Long after my father retired from the Foreign Service, my mother revealed that each time we changed Foreign Service posts she experienced what she called “the blues:” a six-month period of depression that she stoically endured, knowing that it would evaporate as she sunk her roots into the new environment. As she learned her way around a new house, with new staff, in a new city, Mom became a part of the new Embassy community and met the other FS wives through State Department protocols like “making calls” on established senior wives. Pretty soon, she was at home again.
We need connections. And, from what I’ve been reading, the saturation of digital connecting is scant cover for what some are calling an epidemic of loneliness and its negative physical, psychological, and life-expectancy impacts.
In his recent Palm Beach Post article, How to avoid America’s epidemic of ‘loneliness’, Steve Dorfman (@stevedorfmanpbp) quotes former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy: “The increased mortality associated with loneliness is equal to the increased mortality we see with smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Murthy told CBS News in February. “It’s in fact greater than the mortality associated with obesity.”
As a Florida retiree, I understand that I am now in a group in which social isolation is a problem. What I found surprising in Dorfman’s piece was that 18-22 year-olds suffer from loneliness at nearly the same rate as the elderly. We often seek out face-to-face time with people — exercise classes, volunteer work, mah-jongg, book groups — while the younger demographic sit alone, staring at their smartphones with the hope of being “liked,” but more often being criticized, or worse, by the digital universe.
I give “community” as one big reason for my survival and recovery from a serious illness in Amsterdam earlier this year. I lay in a single bed for three months but rarely felt alone.
The excellence and compassion of the medical staff at OLVG ER saved my life in May. During the weeks of medical whack-a-mole, the ICU doctors and nurses were dedicated supporters. When I graduated from the ICU and moved to another hospital unit, I received this wonderful gift: a daybook containing encouraging messages like this from my nurses.
My husband, daughter and sister surrounded me with loving during my long weeks in the ICU, and they were looked after by both the nursing staff (“Get out of here and have some fun!”) and by the family of my Turkish roommate. He has recovered very well and we have a standing invitation to stay with them in Amsterdam!
Our daughter and my sister were my husband’s saviors during my weeks in the ICU. And the staff of 7A became both of our community after Victoria and Susie had to return to the States during my weeks of recovery. You can see how I didn’t feel alone in the care of these warm men and women:
And throughout my long stay in Amsterdam, I was buoyed by well-wishes from family and friends, thanks to my daughter’s diligent correspondence while I was really sick. Water exercise students in Boynton Beach were frequent correspondents, including this group:
Sometimes, digital connections can save your life! And, as one correspondent said, “On the upside, you now have a great new story for your blog and memoirs.” True that, Linda!
Dorfman says that Americans are not alone in feeling alone: “There is now an Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, Denmark has created a National Movement Against Loneliness and Great Britain appointed its first Minister of Loneliness in 2018.” I know: that last title just begs a Monty Python response, but, still …