Loneliness and IsolationFrom my experience of the past few weeks I feel that we're all relying on certain forms of technology too much. It's perfect for keeping in touch with mates who live a long way away, getting to know new people who would never have been brought into your life, and for a quick "hello I'm thinking of you", but what it doesn't and can never replace is a friendship that offers someone the time to talk when they're in need of support. That voice that says "I'm here and I care and what you're going through matters."
Support used to be about listening to someone either over the phone or physically being there to show them that you care. Now it can be about a quick "how's it going?" text or online message, and a clear conscience that you've done something to help. I don't know what you, the reader feels, but in my experience being physically alone with no one to talk to creates a huge gap in which all your fears and uncertainties meet up to have a field day.
Being ThereYet if a friend turns up, as one of mine did last week, it's as if the sun has come out and even though you don't need them to do anything there is such a strengthening feeling of not being alone with 'all this'.
However, when you're too much trouble or people are asking how much help you need with a viewpoint to getting away with as little as possible because of the pressures of their life, or you're just getting that quick conscience cleansing text or message, you are reminded how vital that human contact is by the people who still have the courage to provide it.
There are times I can't do enough for the people I love, due to pressures in my own life I had to issue a heartfelt and sincere apology to a friend just this week because I haven't been able to phone her or visit her as I would wish to. She knows what's going on and brushed it off by apologising in turn for being unable to support me. However, she deserved that apology and she received it, and now she knows that I want to do so much more because I told her. If someone says "I'll come now" the feeling those words create is like several million in the bank!
Here are few suggestions to help everyone reconnect:The question "do you need me to...?" should be avoided at all costs, if your offer of help is sincere phrase it as "I'm on my way" not a question that provides an escape route. Your friend/loved one can still say no but at least they know you definitely would come.
If they've had a difficult time, such as a bereavement, turn up if you can. Take flowers and when they open the door tell them you're not here to intrude you just wanted to say you're sorry and deliver these personally. that way they can say thank you and shut the door or invite you in if they need the company.
Texting on a daily basis is kind, but a follow up phone call and the offer to listen is worth a great deal more.
Sometimes getting outside your own problems in order to support others can provide a rest from your own worries, give you the feeling that you're not alone and maybe not even the unluckiest person you know, and remind you that you are a worthwhile human being. So a problem shared is a healing and connecting experience.
Maybe you could even take someone out for the day, buy them coffee or lunch, or sit with their problem whilst they take a rare two hours out to breathe in some fresh air and maybe have a hair cut. I know we need social care because so many people work full time, but should we really need our friends and family to have 2 hours respite support in a week when we could go?
Think about the weekends. When my father was dying we lived a long way away and couldn't give mum anywhere near the support we wanted to, but we discovered that if we went up for a whole weekend it took a lot of pressure off mum and gave dad a change of faces and someone else to talk to. So in the end we had an agreement with Mum, you call and we'll come for the weekend. I think it helped.
Think outside the box. Can you send flowers or chocolates? What would the person appreciate? In what ways could you help: theatre tickets, film tickets, sitting with someone, books, paying for a haircut or a facial, buying your friend/family a sauna day and being on hand so that they can go. There is so much we can do.
Most of all, remember that "being there for someone" is preceded by the words "being there". It's not always possible if you live a long way away, but a voice on a phone is a presence and most of us can make a phone call.
If you're a friend you are a valuable part of someone's life and they of yours, it's about time we all got back to the old ways. Be there or leave a gap that will be filled with loneliness and isolation.
Author of "Who am I, Where am I, What is This Place?" coming soon