By Gill Seaton-Jardine, Counsellor/Psychotherapist
‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa lalalalalalalala
‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa lalalalalalalala’
It’s December and this message, and others like it, are reverberating from everywhere. It is on television, social media, in shopping centres, on the radio, in the workplace, schools, colleges and universities – in fact everywhere where people gather. It is of course relating to the forthcoming Christmas season promising joy, happiness, love and togetherness, not to mention wonderful food, gifts and camaraderie. It all sounds marvellous doesn’t it? Well, doesn’t it? Indeed for some people it is like that, with loved ones all around, wrapping paper all over the place and a real sense of belonging, but is it like that for everyone? The answer here, of course, is no, it is not. For someone who feels isolated it merely exacerbates the feeling of being alone.
So, what do we mean by isolated. Do we mean being on our own? I don’t think so, my impression is that many people enjoy time on their own. Some people choose to live on their own perhaps suggesting that they prefer their own space and the peace and quiet they experience.
Do we mean alone? Once again, not necessarily, being alone can be a relief if you have a busy life, full of people and expectations. Maybe the word lonely is getting nearer to what we’re looking for. Lonely suggests a sadness about being alone but of course it could be a short lived loneliness caused by a partner being away for a time, or a period of time being unable to leave your home due to illness or the need to care for another. In these examples, there is an expectation of this being a temporary situation so perhaps still not what we are seeking to identify here. Also, the lonely person may have friends or family who call them or visit from time to time, having the effect of relieving the loneliness, at least while they are there. They may have a pet, a dog or a cat that gives them some company. They also may have various ways of connecting with family, even many miles away such as video phone, Face Time, Messenger etc.
So, we have said that perhaps lonely is getting nearer to what we are seeking. Looking isolation up in my friend the Collins English Dictionary, it struck me that most of it’s definitions are connected with negatives – isolation cell, isolation hospital, isolation ward for example. These all suggest something being wrong and serious. The first definition of isolate is ‘to place apart, cause to be alone’ – strikes me as the very opposite of all the things we talked about earlier regarding Christmas. So, we have found a word which carries with it potentially sad and negative connotations. This already tells us that if a person feels a sense of isolation, or if it is suggested by another, that person will feel anxious and alone. Feeing this way makes it very hard to change anything easily. It can become hard to approach others for help. The isolated person tends to withdraw from parts of their life, their work, their family, their friends. The more they withdraw, the harder it is to reconnect and the more isolated they can become.
I find myself thinking about the fact that isolation can both be a physical and a psychological concept. The isolation ward separates the patient from others, either to protect that person or protect all the others. Either way, the person isolated is not going to feel great about the situation. Being locked away on your own is clearly physical isolation although, of course, it is also psychological isolation in that there is no-one with whom to share your thoughts. But what about the isolation experienced by people who are not locked away by somebody else, who have not been placed into a preventative setting. I wonder if this is the most challenging type of isolation as there is no opportunity to blame another for that feeling. You are literally alone (there’s that word again)
So maybe that last line could be a clue as to how to start to tackle this tricky, unhelpful state of affairs. There seems to be a link between alone and isolated, and maybe the way in is through tackling the ‘alone’ aspect. We have already seen that there are some parts of ‘alone’ that we can work on. We have also noticed that it is hard to reconnect when we are feeling this way. We may even be living on the streets feeling totally cut off from society and very often ashamed of where we are.
There is no easy way out of this. The fact is we have to make a move to change things. That move can be tiny, perhaps accepting a cup of tea from a helper on the street, perhaps accepting an invitation to have a coffee with a friend, perhaps linking up with someone nearby whom you haven’t seen for a time – any of these could be the first step out of isolation.
There is of course professional help out there. Your GP is a place to start. There are talking therapies available on the NHS and through certain charities, or make contact with one of the many charities whose whole purpose is to help those of us that have problems and need their help.
Although you feel entirely alone, you are not. We are all out here wanting to understand what it is that you need and supporting you on your way back.
Christmas is a tough time for those that are alone however it is also a time where there is more help being offered than ever if you can just reach out and say ‘I need some help’.