The noise of isolation

Towards the end of last week, people around the UK and the USA were beginning to increase their social distancing and self-isolation practices, with many people moving to remote working. It all increased again this week so that by Friday most of the people I know who do office-based work were home. In fact, offices around the two countries were basically telling their people to stay home. Work, but stay home. After all, it’s the best way we have at the moment to slow the spread of COVID19.

All that isolation and remote working means that people are adopting new-to-them technologies to stay in touch with colleagues, family, and friends. People are trying out so many new communications tools that my entire world seems to be filled with pings and dings and bells and whistles. They’re going off all day, every day, and it’s driving me a bit crazy! (And don’t get me started on people who are using the tools “incorrectly”. Here’s hoping they learn quickly!)

To be clear, I am excited to see people reaching out through technology. I mean let’s face it: My entire academic career has been built on online communications and social media use! It is so nice to see how technology is helping to bring people closer together and to help people to collaborate in new and exciting ways.

But I am starting to get overwhelmed by the noise of isolation now.

After nearly 11 years of widowhood, I have learned to live a fairly isolated and quiet life. I have learned how to cope with days and days of near-silence, and I can go 2-3 weeks without face-to-face human interactions. It was hard at first, but over the years silence became a big part of my life. And I have (mostly) accepted this, despite the loneliness that the silence can cause at times.

Because I have grown so accustomed to silence, I now need it. Not all the time, but I do find that I must have a bit of silence each week. Ideally, I will have a bit of silence every day, but at the very least I like to have a day or two all to myself.

Right now, however, the silence is hard to find. And I think that’s because all of those people who are used to having daily, face-to-face interactions with other humans are now struggling to cope. Some of them are worried about loneliness. Some are worried about boredom and some might be worried about the effects of isolation on their mental health. Which means that people are reaching out to others. A lot. They’re messaging and videoing and social media-ing and just generally communicating as much as they can.

And the noise is deafening!

For the first few days, I tried to participate as much as possible because I could see that others were struggling, and I thought that maybe I would find a bit of solace in the increased human interaction. But what I have found instead is that I am overwhelmed because I haven’t had a day’s silence; I haven’t had time to just sit and be alone.

In fact, today I was so overwhelmed that I have been making excuses for why I can’t join this chat or that chat or the next chat. It’s almost like all of the excuses I used to have for why I couldn’t attend this pub night or that party…

I am hoping that the noise dies down a bit over the coming days, especially as people begin to get used to this new way of living. But I am also very aware of how painful silence can be, more so for people who are living alone or are already experiencing feelings of isolation. So, I will be reaching out to people over the next few weeks and I will be here for anyone who wants to talk. Even if that means I must take on some extra noise.

But for now, I am turning off all the alerts for the evening and I am going to relax so that I can revel in the silence that I have learned to love.

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