Only the lonely
Last updated 10/10/2023 at 10:44am
Only the lonely
Know the way I feel tonight
Only the lonely
Know this feeling ain’t right
— Roy Orbison
Loneliness is a melancholy theme in generations of songs. It’s not just a trope, though — it’s a serious matter. If the Surgeon General of the United States is right, it’s a major health threat:
“Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling — it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.”
Even in a relatively small and close-knit community like Sisters with lots of opportunities to engage with others, people may feel disconnected, alienated, out-of-sorts. Lonely. The reasons for this are complicated.
On Thursday, October 26, Citizens4Community (C4C) and The Nugget will present a town hall conversation on the topic of loneliness — what conditions create it, and what can be done to reach out to those in our community who are deeply lonely.
Loneliness is not the same thing as being alone. I’m one of those people who needs substantial time alone to thrive. Some people are more “social” than others, and there’s no right or wrong way to be in that regard. Introvert or extrovert or somewhere in between, we all need some sense of connection, of belonging, a sense that we are of value to others. There’s anecdotal evidence that, for some, the isolation of the pandemic was a plunge into loneliness, and some have not really come back from it.
Loneliness is dark and corrosive. Loneliness is feeling like you’re invisible, disconnected, and untethered. Loneliness is feeling like you don’t matter. We can be lonely around other people if we don’t feel connection. Loneliness can creep up on you, and like any other threat to our health and well-being, we might not recognize the symptoms until we go down.
Loneliness hurts. And it’s increasingly clear that loneliness can kill. That’s why health care providers are placing an exceptional emphasis on addressing loneliness.
Last spring, St. Charles Health System announced “a new focus for its Community Benefit funding: reducing feelings of loneliness and social isolation while fostering a sense of belonging among Central Oregonians. For the next three years, St. Charles will direct thousands in grant funding to community organizations to target loneliness and isolation.”
That’s all well and good, but it seems that a fundamental means of combatting loneliness doesn’t require funding. Neighborliness matters. Meeting and greeting our neighbors, having conversations with the people we interact with in town rather than just moving through the day — these things make a difference. Reaching out to one of those neighbors and inviting them to go catch some music, or a movie, attend an Outlaws game, a school play, or a church service... or just go out and have a cup of coffee — all of this strengthens the social fabric. It’s pretty pleasant too.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to just hang out at home of an evening and watch Netflix or read a book. Nothing feels quite as good to me as sitting on the couch and playing the guitar in a dark and empty room. There is a danger, though, of falling into a rut, where we don’t feel good, and we don’t quite know why. That might just be loneliness sinking its claws into us.
Sometimes staying in is a lot easier and more comfortable than getting out amongst ’em. Yet it’s also good sometimes to say “yes” to something we might not ordinarily do, with people we might not ordinarily connect with.
What’s “comfortable” isn’t always good for us, and there’s no such thing as growth without experiencing discomfort. And, it turns out, things we might think are uncomfortable often turn out to be a lot of fun, and we’re glad we overcame our reluctance and went and did it.
As the Surgeon General says, “By taking small steps every day to strengthen our relationships, and by supporting community efforts to rebuild social connection, we can rise to meet this moment together. We can build lives and communities that are healthier and happier. And we can ensure our country and the world are better poised than ever to take on the challenges that lay ahead.”