One is the Loneliest Number or Mental Health in the Time of COVID-19

On Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, she did an episode on loneliness and connection with former Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.  They described loneliness as “the discrepancy between the social connections you have, and the social connections you need.”

I have been struggling with it for quite a while.  I’ve spent almost as much of my life alone as I did in my longest relationship, which was my marriage.  Even in my marriage, especially towards the end, I felt excruciatingly alone.  So, while one is the loneliest number, it is true that two can be as bad as one.

Global pandemics don’t help the cause.

One is the loneliest number or mental health in the time of COVID-19
Me, alone with the vast ocean of uncertainty 

May was Mental Health Awareness month, and I was going to post this then, but the world exploded and it didn’t seem important anymore.  But what I fear more than COVID-19 is the mental health toll this is taking on everyone, and what we’re seeing in breakdowns and suicide rates.  I personally believe the ramifications over the next two years are going to be intense, so buckle up.

Fear is caused by uncertainty and since there is nothing certain in our world right now, our mental health is taking a hit.  Although, no one wants to talk about it because it’s still seen as a taboo topic, and those who are suffering choose to suffer in silence.

This pandemic is leaving many feeling isolated and lonely, myself included.  I believe, at the heart of the issue, is that many people haven’t had to come face to face with their feelings until now.  Feelings are easy to bottle up, or push down and not think about. With so many people refusing to deal with their feelings, they have either been numbing the pain for years, or running from it.  It’s no coincidence that alcohol sales are through the roof right now.

The Karen’s we all making fun of?  They’re actually having full on mental breakdowns right in front of us.  Think Britney Spears shaving her head.  Imagine keeping yourself and your family so scheduled, you’re too busy to think about what’s happening in your head?  You operate like this all the time, until a virus comes and rocks your world.

Everything shuts down and you actually have to look at yourself in the mirror.  Only, you don’t like what you see.  Which you knew, that’s why you were running from her in the first place, so you lash out.  You literally start losing your mind over some stupid shit.  Hi Karen, welcome to your life.  You’re the manager.  Time to get a therapist.

Isolation or No is the Saddest Experience

We’re all spending more time at home right now, but what you may look at as an inconvenience is actually how a lot of people live {*raises hand.}  I have a great group of friends, but most of them are in other states, and many of them are married with their own families.  Because these restrictions are already similar to my real life, this pandemic has actually not been too bad for me.  If anything, it’s relieved a lot of my anxiety about my loneliness because we’re all on a level playing field right now.  Even before this, I would self-isolate on purpose because I’m an introvert and I just need to be alone sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had little bouts of depression here and there.  I was looking for a full- time job before the pandemic hit, so you can imagine what that’s like now.  I deal with a lot of rejection, almost on a daily basis and have been for years.  I’m amazed I get out of bed some days.

Weak social connections can have a negative effect on your health, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and depression & anxiety.  I feel like being over 40, single, and working from home only compound the problem.  To put it bluntly, I spend a lot of fucking time alone.

While I make fun of my dating life, or lack thereof, it is what it is.  But, I think of how many lonely people are out there, and it makes me sad because, as lonely as we are, no one seemed to want to do anything about it before COVID, and now they can’t do anything about it.  Who wants to start a new relationship right now?  No one.

Death and All His Friends

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is suicide. Look at the number of celebrities or well-known personalities who have committed suicide recently, or had drug and alcohol overdoses resulting in death.  This is just the beginning and those are the cases that make the news.  We should be talking about it because it’s a sad truth of the world we now live in.  It was before the deadly virus, and it’s only been amplified by it.

I have a single friend who lives alone and has been holed up almost the entire pandemic.  Her city is still on major lockdown.  She’s struggled on and off, reasonably so.  It was still a shock to her when one day she heard a loud noise from an apartment upstairs.  Thinking someone had dropped something, she wasn’t too concerned.  She later found out it was a gun shot.  Her neighbor had committed suicide.

Many healthcare professionals fear the future in regards to mental health and the stress of job losses. This article on Psychology Today talks about a suicide epidemic. The future is not bright.

How do we break this cycle of loneliness?  The answer lies within ourselves.  We need to address the problem of loneliness within us, and we need to be proactive about engaging with others if we are feeling lonely.

According to Brené, our connection within ourselves mirrors how we relate to others.  We need to find ways to be centered and balanced within ourselves, and if we’re not, figure out where the imbalance is occurring.  Focus on gratitude and doing things you enjoy.

Also, make sure you are approaching people for genuine connection and not validation.  There’s a difference.  Social media plays a huge role in validation.  You’re either seeking it through your posts, or you’re watching from the sidelines not feeling validated because you don’t have the life others have.

If there’s one thing this pandemic should be teaching all of us, it’s how important the special people in our lives are.  Value your relationships.  Be compassionate, to yourself and to others.  Remember, nothing is permanent and this, too shall pass.


P.S. – If you’re having difficulty, reach out to a therapist. There’s no shame in it.  If therapy isn’t your deal, look into a Life Coach or a Health & Wellness Coach – a little less intimidating and the focus is on the present and the future, not the past.  At the very least, reach out to a friend because, believe me, your friends love you and they don’t want to see you hurting.

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