Sunday, 29 July 2018

Isolation and loneliness

These are just some of my thoughts which I shared on a fb group for visually impaired people. 

I think we’re in an epidemic of loneliness which increases as we move further away from a tribal culture.  We are social beings, we evolved to live in multi generational groups getting and giving support to each other. 

But for the last two generations or so we have, in the western world, become obsessed with independence and the importance of ‘standing on our own two feet’ and ‘being the best we can be’ and ‘success’ etc.  this is basically nonsense.  No one can be independent, if you use the water or electric system then you’re reliant on others.  Yet as we are told more and more that we need to be independent, we become more and more disconnected and therefore lonely.  We are less accepting of differences, we are more fearful of the unknown, we are less trusting of colleagues... because we believe we’re in a competition.  But we’re not in competition, we should be celebrating our role in our family and community.

Add disability into this mix and it becomes clear how loneliness can be an even greater issue.  We may feel we have less success in life, because we’re measuring ourselves too harshly against criteria which no one can measure up to.  We may feel excluded, because we assume we must be self reliant and that can be hard with disabilities.   We might feel needy and yet undeserving because we don’t value the gifts of each individual.  We might also be economically disadvantaged through unemployment which adds to loneliness and stress and feelings of failure.

So... The solution?
Find our tribe!
There’s a reason that social media has exploded in popularity.  It allows us to feel more connected.  For some people, and many commentators, this is seen as fake and dangerous; but for many of us with disabilities it allows for community connection which is extremely difficult (if not impossible) in real life.  Just look at this group - would we have ever been able to meet?  Could we have had this conversation?  Social media has benefits for so many of us who would otherwise be isolated.

But physical connections are also important and have been shown to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.  So we need to find our tribe locally - perhaps at a church or community group, or with neighbours or work friends or hobby group.  This is where changes to society are important to improve accessibility for all so that anyone with disability can join in and this becomes normal for everyone.

It's worth saying that I think many traditional blind charities are especially bad at improving the wellbeing of those of us experiencing sight loss, many being stuck in the model of needing to 'care for' us rather than empower us.

But things are changing as those of us with disabilities are feeling more empowered, thanks to meeting online.