Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lonely and Alone Are not the Same Thing

It is possible, as we all know, to be in a crowded room and yet to feel lonely. Lonely is a state of mind, a state of disconnect. Those who have never felt listened to can feel lonely.

On the other hand, it is possible to be alone and not feel lonely. As a writer, I constantly have ideas, characters and factious conversations running around in my head. I spend most of my time alone, and yet I do not often feel lonely. When I feel lonely, I have the capacity to reach out to people and connect.

As we age, many of us find loneliness a problem. There is no longer a job to go to, children are grown and living their own busy lives. Our purpose in life appears to have flown out the window.

Lonely and  alone, there is a difference.
Photo Credit J.C. Munt

 One of my friends here in Oaxaca told me over lunch a while back that the reason she likes living in Oaxaca is because she is amongst people who understand, who share similar experiences. We were talking about what we will do when we can no long function on our own, if by chance we do not die before this happens. The average age of people from north of the border deciding to resettle in Mexico is 65. My friend is 20 years older than I.

Loneliness causes death.  A New York Times blog reported on a six-year study of 1,604 people over the age of 65. 43% reported feeling lonely, 13% often felt lonely while 30% experienced loneliness sometimes. 62.5% of those who reported loneliness were married.

By the end of the six-year study, 24.8% of those reporting loneliness had difficulty with daily activities, such as dressing, bathing and preparing meals, as opposed to 12.5% of those who did not report loneliness.

With more and more people choosing to live happily alone, perhaps it is time for us to reexamine social supports, because it is our social supports that play a large role in our health and well-being. Social supports may not always be family or a spouse.

The first step is to engage in purposeful life, a retirement career if you will, a reason to greet the morning. Then, become involved in a social network of like-minded souls, people engaged in living. Find your "tribe."

Many who converge in retirement communities south of the border have found their tribe and do not feel lonely.

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