Monday, November 25, 2013

Only the Lonely - PART 2

If you have just started reading my blog or you have missed the previous posts, go back and read Only the Lonely as this is part 2 and you may find it easier to follow if you read these in sequence.

My "Only the Lonely" post seemed to resonate with many people and sparked a lot of interest and debate. It soon became one of the most read and shared posts that I have published. Again, there is no judgement on my part, purely observation and interest [read as: please don't hunt me down and kill me if you recognise yourself in this post]. 

One comment, which I found quite interesting was that a friend thought I was writing about him for the first couple of lines, (until I got to the alcohol part, he is not exactly a drinker!). This comment made me feel the need to clarify that not all lonely people are Bar-flies.  That being said, there are still a LOT of lonely people and it saddens me. The majority of these people have really good hearts but have just been unlucky in love or have spent too much time on their careers, only to look up and realise that life had moved on without them, and of course those that have just been too picky! I also add into this category, those that have had the nuclear family and it wasn't the bed of roses that society painted it to be and they have divorced and found someone new, even re-married, but loneliness continues to haunt them. 

Loneliness makes people do stupid,crazy things they wouldn't normally do. I refer to three friends:
  • One lady has surrounded herself with animals [you guessed it - cats]
  • Another is dating a man who, peculiarly, has not touched her AT ALL during the term of their relationship [going on for about 9 months - WTF? Now before you think she's got a nice handwrtiting (code for ugly)  I'd like to add in here that she is gorgeous, funny, warm, caring, giving and one of the most lovely people I know!] 
  • Yet another, a man, at the age of 50, is living with someone 30 years his junior (also a girl ravaged by loneliness and deep personal loss). While he admits they have nothing in common, he explains that there is an agreement of no commitment, which frees them both up to find other partners while they enjoy each other [friends with benefits] but most importantly of all, he says "she is just company right now......... "  

Isn't that what everyone ultimately wants? Company? Someone to come home to at night, someone to talk to, someone to share with and offload about their day? Someone to go out with, even if their interests are extremely different due to class or age or experience? One friend with an extremely high-pressured job admits that all she wants is for someone to put their arms around her, hold her and tell her it's going to be ok, even if it isn't. Human beings want warmth, physical warmth because without it, loneliness creeps in. So in order to find that warmth, humans turn to pets, and unhealthy relationships that are doomed to fail, with battered feelings being the ultimate casualty of this "convenience", and all because we would rather have someone, than be lonely. A lonely and depressed friend once told me that he hated weekends because he wouldn't talk to anyone from Friday afternoon, when he left work, to Monday morning when the receptionist greeted him. Often the person has been lonely and depressed before and are well-aware of what it is like to come home to an empty house, nobody to talk to, nobody to share their day with, nobody to wrap their arms around them and of course the ultimate pain - the cooking of dinner-for-one. When you know the loneliness, the emptiness and the sadness, "someone, anyone is better than no-one" it seems. I believe this is a false sense of happiness. I believe in connecting with people on a deep level. Yes it's great to have friends, but partners need to feed your soul, not just be your plus one for the office Christmas party.


"You should join Facebook" was something I heard from friends for literally years. I wasn't interested.  Why on earth would anyone care about what anyone else is doing?  I talk to my friends. We email or have coffee. But then....... my sister in the US didn't have the cutest babies on the planet who I wanted to see more of, and my brother hadn't emigrated to Oz with my two beautiful nieces, so it became a no-brainer to at least "be friends with my family". To be quite honest the only reason I even go onto Facebook is because I can access it on my phone.  If I had to log onto my PC to check, I probably wouldn't bother as much.  I have really come to enjoy the interactions that I have with my Facebook buddies and I find it a great form of entertainment [admittedly I do have a bunch of nuts as friends, which does make it a lot more interesting!]

Recently however, the social media phenomenon has made me think about its impact on lonely people. Is Facebook fun and entertaining if everyone else looks like they're having more fun than you? Doesn't everyone post the most beautiful pictures of themselves and their family on their page? Let's be honest, if you get tagged in a photo, you're onto that photo faster than if you'd had bad prawn curry the night before and were heading for the WC. Nobody wants to be tagged in a bad-hair-day or a no-make-up day shot. Heaven forbid that anyone sees us as we actually are! 

Is Facebook creating more unhappiness, envy and jealousy of others? You have to be a really big person to read about other people's achievements and family achievements and be happy for them when your life is in the toilet! Personally, if I stop posting things on FB, it's a dead giveaway that I'm not doing well. I like to use it as a fun mechanism, making people smile as they go about their days and I very seldom complain.  If I do complain, I always try to find the message and end on a positive note (nobody wants to read your negative posts every day, I know I certainly don't). 

On Friday I received more health-related bad news, ANOTHER disease to overcome and I was furious! All I could think was "I wonder what I'm going to get for Christmas?" remember that old joke about the deaf, blind and dumb girl? [I won't repeat it because I don't want to give the universe any ideas!!]  Anyway, even though I'm battling a bit with this new news and the impact it will have on mine and my family's lives going forward, I have enjoyed the humour that FB has provided this weekend. But is it so with everyone?  If you're feeling lonely and depressed and you see everyone doing fun, family things and laughing and loving and enjoying, how does that make you feel? [now I sound like a shrink! Lie down on the couch please....]   

E.g. if you and your family stayed on the couch all weekend watching Youtube videos and didn't get out of your pajamas [not that this has EVER been me and my family, we NEVER do things like that, we are active and incredibly sporty ha ha *not*] and your friends all went to awesome concerts and restaurants and shared photos of precious family outings, does that make you feel inadequate?  I've got a friend who shares her renovations each weekend. I'm on the couch and she's painting her 5th ceiling for the day *gulp*. 

So this begs the question - are you the same as your Facebook avitar or do you only show the good things? Hmmm I wonder? Very few people post "real" posts when they're struggling. FB is like PR.

What happens if you post something and nobody comments? Do you feel rejected? Lonely? What about if you've only got acquaintances or family on FB or if you use it as a soap box with an agenda so that your mom can see what you're doing? Seriously, I know people like this, who then wonder why nobody comments on their posts!! 

So where does that leave all my lonely friends? I'm reminded of hubby once telling me "you don't have to be alone to be lonely". Sometimes you are surrounded by people but there is no connection. 

I'm seriously thinking of having a "singles night' (with only single people who make the grade, no whackos). A non-committal drinks evening at one of the local hang-outs. I have a lot of single friends who have never met my other single friends and, who knows, maybe there's a match somewhere!

If anyone is keen to do this (and bring along their lonely, yet eligable friends) let me know. Even if we get one couple together, there may be "two less lonely people in the world la la la la la la  [thanks Cliff Richard - now I'm dating myself!!] and if not, at least we can have a good evening and I can put away my cupid bow and arrow for another 20 years and know I've done all that I can.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Back to Earth (with a bump)

Cape Town city bowl at night as seen from the foot of Table Mountain. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

Exactly a year ago I held some research groups that ran over a weekend. These groups took me to Durban and Cape Town. Once the groups were finished, I had to entertain myself until the next one. In Durban, I was fortunate to be able to finish the group and rush down to Umhlanga at sunset, run along the beach and splash in the waves in my jeans like a child (it also helped that I didn't know anybody in Durban so I could act like a moron and not worry about anyone I knew seeing me).  Then a week later (terrible job that I have *not*) my research took me to Cape Town. The weather was stunning. I was able to go up Table Mountain for the first time in my adult life. I was amazed and walked/ hiked from one side to the next seeing beautiful Cape Town from all angles. Not only was the scenery breathtaking, I also remember the quiet - it was so very quiet that I could hear myself breathe (ok I may have been panting after that climb!) That mountain visit was nothing short of spectacular. I watched the sun go down while drinking a cocktail and finally descended the mountain in the cable car in the dark, seeing all the night lights of Cape Town *sigh* there is nothing like taking a bit of time to enjoy the natural beauty that South Africa has to offer. Those two unexpected "nature days" will stay with me for many years.

Since hitting a few speed bumps along life's highway, I've been forced to stop and smell the roses, which is proving a little more difficult than I thought. As usual when your body gives you a warning sign that it's not happy, the doctors tell you to reduce stress, eat healthily, exercise regularly, get enough sleep blah blah blah haven't we heard this all before?  So I took stock of my life. I have  probably definitely been bad in all of those areas. When I eat, which is not frequently, I eat pretty healthily [unless I'm bingeing on chocolate or cake or any other delicious treat that crosses my path.]. I would like to get more sleep [5-6 hours a night is apparently not working for me]. I exercise regularly [by running after Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato..... and I have stairs in my house - lots and lots of stairs - that counts doesn't it?].  Life is stressful. I de-stress often [by bingeing on aforementioned cakes, chocolates etc and staying up late to make sure all my work is done to avoid me becoming too stressed and I try to squeeze in some me-time and drink loads of coffee between 9pm and midnight]. Hmmmm I'm starting to see what everyone is talking about now. Ok now this is starting to sound bad.... at least I haven't put alcohol in as a major problem, and I don't smoke, see how healthy I am!!

So I decided to begin eliminating as much stress as possible in my life - easier said than done, I do have 3 little people under the age of 7 who are energy vampires!

It was my birthday a while back and one of my awesome friends gave me the greatest gift of all.....she came to my house to babysit Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato on a Saturday afternoon for 6 hours! Woo hooo! Hubby and I were delirious with happiness! A whole afternoon together just the two of us, what a treat! After much debate we decided a lunch in the country would be perfect, surrounded by lots of water, a place that is completely child-unfriendly. It was awesome! We had lunch overlooking a majestic river and afterwards we walked down to the river. There, across a wooden bridge, we discovered a picnic site with a blanket and cushions, which I sat down on and said "I could just fall asleep here" and promptly did just that. I fell fast asleep for over an hour in the shade of the trees, meandering rivers surrounding us, birds in the trees and a gentle breeze. Again the quiet sounds of nature flooded into me. Absolute H-E-A-V-E-N!  I felt refuelled, energised, like a new person, just as I had in Cape Town and Durban.

I recently read an article on Earthing (yes, what that brown wire does in a plug) - [see mom I did learn something at school]. I must say I had never even bothered to think about it, but when I started reading, it made sense. Here is a quick extract from the Earthing Institute (yes there is actually an institute!!)

"Throughout time, we humans have sat, stood, strolled, and slept on the ground – the skin of our bodies touching the skin of the Earth.
And throughout time, such ordinary contact served as a conduit for transferring the Earth’s natural, gentle negative charge underfoot into the body. You see, we are bio electrical beings living on an electrical planet.
Modern lifestyle has disconnected us from this primordial charge.
Earthing is the landmark discovery that the disconnect may make us more vulnerable to stress and illness. Contact with the Earth appears to uphold the electrical stability of our bodies and serve as a foundation for vitality and health. In an age of rampant chronic inflammation and disease, “grounding” ourselves by reconnecting with the Earth beneath our very feet provides a way back to better health."

Earthing at HolisticSquid.comBasically it is reconnecting with the earth. Stand on grass (barefoot), swim in the sea, be out in nature. Such simple things but do we ever find the time to do them? It was sad for me to realise that those trips were a year ago, when I last felt so connected. I have been on a few business trips since those particular ones where I was able to Earth, but although I've been to those cities again, I have been rushing onto a plane, off a plane, into a car, into a meeting room, out of a meeting room, back in the car and back onto the plane, back into the car, into the house. I've realised that even though I spend a lot of my time having picnics with the girls and going to wonderful grassy, open places, I never take my own shoes off (it's bad enough trying to find 6 shoes when we leave anywhere already!!)  What brought this home  (literally brought this home) is that I was told that I lacked vitamin D so I needed to spend some time in the sun, without sunblock (shock, horror with my blue skin!). We have a garden so I went outside and lay on the grass in the sun. Lettuce (2 years old) rushed out and tried to get me to stand up, he was so worried he started crying, he thought I was sick or I had fallen over!! Obviously it has been a long time since I lay on the grass, even though it's 1 step away from the house! Some people may call it Earthing, others connecting to God or the universe or whatever their spiritual belief, but I have come to believe that in order to de-stress we need to re-spiritualise and Earthing is just one of the ways in which to do this.

Unexpectedly, earlier this year, I made friends with a man named Sandy who shares my love of writing. He is writing a book and often has letters published in newspapers where he shines a light on the real people in South Africa and how, often the politicians are fighting for themselves and not the people they are representing, usually a positive, fresh perspective. Recently Sandy asked me to give him my comments on an article he wrote called "To engage we must engage our spiritual gear". I was very interested as this was a complete change from his usual writing. This Blog post has been swimming around in my head for about a month and Sandy's words leaped off the page at me as we were "both on the same page" so to speak (ha ha). The man has great insight and puts words to thoughts that I hadn't fully formed yet. I felt like he was in my head, writing exactly what I had been thinking! I had focused on Earthing but he had encompassed everything and showed me in his article that there are many ways to regain connectivity to what is important to you. With permission, I have included Sandy's article below as I think it is well-written and thought provoking - exactly what literature should be.

So perhaps this deviation from my expected life path will take me on a different journey, into healthy ways of living and more spiritual ways of existing, one thing is for sure, I will be stopping more often to smell those roses, slowly, quietly and barefoot!


When we involve ourselves with activities which require effort and creativity, there is a spiritual component involved.

When we are enjoying music (classical /orchestral, popular /vocal and/or instrumental), theatre, etc., these have a calming, uplifting /rousing effect on the human spirit.  I believe we may be at risk of underestimating the fortifying and restoring effect on our spirits that occurs.

When we are troubled spiritually, or not well mentally or physically, should we not seriously look at ‘quickening, or revitalising our spirits’ by involving ourselves in those things that ‘stoke’ us.
When people have breakdowns, whether we call them ‘nervous’ or ‘emotional’, aren’t they really ‘spiritual’ breakdowns. Whatever we prefer to call personal breakdowns, the spirit of the one affected is, without question, broken – they very definitely seem like an empty shell. I believe every one of us who has been around for long enough has been some way along the road to such a breakdown, or has experienced the ‘full on’ spiritual breakdown. 

Without intending to be ‘religious’ (but without apology), there is a scripture which quotes as follows “Be still and know that I am God.” I have always regarded this as a reminder (in our headlong rush in life) not to leave our inner man (or ‘spirit man’) too far behind. I believe we must have periods of stillness every now and then (for different people, the extent and timing will differ, as will the nature of the ‘stillness’) so that the ‘little voice’ inside us can be heard. Every now and then we need to allow our spirits free-rein to walk ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with us.

Going back to where I started ‘at top’, we should use, on a regular basis, those things that quicken our spirits and fortify us.

A small personal example:  In my professional and personal walk in life, there is a good deal of interpersonal activity and a good deal of hard work to be done in marketing the business and running the projects. I enjoy my work, but it certainly takes its toll on me.  The time I spend in my car allows me to play the music that quickens my spirit (I have a broad enjoyment of music across almost all the genres). I can be having a particularly difficult day – in between appointments, I am on the road, and, as the music wafts, my spirit breathes, soars and is refreshed, no matter how ‘down’ I was.

Is my spirit man restricted to music? No. I enjoy reading, watching sport, Animal Planet, keeping up with current events, mentoring younger friends (mostly ‘upwardly mobile’, but some going through hurt and tough times) with daily SMS-d, motivational meditations. My creative side is writing - about the country where I live and which I love, and about the human condition. This can be hard, draining work, but, you know what? –somehow it makes me stronger, as I believe that when I write my ‘spirit man’ is involved and becomes stronger.

Even those whom I know who say “there is no God”, will freely confess that they have a spirit. Isn’t that profound?

On the occasion where the outlook seemed really bleak, out of nowhere something tugged at my funny bone - in a lonely place and state, I spontaneously laughed, thinking ‘how ridiculously bad can things get?’ – something stirred in my spirit  - was it a sense of self-preservation? I rather think that the Creator, in His infinite wisdom, gave us our sense of humour as a suit of armour for the spirit. Humour, a dimension which the spirit definitely inhabits, is a great stress reliever.

My initiating thought when I sat down to put pen to paper was the abiding feeling that not only can we ensure that we keep away from the ‘slippery slope’, we can bring back those who are approaching, and restore those who have experienced a spiritual breakdown by reconnecting them to those pastimes and activities that quicken their spirit, those things that they enjoy, or that constructively challenge them, as well as those situations where they enjoy being proactive. I know, instinctively, that if we work on this approach with creativity, dedication, commitment and passion, we can bring many from the spiritual void. For ourselves, in our daily walk, each of us needs to know and remember that we have a spirit that needs to walk beside us and breathe.

Sandy Johnston