Being alone: how much is enough?

I can highly recommend an article in the December/January issue of AARP magazine entitled: “Is there a cure for LONELINESS?” Positive human connections are a part of being human. I have been studying this topic up-close-and-personal for most of my life. The main theme of this excellent AARP article is that social isolation can have measurable medical causes and remedies.

Did you know that genome researchers can now see signs of social isolation in your white blood cells? The blood cells of very lonely people “appear to be in high alert, responding the way they would to a bacterial infection.”

Another social connectedness researcher recognized our “human need to be embedded, connected and integrated in a social network…When that network is missing the consequences are very real in terms of mental and physical health.”

These researchers were not studying those who are natural introverts who love to be alone. They are studying those do not wish to feel so alone in the world and may go days without talking to anybody who knows or cares about them.

Did you know there is a 32% increased risk of early death for those living alone, according to a study of 3.4 million people? Social isolation can be a killer, and not just figuratively. Loneliness may actually cause premature death by damaging the heart. Research suggests that feeling loneliness may double a person’s risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. Older Americans are at the greatest risk for social isolation, which can lead to physical illness, depression and even dementia.

My place of meditation & serious contemplation at age 49

This was foremost on my mind when I did a major life review in my late 40s. After I got divorced and then lost my job/career at age 49, I sat for a few months in my self-created sunroom and thought about my highest priorities for the years I had left before me. What did I need most to survive my future? I had been an introvert and a loner my whole life and dealt with this issue a number of times in counseling. Did I want to be alone forever?

That is when I decided that I would put all of my energy into finding the best partner for me. I didn’t want to face forever alone. I figured I couldn’t be alone in my loneliness. There must be at least one person I can truly enjoy spending lots of time with. Once I became totally focused on this goal, I met Mike. He lived ten miles away, but I never would have met him without Match.com We spoke for over ten hours the first time we met!

Now, fifteen years later, I cannot imagine where or even who I would be without Mike. So loyal, loving and like me. We are both introverted and loners to some extent, but we also actively choose not to live alone. We love each others’ company and also know when we need to spend some time alone. We give each other LOTS OF SPACE. We have become the guardians of each others’ solitude. This works well for us.

I have decided now, at almost 65, that we all need a witness to our lives; people to look after and those who look after us. Our survival and well-being depend on not only ourselves, but also loving, supportive others. Yes, I could have lived alone forever, but did I really want to?

My book “How to Believe in Love Again” explains the process I went through to change my attitudes about living without love…

None of us get out of this alive…

“America is the only country in the world that looks upon death as some kind of personal failure.”

As we age, it is natural to contemplate more often the inevitable consequence of life, our own death. I know that since I experienced a serious brain injury at age 53, with hours of spontaneously moving in and out of consciousness, death has become a fascinating topic for me. I often wonder if unconsciousness is what death feels like. If so, it may not be so bad.

Then as I entered my 60s and personally experienced too many new ailments and disabilities, I wondered again when and of what I would die. I also learned something important about our culture: Even if we Americans don’t see death as a personal failure, we most certainly see illness as one. Ever since I moved from the healthy column to the older, not so healthy column, I have noticed many treat me quite differently. But aren’t I the same person with equal potential?

This all reminds me of a patient I treated in my counseling internship in a rehab hospital. When this elderly woman became ill and ended up in the hospital, the only question on her lips was,

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Do we all “deserve” illness and death? Of course not. We are no better or worse than all the others organisms in our world. We are born by no choice of our own. We live the best we can, and then we die. Then, regardless of the “death industry’s” best efforts, we all become dust in the wind eventually. Big surprise. No secrets here, and yet most of us walk around thinking this simply CANNOT be true!

How can this all mean nothing in the long run?

That has been the realm of religious leaders and philosophers forever. How do we make sense of this thing called life and death? That must be where our judgment of those “failures” who have the indecency to die comes from. When we are still among the living and healthy, it rarely seems likely that we will die someday.

I am reminded of a very cynical MD I met once in Boulder decades ago. I remember him telling a story about one of his healthy patients. The doc was given the unenviable task of telling this person that they had cancer. The patient’s response?

“I can’t have cancer! I run ten miles a day!”

If you like to play the odds game, here are our nation’s death stats:

Top 10 causes of death in the US.: https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/3848

Please note number ten on this list, the rate of suicides among Americans. This rate has risen since these statistics came out in 2017. And speaking of suicide, let’s give Camus the final word on this topic:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.” -Albert Camus

How unreasonable love is!

Yesterday I was struck by exactly how unreasonable love can be. What is this feeling that often goes against all reason and just is?

As far as I’m concerned, the definitions of love are completely inadequate. One definition is: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Another is “a great interest and pleasure in something.” Or “to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).” How inadequate is that?

Reasonable is taking into consideration your own interests first, something most of us do unconsciously and continuously. “What in this for me?” I learned early to notice how so many people I met consider what they can get out of a new friendship before they jump into it. These people are very fair weather friends. I tend to avoid them.

I spent my first few years of college at Colorado College, a very expensive private school in Colorado Springs. There I met a number of very wealthy kids who first wanted to know if your family had a condo in Aspen BEFORE they decided to like you. Who knew there were such people in the world?

That’s when I learned to be much more careful in choosing my friends. Then, for young women, there is always the question whether the men liked you for sex and nothing else. Unfortunately that took me quite a while to figure out. Who knew some men are just pigs?

At age 64, I have known so many friendships, and most have not lasted very long. These experiences left me doubtful whether any of these “friends” ever really cared for me at all. In other words, I don’t expect true love and loyalty in this lifetime. I have experienced too many disappointments in this department.

Then yesterday I had a very frank conversation with Mike on this topic. We have been together for almost fifteen years now and still I doubt. We have been through serious, debilitating illness with Mike in our early years, and the same with me recently. I wondered why he would choose to sacrifice to be with me when he could certainly do better at this point in life. His love and loyalty astounded me. Finally I have found a lover and friend who actually loves me…in sickness and in health.

Love and integrity are so hard to find. If you find them in your personal relationships, return them in full force…

Pet scans and such, cancer anyone?

I find I have nothing to say at the moment. Have you ever had to wait to see if you have cancer? That’s where I’m at. I had a Petscan Tuesday afternoon and of course there seems to be no doctor who isn’t on vacation or just “off” who can call me and tell me the results.

What is a Petscan? Mayo Clinic:

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity. This scan can sometimes detect disease before it shows up on other imaging tests. The tracer may be injected, swallowed or inhaled, depending on which organ or tissue is being studied. The tracer collects in areas of your body that have higher levels of chemical activity, which often correspond to areas of disease. On a PET scan, these areas show up as bright spots.

A PET scan is useful in revealing or evaluating several conditions, including many cancers, heart disease and brain disorders. 

American medicine at work. I ask you, could our system be anymore fucked up??? I truly doubt it… So I meditate, I sleep, I listen to great music and try not to think about death, and what it might mean to those who truly love me.

A couple strange things about Petscans. Did you know that the radioactive isotope they put in your veins is so strong that it can impact anyone in the room with you? Really! For a minute I thought the tech who put it in was kidding! And then there’s that cocoon they put you in inside of that tiny hole. Close your eyes and you hardly know you’re there unless your nose starts to itch, badly. But I survived all that and now I wait because no doctor is willing to take the time to give me a call…

Postscript: A small spot of “unusual cell growth” was found in my lungs. Further tests next week…

Since the Solstice…

RASTA! My best friend for the past 10 years.

I’ve been feeling a little lost since the summer solstice last week. We had company and while they were here my puppy Rasta began to look very ill. It turned out to be eye problems, with probable glaucoma in one eye. He was barely moving and looked terrible. I had no idea how painful glaucoma can be! We are now giving him painkillers and thinking about taking him to a dog ophthalmologist. (Who knew?)

This was all so traumatic for me. Rasta and I are very close, and in a place where I have so few real friends, I depend on him so much. Since we lost Charlie our cat just a few weeks ago I have been thinking about death too much I guess. Just about everyone in my family is elderly and have a number of health challenges including myself. When did my whole world change? When did I begin wondering when my dog, my family and I will die? Nice summer solstice theme, huh? I do feel fortunate to have had my parents and siblings for so much of my life…

I often am surprised to find out how old I am. How about you?

The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool: A Review

I experienced a unique and piercingly beautiful film yesterday! Based on Peter Turner’s memoir, this film follows the playful and passionate relationship between Turner (played by Jamie Bell) and the eccentric Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame (played by Annette Bening).

Annette Bening in Film Stars dont die in Liverpool

I loved the way this film skillfully intertwined their budding romance in the late 1970s, with Ms. Grahame’s death in 1981.

What starts out as a vibrant and totally unexpected love affair between a legendary femme fatale and an unknown fellow actor in Liverpool England, quickly deepens into a passionate and caring relationship. Thus her decision to spend her last days on earth with him and his great family.

This 2017 film so skillfully and seamlessly takes the viewer from their early days of lustful romance, to Turner’s present uncertainty about how to handle Gloria’s obviously serious illness. Seeing her again brings back so many exciting memories for Turner as he watches her slowly fade away.

The skill of director Paul McGuigan in taking us back and forth in these characters’ lives, explains everything about their love for each other, so much so that Miss Grahame pushes Turner away when she realizes she is very ill. She hopes to spare him some degree of pain, but pain cannot be avoided in death, not when love is involved.