swam towards the light
through consciousness and hope
and touched the ancient dream
in wonder and delight
She stood amidst the love
and tendrils of concern,
and welcomed happiness,
a fantasy now real
Amidst the tears of joy
at leaving grief behind
an icy shiver ran;
remembrance of the past
The road led into life
and out of cold despair
She took the path revealed
to find community
Yet still they slept within
quiescent but alive
sending chilling dreams
of being painfully reclaimed
- Information about Brenda Chamberlain from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
- Bardsey Island facts and history from the Bardsey Island Trust
- A discussion about the loneliness epidemic from the BBC
- Information about overcoming loneliness from Medical News Today
- Digitalization and loneliness from a Health Sciences researcher via The Conversation
- Relationship between social media and feeling lonely from Psychology Today
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Linda Crampton