Isolated – How to cope

Isolated – How to cope

You can feel isolated in a crowd. It’s not a matter of people around you, more about how you relate to even one person. Demanding for a parent, boss, friend or mentor, each of whom must remain objective but all of whom will feel subjective. We have seen struggles that bring tears to the eyes.

The strain of the virus is taking hold even where lockdown has been lifted and eating out is no longer a crime. I notice clients – both former and new – offering more febrile exchanges with us almost every day. It’s not that they are imaginatively smarter, rather that despair is setting in and their only response is to seek physical verbal dominance or psychological superiority. Verbally, they cannot contain themselves. It is like a flood of horror that can only be undammed by a verbal tsunami. It almost always ends in tears as the person realises what damage they have done. It is invariably followed by a feeling of greater loneliness. There is little relief from self-destruction. We are all lonely when the majority are.

I’ve noticed this manifesting as a strange sensation in myself. I keep dreaming about former friends and colleagues long since dead. They are pleasant, nostalgic dreams but invariably end on a note of loss as I realise that my former contemporaries are gone. They have something of the flavour of that lovely but sad film “The Remains of the Day”. No doubt my own great age has something to do with it. It is not unpleasant, just slightly isolating.

There is much wrong with an environment that creates isolation. There is nothing wrong with a person who feels it. The shame that many, especially older people, were brought up to believe they were born with was a dangerous and unacceptable way to dominate and control children. That it can last a lifetime is the fault of the people who taught it, not of their pupils. And to say ‘get over it’ is to misunderstand the mechanisms of childhood. As the Jesuit priest declared “Give me a child until it is seven and I have it for life”. That was practically an article of faith when I was young. It doesn’t have to be like that but pulling the nails out of that container lid is hard.

Feeling unable to cope with being locked down in cramped conditions, possibly with noisy children or infants to contend with, and little space to call your own – and even less time to be you – is a weight prisoners feel all the time. Small wonder that they resort to drugs and unacceptable behaviour  – the very things they were supposed to be being cured of. We won’t turn to such escapes but we can easily become introverted and navel-gazing to a point of self-induced hysteria and despair. Such situations can become dangerous. What can we do to overcome them?

First, understand where we are. Trying to find an analogy for the answer to this I recalled a song “The fishermen of England” sung with remarkable gusto by Peter Dawson. One verse reminds us that “In tiny vessels they must ply the perils of the deep”. Each of us is a tiny vessel. Small ships are good for rough weather for, although they make you very sick, they generally won’t sink. We would like to be Blue Riband liners plying the Atlantic but we are really just corks.

Second, turn our attention away from ourselves and towards other people. Not the deprived this time but the successful. A friend keeps a picture of his forebear in his study. The gentleman was a great leader in a previous generation. My friend aspires to his level of influence. And why not? Isolation is a time to think of our potential, not our problems. We are all underestimating ourselves. It is a shocking thing to discover but it is true, especially of the very able but rather shy. If you were shamed a lot as a child you will feel isolated as a grown up. This is the time to see your potential and take steps to reach it. Doing so will relieve the isolation.

Third, make a plan. Do this by asking yourself several questions – too many to list here but if you want to know more about them, please ask. The basic questions you must consider are:

[a] what are my priorities right now?

[b] what can I do to satisfy them – and am I doing it?

[c] what am I aiming for in five years’ time?

[d] what can I do for someone else, some specific person who I can help achieve success?

Fourth,  learn something new. It can be the piano, psychology, business accounting or any subject you like – as long as it is new. Choose something you have always secretly wanted to do but never tried.

Fifth, read some good literature. Well written books of any age. Give yourself two hours reading a week to start with. If you enjoy it you can make it longer later. But regard it as a discipline to be fulfilled every week.

Follow this advice and you will become less isolated, more connected.

It is looking forward and learning that makes us hopeful. And hope dispels despair.

May it do so for you.