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Uploaded:2019-12-10
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In which John discusses loneliness, isolation, and the kinds of communities that work.

If you're concerned about your mental health, please reach out for help. You can always text the crisis text line https://www.crisistextline.org/ or if in the U.S., contact the SAMHSA Helpline: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline Or reach out to someone you trust. There is hope. Thanks.

The Project for Awesome fundraiser is still live for a bit longer: http://projectforawesome.com/donate

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  Here's a sunset from North Carolina. I'm exhausted and exhilarated from the Project for Awesome, which this year has raised over $1.3 million for charity.  The fundraiser will be up for another couple of days.  You can learn more at projectforawesome.com/donate.  

So this video is about loneliness and if you are feeling lonely or concerned about your mental health, there is help and there is hope.  Okay, when I was in my mid-20s, I experienced a bout of intense loneliness and isolation that was correlated with serious depression.  I was living in an apartment building with very thin walls and so I could hear people all the time and I had a job, so I saw people every day, including people who cared about me, and thanks to the emerging tools of the internet, I could instant message with anyone I knew, anywhere in the world, anytime. 

I wasn't short on connective opportunities.  I was just short on connection, and the more isolated I felt, the less capable I felt of escaping isolation.  When I did talk to people, I often couldn't listen to them well or engage deeply with them, because I was so overwhelmed by my own sadness and worry, but that's just one of the many vicious cycles of loneliness.  Feeling isolated made me feel unworthy of love which made me feel more isolated.  The thought of calling people I'd long failed to call flooded me with dread which made me less likely to call them and feeling despair made me feel useless, which made me feel more despair.

One of the big challenges of isolation for me is that I start to feel as if the whole thing is meaningless.  Human consciousness is an absolute wonder.  I mean, how wild is it that our mind can conceive of the infinite from within a finite universe?  But when I'm really lonely, I start to feel like my consciousness isn't for anything.  Like, it isn't serving any shared or greater purpose.  I sometimes feel as if my life is just circling its own misery, like a vulture over a carcass, and that pain makes me want to withdraw further from the stupid world with its stupid people who believe in stupid BS, which in turn worsens the pain of meaninglessness and furthers my isolation and so on.

I'm situating this video in the deep past of 20 years ago, but the truth is that a similar feeling of isolation began to pull me under much more recently.  I again started to feel separate from the world and like everything was a sick joke and even though I had friends and family members who loved me, I still felt as if I was floating away from all of them. 

In both cases, these cycles were broken in the end by treating my chronic health problem like a chronic health problem, which, for me, means taking medication and going to therapy regularly, but it also means understanding that loneliness is a problem I need to address actively, by being intentional about finding or re-finding community.  This is hard at first, breaking cycles always is, but it gets easier and it's always worth the trouble.

Some of the communities I've become more involved in are built around a shared enthusiasm, Liverpool Football Club, for instance.  Others are built around activism or around my physical neighborhood.  Quitting the social internet has also helped me to address my loneliness, because I used those platforms so unhealthily, by engaging in superficial connection that left me feeling deeply alone.  

But it is not only IRL communities that can run deep, as I was reminded this weekend.  Although I'm a very introverted person, for me, feelings of meaning and purpose flow from the experience of deep connectedness, of being part of communities that are bigger than me, but nonetheless value and include me.  I hope some of you felt that way during the Project for Awesome this year.  I know that for me, the P4A showed up when I really needed to be reminded that what we can accomplish together is truly cause for hope.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.