Hey there! I’m an Alaskan-born writer in Long Beach, CA who’s driven by curiosity and prone to diving into topics for years, then plunging into a new one (#AuDHD) but most of ’em file under wellness, neurodiversity, personal development, and societal change.
My writing’s been in The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, Tiny Buddha, Leafly, She Knows, Ravishly, and more. I also make other stuff, like art. I’m also a lover of thoughtful conversation, well-written TV, being near water, really great trees, and watching my dog, Foxy Queen, happily freak out when I tell her it’s time to eat.
I hate watching commercials. Hate it. I manage to work around them on most platforms, but I refuse to pay for YouTube no ads because I feel like I don’t watch it enough, but I do watch it for a bit daily, and my goodness the ads can get to me in that tiny window. Oooofta.
Whenever a particularly sell-y commercial barges into my headspace, this newsletter’s subject quote, a lyric, “Get the cool shoe shine!” also comes to mind. To me, the song’s about the absurdity of trends and the way many people almost fall into a trance at the shiny new thing everyone’s talking about.
The world is spinning too fast/ I’m buying lead Nike shoes/ To keep myself tethered/ To the days I’ve tried to lose/ My mama said to slow down/ You must make your own shoes/ Stop dancing to the music/ Of Gorillaz in a happy mood/
They’re overwhelmed by everything moving too fast, buying stuff to feel connected to the life they try to escape, mama says they got to ground – not escape
Keeping my groove on/ They do the bump/ They do the bump/ They do the bump/
They escape anyways…
Here you go!/ Get the cool/ Get the cool shoeshine/ Get the cool/ Get the cool shoeshine/
…to the new thing saying ‘I’ve got the solution!’ while just spinning things faster
To me, “getting the cool shoeshine” is another way of expressing “keeping up with the Jones’,” and while this (often unconscious) pursuit might be good for capitalism; it often leads to having debt and feeling empty, still trying to find the thing that makes it better. Shoeshine is also only used for nice shoes, signaling that you have shoes worthy of shining and the disposable income and time to keep them nice, and shoeshining is a service that signals that you can pay to have someone else sit at your feet and pretty them—like getting a pedicure—so the choice of ‘shoeshine’ as the hip new thing adheres to my theory.
Is the song actually about all this stuff? I don’t know. I think so, but I also thought “Teen Spirit” was about commodification and the silly “_____ is the new black” society encourages, but that one’s actually literal: Cobain apparently wore the songs namesake deodorant and the singer from band Bikini Kill wrote ‘Kurt smells like Teen Spirit’ on his wall, and *ta-da!* inspiration via perspiration, so what do I know about lyric interpretation?
Something I do know is that society feeds us messages about how stuff will improve how we feel in life; but it mostly just leads to a culture that’s obsessed with trends, with far too many people chasing something they’ll never catch up to.
Hope the last fortnight’s treated you well and your world’s not spinning too fast.
This sentence could be interpreted as a compliment, but the tone in which it’s delivered is rarely complimentary. It usually sounds more like an accusation, like we’re faking it or being wimpy. And I get it — we already look pretty normal (though likely unshowered and a bit dazed). Smiling, chatting about anything but our bodily agony — it’s confusing for people on the outside.
I’d like to shed some light on the motivation for this very misunderstood behavior.
1. We Can’t Talk About Our Illnesses All Damn Day.
If I answered “how are you?” with a list of all of the types of physical pain I’m in and other symptoms, I’d never get anything done. Being ill takes up enough of my life — hearing about your hot date or blabbing about finally getting into Six Feet Under is just more fun. Plus, distraction is good. Talking about illness can make someone more aware of their symptoms.
2. To Trick People Into Thinking We’re Competent.
Many of us start doing the whole “healthy person” bit to keep jobs and meet other responsibilities, especially social ones. If we reveal the gravity of what’s going on healthwise, it’s likely to result in others thinking that we can’t handle whatever is on our plate.
3. People Tend To See Us During “Good Hours.”
The pieces of time in a spoonie’s life where they’re rested enough to see other humans is truly time to be treasured. Those golden moments are precious and ought to be savored, which is likely to result in a smile, an expression can be misinterpreted as “nothing’s wrong.”
4. To Cheer Ourselves Up.
Like many, but certainly not all spoonies, I’m a smiler. I’ve always been a smiler, even when it hurts so badly I want to cry. Like many dealing with chronic illness, I consciously work on and for my happiness — and the result is often a smile. You just can’t let pain steal your happiness.
On really crummy days, my smile is 100% faux. I fake it because the world smiles (or scowls) back. And having people return miserable glances is unpleasant. The life of a spoonie can be very isolating, and a day with a few pleasant human interactions can help get one through a long and lonely night of painsomnia — trying to sleep through the pain and failing miserably.
So when you encounter someone with chronic illness and they “don’t look sick,” please just be happy for them! Take advantage of seeing this warrior while they are feeling themselves and not lost in a world of medical chicanery. Remember that seeing a positive expression on a spoonie means that they are strong and trying to get as much out of their day as they possibly can — despite fighting a battle a healthy person can’t even imagine.
Welcome to another Halcyon Tidings, your bi-weekly dose of real but uplifting takes on life, getting through it, and trying to be the best humans we can be. (Also much randomness.) This newsletter’s subject quote, “The fool looks at a finger that points at the sky,” reminds me of the film, Look Up, where society disregards an urgent apocalyptic warning because of how it’s delivered; there’s far too much focus on society’s messengers instead of their actual messages, and when we zero in on people or presentation instead of substance we wind up missing the point.
The quote seems to be adapted from the words of Chinese sage, Confucius: “When a wise man points at the moon the imbecile examines the finger.”
I consulted Reddit for modern interpretations on this ancient wisdom— Yellowsnow2 explained, “It means the imbecile will ignore the message by focusing on the messenger. You see this all the time when debating politics on reddit. This is also known as an ad hominem [attack of the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person making an argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself].” Or, as RogueRoamer mused, – “Don’t confuse scientific models with the aspects of reality they are modeling. Don’t confuse religion with the true highest properties of Being. Don’t confuse your sensory inputs with the real world. Don’t confuse the messenger with the message.” Finally, grearzilla hilariously put it, “When I point at a toy for my smart dog, she looks where I’m pointing and gets it. When I point at a toy for my dumb dog, he stares at my finger like it owes him something.”
May we all be wise enough to look towards the toy instead of just staring at the finger.
* SUBJECT/TITLE QUOTE: The subject’s quote, “The fool looks at a finger that points at the sky,” is from Amélie, a beautiful film about a likely-autistic (imo) woman on a quest to see if kindness can make a difference—finding adventure, connection, and love along the way. *
This news wasn’t the only ingredient, but I literally had a nervous breakdown after learning that this was happening in my own country. It was like my brain just couldn’t process such horror happening now, here, in the United States. I think that horror is part of why the torture has been allowed to continue — people have a hard time believing it’s really that bad because it’s just too much, it speaks too loudly about the kind of things we’re still secretly allowing in our society.
But it’s real. These people are real.
And you can help make it stop — anyone reading this! — but especially those of you living in Massachusetts (or who can pass the news onto people who do).
In MA, there is currently proposed critical state-level legislation that could finally stop the torture, an amendment ending the legality of causing people with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities pain in order to punish or teach them. If passed, bill H. 180 will ban aversive techniques like those used at JRC, banning procedures that cause “physical pain, including, but not limited to, hitting, pinching, and electric shock” and denying “reasonable sleep, food, shelter, bedding, bathroom facilities, and any other aspect expected of a humane existence” — atrocious treatment that should have never been permitted, or at least been put to a stop a long, long, time ago.
Hopes have been raised with similar bills before, but the state legislature has tragically failed to get them passed. It’s time for leaders to take this issue as seriously and get it done. To help raise pressure, support, and awareness, the Autistic Self Advocacy Center (ASAN) is organizing a Day of Action on May 22nd, something people in MA and beyond could help make a success.
Here’s the scoops:
Firstly (since there are more of you), if you aren’t a resident of Massachusetts, share this call to action soon and frequently! Get on social media to share links/info — ensuring that you’ve tagged #Massachusetts as well as #StopTheShock so it has a better chance at reaching resident eyes. Extra doses on the 22nd. And encourage MA residents to participate to take a couple of minutes to contact their senators about this crucially important bill. (And keep sounding the #StopTheShock alarm after the 22nd, the FDA is someone else that can act and just…isn’t.)
My name is [your full name] , and I am from [your city] . I am a constituent of [Senator/Representative NAME]. I’m calling to ask [Senator/Representative NAME] to support H.180 to ban aversive conditioning, or using pain to punish people. Aversive conditioning is harmful and not effective. Plus, Massachusetts is home to the only institution in the country to use electric shock devices for aversive conditioning on students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a practice which has been classified as torture by the United Nations. This bill would ban that and keep all people with disabilities safe. Can I count on the [Senator/Representative]’s support for this bill?
This Day of Action will also be an in-person event at the Massachusetts State House! So, if you’re able, please join local protestors on May 22nd to speak with legislators’ offices in-person and raise awareness about the fight to #StopTheShock. ASAN provided this link to learn more and register.
Whether you’re in Massachusetts or on the moon, please, please, please make some noise about #StopTheShock.
Isn’t shame the worst? Knowing that you behaved in a way that hurt someone else, or yourself, or a project’s success, etc.—it sucks, it can make you feel worthless. And since it’s such a bad feeling, it often winds up being repressed by denying responsibility for one’s fuck-up, leading to more bad behavior (like blaming someone else), which just creates more of that shame.
The antidote to shame is kindness, exhibiting compassion and consideration, something that applies to oneself as well as others. Firstly there’s self-compassion, looking at your mistakes without damning yourself, recognizing that messing up is just a part of life…while also taking responsibility and learning the lesson. (Though it’s important to note shame isn’t always earned.) As for kindness to others, it feels good to help and it’s empowering to have a positive effect, which leads to more do-gooding, which means doing fewer things to feel shitty about. Don’t underestimate the power of acts of kindness.
As the song from the subject suggests, it’s natural for kindness to know no shame (as “the seasons know exactly when to change”).
While Autism Awareness Month may have started with good intentions, every April my autism support groups are flooded with upset reactions to Autism Awareness posts. While these posts mean well, because society’s conditioned people to beware of autism, they usually come out infantilizing, condescending, or even dehumanizing, advocating for the end of autism…which they don’t seem to realize means the end of autistic people.
In the decades since 1970, when the Autism Society first established Autism Awareness Week (which then evolved into Month), we’ve learned a lot about being autistic, and it’s important that the language we use reflects this. The Autism Society recently shifted away from using the term “awareness” by renaming the event Autism Acceptance Month. Unfortunately, the public really hasn’t caught on.
This may not seem like a big deal, but for people who are autistic, language matters. Fifty years of promoting “Autism Awareness Month” creates “real barriers for Autistics to be seen as more than a stereotype,” writes researcher Maddy Dever in the Canadian Journal of Autism Equity. We should instead, she says, aim to move from “words and thoughts that cause exclusion and segregation to words that promote inclusion and accommodation. Changing our language changes the way we think, changing the way we think, changes the way we act, and our actions can bring about change that will allow Autistics to thrive.”
Autism is a descriptor for neurological differences that result in our experiencing and processing the world differently. These differences cause us to react, think, and behave in alternative ways. Autism is a neurotype—not a disease. But the “awareness” framework can make people think it is. When people advocate for “curing” autism, they’re actually rooting for “no more autistic people.” The conversation can quickly devolve into one about eradicating us, and that’s not okay.
There are many meaningful ways to integrate us into society, but first society has got to desist in trying to get us to “stop acting weird.”
An autistic life is worthy of living. Even if it did make physiological sense, I wouldn’t want to be cured of being autistic—I want to be cured of the things that cause autistic burnout and our terrifying suicide rates. There are many meaningful ways to integrate us into society, but first society has got to desist in trying to get us to “stop acting weird.”
When society has such homogenized expectations of “normal,” it results in people either being excluded or encouraged to hide their differentness. With autistic people, this behavior of “masking” can result in autistic burnout, leading to an increase in problems including extreme sensory sensitivities, communication troubles, meltdowns, and debilitating exhaustion—all of which, ironically, can result in the inability to mask or, for many, participate in society at all.
These are just some of the reasons why the autistic community advocates for an acceptance over awareness frame: it emphasizes accepting that we’re different, learning what autism really is, and letting us be us.
The switch from ‘awareness’ to ‘acceptance’ is part of a larger neurodiversity movement that views brain differences as not inherently lacking or wrong—just different. And beyond that, it’s part of the social model of disability, which “identifies systemic barriers, derogatory attitudes, and social exclusion, which make it difficult or impossible for disabled people to attain their valued functionings.” It’s time for society to make room for more of humanity, and switching to Autism Acceptance Month is a part of that.
Additionally, the current popular verbiage has other problematic aspects. Autism Awareness Month may have started out with intentions of truly helping autistic people, but it’s become the biggest income booster for the autism industrial complex—a litany of groups like Autism Speaks that claim to help autistic people, but are known in the community for doing the opposite.
There is another way: It’s time to actually listen to autistic people about what we need to better manage our easily-overwhelmed but also uniquely equipped brains.
Here are some tips to get you started on being a part of our societal transition to autism acceptance:
Know that different doesn’t mean worse. Don’t dismiss or judge people for needing sensory gear (headphones, tinted glasses, etc.), stimming (repeated movements, fidgeting, etc.), needing mobility assistance (cane, walker, etc.), requiring different ways of communicating (nonverbal, requiring text, etc.), or other differences people often incorrectly associate with lack of intellect or competence.
Take disability accommodations seriously. Similarly, when someone needs a disability accommodation, that doesn’t mean they “think they’re special,” it means they have different needs. The ADA may require employers to provide reasonable accommodation in the workplace, but in practice it’s much trickier, with pushback from bosses and rolled eyes from coworkers. It’s hard enough to have different needs, and it’s harder still to ask for accommodations, so for the love of god, don’t make it even worse—and call out anyone who does.
Don’t get offended when someone asks why. Some of us need to know why in order to do the best job we can. Autism acceptance advocate Callum Stephen summed it up impeccably: “One of the best things you can do for autistic people is explaining why. Why you want us to do a thing (X way); why something isn’t possible; why you’re upset with us; etc. We may not intuit the ‘why,’ and knowing helps us to contextualize and act with purpose and direction.”
Ask questions instead of assuming the worst. One of the biggest myths around autism is that we lack empathy, but to us it looks like non-autistic people often lack empathy. Autistic sociologist and autism researcher Damian Milton described this issue as the “double empathy problem,” which proposes that “the social and communication difficulties present in autistic people when socializing with non-autistic people are at least partly due to a lack of mutual understanding between autistic people and non-autistic people—i.e., most autistic people lack understanding of non-autistic people whereas most non-autistic people lack understanding of autistic people.” Autistic people are often inherently on different wavelengths, so to speak, so more communication is often needed to accomplish mutual understanding.
Don’t assume you know what autism “looks” like; that’s not a thing. While some of us move with tics like twitching or blinking, lots of us have been taught to mask, and may seem “normal” or different in a way that’s hard to put your finger on. As we say in the community, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”
Speak up when you hear outdated language. Allies are crucial in helping change to really take root, there’s immense power in speaking up for individuals not given a sufficient voice in society—so, please, correct people who’re still saying “awareness” and fill them in on why the shift is needed.
Ask the government to adopt “acceptance” terminology.Make a public comment to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee and encourage them to revise the outdated and harmful “awareness” terminology and make Autism Acceptance Month official in the United States.
We need everyone to know they should not write us off. In addition to desperately needing understanding and support, we have a lot to contribute—and that’s exactly what acceptance will help us do.
This week I turned in an article that references something called the ‘double empathy problem’, a concept that details how breakdowns in mutual understanding happen between people with very different experiences and perspectives—the autistic autism researcher Damian Milton coined it in reference to allistic (not-autistic) and autistic communication, but he also describes it generally as something that can “occur when people of very differing dispositions attempt to interact.”
Who and how we are affects the way we see things, it shapes our perception. The way a situation is viewed by someone can completely depend on where they’re coming from…and this isn’t always easy to remember.
So much of life is subjective, it’s based on one’s feelings and life experience, my ‘common knowledge’ isn’t the same as yours. The subject quote of this fortnite’s newsletter, “‘Falcon hood?!’ ‘Raid on Entebbe?!,’” is from a scene in an HBO show where two friends get in a shouting match over whose conversation reference is least relatable. (Entebbe, if you ask me.) What we know about the world has only been informed by the bits of it we’ve learned about and/or experienced; yet so often we expect to immediately understand and be understood, which can be frustrating.
Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes isn’t possible without questions, without working to understand where the other person is coming from. We can never know what’s missing from our awareness, we are blind to the things we don’t know we don’t know (something I *try* to remind myself of when feeling exasperated af by others’ actions that I just don’t understand).
So, may we all find the strength and wisdom to acknowledge when we might be making presumptions about a situation or person(s), as well as the curiosity, articulation, and compassion it takes to succeed in mutual understanding.
* SUBJECT/TITLE QUOTE: “Falcon hood?!” and “Raid on Entebbe?!” are shouted between Zach Galifianakis and Jason Schwartzman in the dazedly clever show Bored to Death (2009)—hope you had a happy April 20th! 💚 *
For many suffering from chronic illness, cannabis is a godsend. From those dealing with the wrath of inflamed digestive systems, to the ones combating global musculoskeletal pain, and the millions who report that the agony in their heads is just the beginning of their symptoms—cannabis can help these fighters with their load of physical woes.
The ECS is present in every major bodily system, which is how its dysfunction can theoretically cause such a variety of conditions—and how cannabis manages to treat them.
But why? To explain, we need to back up a bit. You probably know that cannabinoids (like the popular CBD and THC) interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), and that our bodies produce natural endocannabinoids that work with the ECS receptors to maintain health in all the other bodily systems. But do you know what happens when we don’t produce enough of these endocannabinoids?
Neither does science; not really, anyways. But Ethan Russo M.D., Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institutehas theorized that clinical endocannabinoid deficiency could be the cause behind irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, and other treatment-resistant syndromes. The ECS is present in every major bodily system, which is how its dysfunction can theoretically cause such a variety of conditions—and how cannabis manages to treat them.
These conditions, along with others that fall into this realm, are generally thought to be incurable and chronic, usually lasting for the rest of the sufferer’s life. I spoke with Dr. Russo about this matter, and he offered hope for chronic illness fighters, saying that since these conditions are generally acquired (rather than congenital, from birth), it seems to suggest an ECS disturbance is behind the illness. So hopefully it can be reversed in some fashion.
What is clinical endocannabinoid deficiency?
The theory of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) explains that these health conditions are due to a deficiency in endocannabinoid levels, akin to the way neurotransmitter deficiencies are behind other illnesses—like serotonin deficiency in depression. In other words, the theory posits that the cause of these syndromes is an insufficient amount of endocannabinoids functioning in the ECS.
The theory was first posed by Dr. Russo in 2001. Since then, he’s published several more well-cited papers on the topic.
“The vast majority of physicians just have no background in the ECS. It’s just not being taught.”
Dr. Russo’s 2016 paper, Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered, revisited this issue after substantial evidence for the theory was recorded. Firstly, statistically significant differences of the endocannabinoid anandamide were recorded in the cerebrospinal fluid of migraine sufferers. (Similar results have also been found in fibromyalgia fighters.) Decreased ECS function was found in another condition thought to fall into the CED rubric, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And clinical data has shown that cannabinoid treatment and lifestyle changes aimed to promote the health of the ECS produced evidence for decreased pain, improved sleep, and other benefits in fighters—yet more evidence linking ECS dysfunction to these conditions.
From the paper: “If endocannabinoid function were decreased, it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep among the almost universal physiological systems subserved by the endocannabinoid system (ECS).”
The CED theory also posits that such deficiencies could be present due to genetic reasons or be the result of a disease or injury.
The study primarily focuses on IBS, migraine, and fibromyalgia—all of which involve increased pain sensations in the affected areas—but disorders that may fall under the CED rubric include: PTSD, glaucoma, cystic fibrosis, types of neuropathy, phantom limb pain, neonatal failure to thrive, infantile colic, menstrual pain, repetitive miscarriages, hyperemesis gravidarum, bipolar disease, and many others. Many of these diseases are little understood and remain treatment resistant.
How to improve ECS “tone”
Unfortunately, there’s no magic-pill solution here, but there are methods to improve your ECS “tone,” which is the term used to describe the functioning of this little-understood system. Dr. Russo had some advice on the matter—and it’s all about taking good care of yourself to help ensure that the ECS doesn’t get out of balance. Here’s some tips gleaned from his wisdom:
Heal your gut: There is increasing evidence that the gut microbiome, and the levels of bacteria within it, are a major regulator of the ECS. People should avoid unnecessary antibiotics, as these damage the natural microbiome balance in the gut. Also try pro- and prebiotics to get that biome in shape.
Eat right: Pro-inflammatory foods, such as fried foods with trans-fats, or too many calories in general are bad for the ECS. It’s also important to cultivate consciousness about what you’re eating—how you were taught might not be best what’s best for your body now.
Exercise: Sedentary behavior is harmful to the ECS, and exercise is essential to improving tone. However, many fighters of chronic illness will experience a flare in symptoms if they push it, so a low-impact aerobic program is recommended for many.
Look at family health: ECS dysfunction isn’t genetic like eye color, but there are genetic tendencies, so be extra careful if there are others in your family who are fighters of chronic illness. Also be mindful about unhealthy habits you may share.
Sleep well and stress less: The ECS loves balance, and a body that’s stressed out and unrested is great at throwing all kinds of systems out-of-whack. So get those eight hours and get real about managing stress.
Dr. Russo says that there’s no “cure” for these conditions, but following these guidelines offers the opportunity for a major intervention in symptoms—which can look a whole lot like a cure.
As for what’s next, Dr. Russo is working on getting studies funded and running to provide further information on this topic, especially in relation to ECS and the gut’s microbiome. He’s also working on a diagnostic test for fibromyalgia sufferers—something that would be life-changing for those searching for a diagnosis, or who need to prove that they really have it.
And for now, he says that there needs to be more awareness about the ECS.
“The vast majority of physicians just have no background in the ECS,” he said. “Despite it being discovered almost 30 years ago, there’s been very little uptake of it in med school curricula—it’s just not being taught, and whether that’s an unfortunate association with the word ‘cannabis’ is unclear. But clearly we have a knowledge deficit in regard to it, and until we rectify that we won’t have the ability to treat our patients more effectively.”
So the next time you’re at the doctor, whether you suffer from a chronic illness, or not—think about asking your doctor what you can do to improve the health of your endocannabinoid system, just to see if they know what it is. (And maybe put some pressure on them to find out.)
“The antidote to loneliness isn’t just being around random people indiscriminately, the antidote to loneliness is emotional security.” ~Benedict Wells
Emotional security. The feeling of being at home in the presence of another. Safe to be who you are, good times or bad. Feeling seen and seeing the other clearly, accepting the other’s whole lovely mess. It’s good stuff, and it can be hard to find.
In fact, ever-increasing loneliness stats have led many experts to describe the problem as epidemic. You might assume it was caused by the pandemic, but it was a crisis long before lockdowns and social distancing.
In 2018, Cigna conducted a survey of U.S. adults and found that loneliness was at 54 percent, already at epidemic levels. Since then, it shot up to 61 percent in 2019, with three in five Americans reporting feeling lonely, and now sits at 58 percent—we’ve got ourselves a big problem. And it’s not just the fact that it’s unpleasant to feel disconnected from others and not have anyone to talk to; research also shows it’s also bad for our health.
As someone who went thirty-seven years not knowing I’m autistic, for most of my life I’ve hidden a lot of who I am (masking), making it impossible to feel truly connected and seen. So, despite formerly frequent socializing, I’ve been exceedingly familiar with feeling lonely for most of my life.
However, when health issues took me out of the day-to-day world altogether in 2015, I was surprised at how much worse it got. At first, rarely interacting with others was largely a much-needed relief, but a few months in, things got dark. I was communicating with the people I knew so little—sometimes it’d be months—that I felt ungrounded, like I could just disappear, or die, and no one would even know I was gone.
When I did get to talk to the people who I then considered close, it often felt like I wasn’t really allowed to talk about my life anymore because it’d become too sad. (So cringe. Positive vibes only.)
Even with the support of a therapist, feeling so alone in what I was going through made me feel like my life didn’t matter. And it’s not that I was associating with awful humans, it’s just how we’re socially conditioned. Society prioritizes seeming-pleasantness to a severe degree, and as a result most folks have no idea how to hold space for the hard stuff. We just aren’t taught to be emotionally equipped for providing that kind of support; instead, the general example is to repress and deflect.
It’s like we’ve decided compassion is inefficient and awkward, instead honoring placid insensitivity as a virtue. And, as a result, people feel like it’s not safe to talk about what’s really going on in their lives, what they’re really thinking and feeling. This, of course, creates loneliness.
Eventually, after half a decade of dealing with severe health and life trauma in isolation, I was diagnosed with autism, which was amazing in many ways… but also a core-shaking thing to handle with only the support of online groups and a telehealth therapist who had dozens of other clients. It was too much to process, and I had a nervous breakdown.
Afterward, I accepted that I needed to work harder to find people I could regularly and, especially, authentically connect with. It took some time, but I eventually found aligned friends via reaching out to people I didn’t actually know all that well (yet) but had met through very authentic circumstances.
Routinely talking and connecting with them has changed my life. I’m still homebound for health reasons, and it’s still hard, but despite still being without human company like 95 percent of the time, I don’t feel like I could just float away anymore; I now feel warmly and safely connected, even seen and understood.
Honestly assessing if I had people with the bandwidth to connect regularly, that also know how to hold the kind of safe-feeling emotional space I need, was the first step to having consistent connection with people who let me be my whole self; relationships that do provide that precious and hard-to-find feeling of emotional security—progressively replacing my loneliness with connected perspective, understanding, and acceptance.
If your honest self-assessment comes to the same conclusion as mine—“I need to confront this loneliness thing”—these sorts of authentic-connection-seeking efforts can do the same for you.
8 Ways to Combat the Loneliness Epidemic
1. Honestly assess your needs.
Do you feel lonely? What do you need to feel socially connected? Which interactions leave you feeling drained and which ones lift you up, making you feel less alone? Do you feel safe to be your whole self with the people in your life? What are some characteristics of those who’ve made you feel safe?
2. Reach out (and reach back).
Once you’ve got an idea of what you need, reach out to someone who makes you feel relaxed, safe to just be you, and see if they want to catch up. Maybe they’ll be down for it, and maybe they won’t, but keep trying.
If you don’t really know anyone you feel safe to be authentic with, try joining like-minded activity groups or using a platonic friend-finding app. And if someone who seems safe reaches out, don’t let fear stop you from reaching back.
3. Set and respect boundaries.
What you need from someone and what they’re able to provide might not mesh. It’s important to understand that some of us are comfortable with having open, potentially vulnerable, conversations, and others prefer to stick to more shallow waters. And the same is true for the reverse.
It’s okay to prioritize time with those who connect in a harmonious way and also to distance yourself where needed. Life is pretty demanding and people can only do so much, so try not to take it personally if people can’t meet what you need, and let others (gently) know when you can’t meet theirs.
4. Practice ‘holding space.’
Make sure you’re present enough to really listen and ensure you’ve understood and/or been understood (we rely far too much on easily misinterpreted nonverbal communication).
Learning to stay in the moment—resisting deflection, going into judgment or fix-it mode—is crucial to creating authentic connection in your life (and that includes holding space for your own honest, but difficult, emotions).
It can be scary to hold space, and/or ask someone to, but we need to get over our societal fear of awkward experiences; isn’t it worth it when it could lead to connection, growth, and clarity?
5. Resist the pressure to lean on small talk.
It can be tempting to stick to trivial matters, but it’s not without harm. I concur with the take on small talk that Natasha Lyonne shared on an early February episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers:
“I don’t believe in it. I would say I aggressively don’t like it. I think it’s damaging to society as a whole… it’s like John Lennon said, just gimme some truth. I think it’s really dangerous because when you ask a person ‘How are you?’ their only option is to lie aggressively, right? Society says you’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, I’m good’ and keep it moving, but you’re not good, are you?”
It’s isolating that we’re expected to talk in pleasantries, especially since it often happens even in relationships considered close.
6. Gossip doesn’t count as connection.
In the same interview, Meyers fights for small talk as a segue into shit-talk, and Lyonne suggests that maybe instead of talking about other people they could segue into some other talk (she suggests inanimate objects, which I don’t hate).
Our society depends on gossip far too much. People very often rely on it to judge another’s trustworthiness, a fact that is manipulated all the time. And if you’ve ever played the game “telephone,” you know it’s not exactly a science to depend on hearsay.
Real conversations, asking direct questions, can be intimidating—but it’s a hell of a lot better than writing someone off because of what so-in-so told so-in-so. Also, gossip isn’t connection. It might feel like fleeting togetherness à la “we hate them,” but you know your shite-talking cohort’s talking about you as well. It’s fake. If gossip’s the primary mode of convo, you’re just flapping jaws.
7. Reflect on and articulate your feels.
When we don’t understand why we feel alone, it makes it much harder to address, so it’s unfortunate that introspection is underrated in our society (sometimes even ridiculed, which is revealing).
Gaining emotional awareness and being able to express our feelings is key to reducing loneliness. To quote sociological researcher Brené Brown, “The more difficult it is for us to articulate our experiences of loss, longing, and feeling lost to the people around us, the more disconnected and alone we feel.”
When we don’t have the words to describe our emotional experience, emotional communication becomes foreign—but by gaining emotional awareness and vocabulary, that kind of connection becomes possible.
Crucially, we must know that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that we feel, as many of us are taught that emotions like anger or fear aren’t okay. They are. Using tools like the emotion wheel, journaling, and therapy can be of great assistance, as well as opening up to trusted others and holding space when they open up to you.
8. Know (and love) yourself to connect authentically.
Finding relationships where I felt supported the way I needed to be involved a lot more time getting to know myself than I thought it would; tons of self-reflection and, ironically, solitude were necessary for me to find the self-acceptance it takes to have any shot at finding authentic support.
To again quote Brené Brown, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
As far as how to get started on fostering self-love, I think all love grows from appreciation, something many of us find hardest when it’s pointed in our own direction. Appreciate your efforts to choose growth by reading articles on a website like this over mindless scrolling, or reaching out for connection instead of your favorite escape. And acknowledge your needs in addition to your efforts. You deserve love (the whole you).
Self-reflection and cultivating emotionally secure relationships inherently involves vulnerability, but our social norms dictate staying away from that—safe in the shallows of small talk, leaving the depths to be explored in fifty-minute therapy slots by a complete stranger who won’t have the same security with you (if you’re lucky enough to have the coverage).
While therapy can be very helpful, emotional support shouldn’t primarily be found at a price as one of many clients on a therapist’s roster. We need to have the emotional tools to express our feelings and support another’s.
And, in addition to our individual efforts toward authentic connection, we, as a society, need to recognize the costs of mass loneliness and prioritize having a populace that knows how to be there for each other in good times and bad. It’s time to learn how to allow space for authentic connection in our lives and relationships. We need it, we deserve it, and we can do it.
Here’s some of my published writing around the internet. Generally, I tend to focus on topics in the arena of health, personal development, and societal change, garnering bylines with MindBodyGreen, SheKnows, Tiny Buddha, and Ravishly, among others. A couple specific areas I’ve hyper-focused on are exploring the science, culture, and industry of cannabis at Leafly, Huffington Post, and Civilized—as well as earning an engaged 4.6k followers writing about growth and autism on Medium. I do hope you enjoy it. ★
(If you’re interested in content and copywriting services, please check out my portfolio here.)