Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
“Great view from up here.”
“Looks like more rain.”
“Crazy weather huh?”
We had climbed a small mountain and a young man started up a conversation with us. He was alone and, we sensed, was hungry for a talk, some human connection, anything to assuage the aching loneliness in his eyes. The small talk was like cotton candy, nothing lasting. When he left us he still seemed sad.
We stayed up for another half hour, soaking in the fresh air and glorious views. Two sea eagles swooped and circled around each other. A couple took selfies. Two joggers past us on their way down. Everyone seemed to have someone to share the experience with. Except the young man.
Except thousands of people worldwide at Christmas.
Mother Theresa said that poverty was not the biggest problem in the world … it was loneliness. And the late Robin Williams said that loneliness was not being alone, it was being surrounded by a group of people who make you feel like you are alone.
You can be lonely in a crowd.
Lonely when you stop work (a great day-time companion).
Lonely when your kids leave home.
Lonely in a relationship.
Lonely in a meaningless job.
Lonely when you move house.
And then there are the big ones: lonely because you have been abandoned, family members have died, you are divorced or separated and haven’t found anyone.
We all experience loneliness to some degree.
I know this is heavy to contemplate at the season of hope and joy. But please keep reading, there is hope.
As we descended the mountain I felt heavy. My heart despaired for all those that would be alone again this Christmas. I had to get myself together, we had an event to prepare for.
Wherever we live, we hold Christmas Carols for people. We have just moved and we didn’t know any of our new neighbours, but left invites in mailboxes anyway. We spent all afternoon preparing the house, baking gingerbread, decorating the tree, but we were tinged with sadness. The empty heart-shaped gingerbread reminded me that our boys were far away. They’ve left us. It hurts.
Christian sees the devastating effects of loneliness too often.
Loneliness is a bitter experience. Intense, prolonged loneliness is a risk factor for suicide. We go to extensive efforts to avoid it. Our brain drives us to find a bad relationship in the absence of a good one, or to feel good through alcohol, drugs or other addictions. Loneliness, depression and addiction are closely connected.
The time came for people to arrive. The music was on, the candles were lit. We waited. No one came. We felt worse.
Just as I went to blow out the candles we heard a knock at the door. Ten people, young and old, spilled over the threshold, laughing and chatting. My heart soared. We shared drinks, talked, laughed, ate and sang carols. Unbelievable. Strangers. We found out we were all displaced people, from all over the world. We all were hungry for companionship, togetherness and community.
As obvious as it sounds, the best way to overcome loneliness is to be with people and share smiles, hugs and laughs. Being around people raises oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine to bring about good feelings.
But what if you are alone … really alone on Christmas? We know that “all is not calm, all is not bright” for many, many people. Those that cry themselves to sleep. (And who am I to talk about real loneliness?)
The next day we received a phone call from a neighbour who lives alone. She arrived late at the carols and knocked and knocked. She could hear the laughter and merriment, the singing, but we didn’t hear her. She returned home. I was upset for her.
Perhaps if she had knocked a little harder … or just pushed the door open. She would have been welcomed with open arms.
Everyone stayed very late that night. Strangers being together, sharing joy. We all parted with a hug. Strangers no more.
Maybe there is hope at Christmas.
What brought us together? Music, some drinks, being displaced and all searching for community; companionship.
Christmas does hold a spirit of joy and peace that transcends small talk. It is in music of carols, in a child’s smile, in good will in giving gifts, lights in shop windows, the smell of live Christmas trees, and the anticipation of peace descending on Christmas Eve.
Stop, listen for it. Let it wash over you.
If you have friends and family, you are fortunate. If you are alone, or missing someone, try knocking a little harder at a closed door. Christian and I, and many others, will be thinking of you. Even strangers hug and share merriment. Consider yourselves hugged.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and health and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post every fortnight and would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.