Loneliness – A Quandary that Refuses to be Solved (by David Ducklow, Chaplain)

In today’s fast-paced world, it is often the un-said hope and expectation that we, along with our friends, family and colleagues are okay all the time. At least we don’t want them to tell us that they feel anything otherwise. Then we may not need to worry about them. In a delightful story, Eeyore, the glum and introverted donkey found in The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, expresses how this is a false belief we have, because, unless we believe the lie we are telling ourselves, we simply are not O.K. all of the time.

In this story, Pooh and Piglet wonder if something is wrong with Eeyore, since they had not seen him for several days. So they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.”Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a glum sounding voice. “We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”

Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all, would you now.”
Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.

Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?” “We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling sad, or alone, or not much fun to be around at all. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.”

“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” As the three of them sat there in silence, though Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.[1]

Whether we admit it or not, we have all been in Eeyore’s place. And this exchange between friends shows how one’s sadness, aloneness or possibly loneliness can slowly diminish if we are patient with it.

Loneliness is a feeling resulting from a “lack of sympathetic or friendly relationships.” It happens when we believe that our current relationships are less satisfying than what we hope for, expect or feel like we deserve.[2] Because he is a fictional character, we don’t know if this is the exact reason why Eeyore was feeling this way. But however he was feeling, Pooh and Piglet were willing to be with him in the moment. And recognizing Eeyore’s feelings, while remaining present to them, is the first, and most important step to helping someone move past them.

As a chaplain in long term care, I have spent a lot of time with lonely people. Whether they are willing to express it or not, one can guess whether they may be lonely simply by determining what they are diagnosed with. This is because heart disease, hypotension or one of many addictions are often referred to as loneliness diseases, and the vast majority of residents are diagnosed with one or more of these diseases.

For those of us who are younger and want to avoid loneliness, we should pay as much attention to it as we would to our diet, exercise and the amount of sleep we get each night. But can we eliminate it entirely? Not really. It might help if we are a little bit more extroverted, but that might just be a band-aid solution to a deeper issue. This is because loneliness has been around us since the beginning of time.

At the beginning of the Torah, after God created Adam from the dust of the ground, he says “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[3] When Adam sees and names Eve, what proceeds from his mouth is some of the most heartfelt poetry, rejoicing and praise the Torah has in its pages.

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”[4]

Here, God is not creating a wife for Adam, though this is what she is. He is not creating someone with whom Adam may “be fruitful and multiply” though they can make love to one another. God creates Eve to join Adam in his loneliness. He creates her to be a friend, because this is what Adam needed, and this is what friendship does.

As Dr. Keith Karren writes, friendships do not get better based on the number of friends we have. Instead, it is the closeness and quality of those relationships that determine our satisfaction. So whether we are married, single, living with someone, or by ourselves, it doesn’t matter. The issue is whether we have someone we can turn to for support. And the more people we have in our lives, the better.[5]

So just as Pooh and Piglet did with Eeyore, can we assume that our friends wouldn’t mind wasting their time hanging out with us, even though we may be sad, alone, and not much fun to be around at all. Because, whether we say anything at all, when we spend time with the lonely, our presence may ever so slightly impact them in a good way. And who knows? This might be exactly what our friends need to do for themselves as well.

[1] Retrieved from The Maddle Project, published December 15, 2018, on August 3, 2020 https://www.facebook.com/themaddieproject/photos/it-occurred-to-pooh-and-piglet-that-they-hadnt-heard-from-eeyore-for-several-day/1794783897315560/ Author unknown, but presumably A.A. Milne
[2] Karren, Keith J. 2010. Mind/Body Health: The Effects of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships p. 260
[3] Genesis 2:18
[4] Genesis 2:23
[5] Karren 239

The Position (but not what you think)

When you say to someone, “I have your back,” then “the position” is the physicality of that.

“The position” is an attachment posture for problem-solving, planning or visioning, doing a 10/10 conversation, foreplay for love-making, watching TV, or simply resting. It provides a maximum amount of physical contact without the necessity or even the intention of sex. It is not about coercion; it is about support and affection. It is about dreaming of something better. It is about having someone’s back. It is not a face-to-face encounter.

I often recommend this posture for couples that have low intimacy or who seldom share sex. The position lines life up, merges intentions, welcomes the future.

Vertically we call it “the position” but horizontally it is called “spooning.” Both are postures for caring intimacy.

Everyone needs support sometimes; everyone needs someone who has their back. The position builds a couple’s “emotional bank account” when there have been too many withdrawals or when there is a threat of emotional bankruptcy. The back person strengthens the front person, as the front person rests into the support person.

The back person (man or woman who provides the support) has their arms surrounding the resting person (in the front). The support person’s arms and hands can be held or directed by the front partner to touch and hold in the way that they wish. Couples find this directed touch to be both soothing and erotic.

It is a good practice to switch between being the support person and being the supported one. Say 5 minutes and then switch.

Both are facing in the same way. Rather than being a face-to-face encounter, the position soothes rather than challenges. It allows for seeing in the same direction. It reduces the intensity of conflict or fighting. It builds trust.

I have found that men love to be in the supported position — it is not just a female thing. Both can support and both need support.

See the link on my idea of a “10/10” daily conversation. Combining the position and the 10/10 is about emotional sanity.

UPDATE — Opening and Closing the Office Door

[Updated November 8, 2020]

BECAUSE OF THE CURRENT PANDEMIC CONCERNS, IN-OFFICE MEETINGS WILL BE POSTPONED UNTIL DECEMBER. PLEASE WATCH MY WEBSITE FOR UPDATES.

Paddy has now opened the office doors to in-person counselling. (Carole will continue visiting with people online.) Good news for those tired of staring at computer monitors (like me)! And for those who like the convenience and lack of commute, we are still offering counselling via Doxy and Zoom. Two more open doors!

If you decide at any time that you would feel safer or prefer to meet online, then we shall do that. Paddy will continue offering online counselling for those who prefer and his off-time appointments (Tuesday and Wednesday mornings) are online only.

Here is some info already published on our website that will orient you to our care for you during the pandemic. There are a few other blogs published on the topic as well.

If you wish to meet in-person, there are a few cautions to understand and ideas to respond to.

• You will only keep your in-person appointment if you are symptom-free. If you are feeling unwell, please cancel as quickly as you are able. No fee will be assessed for cancelled fees related to sickness. Still, give us 48 hours if you can.

• If you have any symptoms of the coronavirus (self-check), I trust that we can meet online — rebooking can be difficult for you and for me.

• Come into the office on time (not too early) and wait on the “sinner’s bench”! (Sorry, that’s a joke.) Text me to let me know you are ready and able (604-315-9543) and I will come to find you. You may park in the carport or on the parking pad at the top of the driveway.

• Please bring your own mask if you wish, or if you feel therapy in any way compromises social distancing. You may use a mask as you enter and leave our office. Please leave your shoes and coats in the entryway.

• We will provide hand sanitizer in the entryway, office and washroom.

• Bring your own coffee mug if you wish our Nespresso. Mmm.

• Keep a distance of 6 feet or so — no need to bring a noodle; we can approximate. And, sorry to say, no hugs, handshakes or high-5s. Waves and bows work too.

• Please do not bring children or infants to therapy at this time.

• Please take whatever steps you can between appointments to minimize your exposure to covid.

• If you have work that exposes you to other people who may be infected, please reschedule your appointment or replace it with online therapy. Again, give us as much time as you can.

• If a resident of your home tests positive for the infection, let me know and we will continue with online appointments.

All this goes both ways. If Carole or I or anyone in our home or family bubble has covid symptoms, we will contact you as quickly as we can. Then we will discuss other possibilities including using online and screens. If there should be a resurgence of the virus, we will notify you and return to online therapy.

As you can see, we are taking your health seriously. And we are doing it for us too. We want to be able to visit with our grandchildren on our non-workdays and we sure don’t want them infected.

We look forward to accomplishing good work with each one of you.

Paddy and Carole

Doing Yourself a FAVR

I find myself talking about FAVR a lot. Usually, the people I visit with are treating themselves and others poorly, without FAVR. They have been taught to listen to themselves (what self they are not so sure) and usually the self they listen to is condemning and critical. This internalized hurt bubbles over like volcano flow into other relationships and work. I would love these folk to do themselves a FAVR.

Looking inside often does me no favours. In fact, it may well lead to rumination and regret. You know rumination, don’t you? Repetitive, self-scourging assaults that seem to never end. The victim is usually you or your closest intimate. You might wake up with dreams of discouragement. These are ruminations too.

Looking inward can lead to deep contentment and change. You can look inwards to pray and meditate and wonder. But rumination is the opposite way of looking in. Rumination compares and criticises. These are verbs that make one feel sick and tired, perhaps depressed.

Looking outwards is to do oneself a FAVR. It is to turn the focus of your energy from faults, unhappy history, relationship regret and the like to 4 distinct visions. Future. Abilities, Values. Relationships.

Future: when you look outwards to your future, I am not talking 5 years or 6 months. Consider looking ahead for 24 or 48 hours. Can you look to see what is possible for the next 2 days? What excites you, frightens you? Can you connect with your work or your partner or your kids in the next several hours? Plan a short-term future.

Abilities: the resources to accomplish your 24-hour future are yours to exercise. Knowing your skills for living are what keeps you going. List them. Think about them. Practice them. These are things you do. What do you need to do? Will you do it?

Values: these are the up-and-out qualities of hope or kindness or gratitude. And these are just 3 values of dozens that you construct your life on. Values create an “upward slope” for your future. I ask some of my client-friends to shout values in the morning. (“Yes, and out loud” though try not to wake your roommate.) Why shout? Because when you ruminate you shout your short-comings in your head. Shouting values is a commitment to eliminate the inside crud.

Relationships: I think that everyone needs 3 intimate friends, 12 closer friends and 70 associative friendships. Intimate friends are people you turn to without thought or worry. Closer friends join you for dinner and drinks and may well have your best at heart. Associative friendships are people you know to talk to and high-5 but not necessarily much more. If you don’t have friends, start with the associative ones. Join a woodworking club and build birdhouses. How about Toastmasters and make a few speeches? Maybe those senior walkers — the funny old people (like me) who stride off with a walking stick or 2, a flagon of tea, a Tilley hat and a backpack to hike the hills of Horseshoe Bay. It is about being friends, not about style.

Doing yourself a FAVR is about mental wellbeing and social health.