May 4, 2020
By: Lisa Crawford Watson|Monterey Herald
Gin Weathers moves through her Carmel home with the efficiency of someone who has had time to clean, organize, rearrange. She also sings, journals, and dances like nobody’s watching. Still, sometimes, she gets lonely.
The Realtor, who is used to the socialization built into her life by working with her team, interacting with clients, and getting together with friends, has been reduced to hanging out with her tiny dog, Zoe.
Isolation is keeping us well, but for many who live alone, who are “sheltering solo,” it doesn’t feel good.
“I love having time to myself, and I’m so happy I live here, but I’m also realizing this is hard by myself,” Weathers said. “I feed off others’ energy. Now, I have to motivate myself. I have no one to inspire me or collaborate with. Something amuses me, and I’ve got no one to share it with. Sometimes I enjoy the solitude, but other times, it’s a phenomenon to be so alone.”
It’s important to differentiate between aloneness and solitude, says Carmel therapist Manfred Melcher, who holds a master’s in social work and is a licensed clinical social worker. Solitude is often a chosen state of being, he says, something that enriches us, deepens our experience of life. People who value it, see it as a source of insight, strength.
“Loneliness or feeling alone is another beast,” Melcher said. “It’s not often something we choose. Whether we’re in a relationship, a family, a crowd, or on our own, if interactions are not meeting our emotional needs, we can experience loneliness. The effect can be subjective distress, as we deal with what we have versus what we want.”
Perhaps John Steinbeck said it best, when he portrayed loneliness through the soliloquy on isolation he crafted for “Crooks,” the stable hand and only black man on the ranch in Of Mice and Men.
“A guy sets alone out here at night, maybe readin’ books or thinkin’ … and he’s got no one to tell him what’s so and what ain’t so … Maybe if he sees somethin’, he can’t turn to some other guy to ask him if he sees it too … A guy needs somebody to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody … a guy gets too lonely, an’ he gets sick.”
Weathers has suddenly gotten really good at Facetime, engaging nieces and nephews from afar. She texts and calls clients and colleagues, she gets out and walks through town, and she’s continuing to pursue a remote form of real estate. Yet she also feels the effects of social distancing.
She’s not alone.
Mind your own light
“Social isolation can trigger strong emotions, and shelter-in-place is exactly that,” Melcher said. “For those living alone, this creates compounded isolation because they don’t have the comfort of someone being there. What we call the ‘quiet presence’ of someone is really comforting.
“The antidote for loneliness is the comfort of self. This is defined differently for every person – I have my music, while others have their interests. Find what brings you comfort.”
Melcher says, at a time like this, we are called to be with ourselves, to “mind our own light,” as his wife Sarah says, which means to foster our own wellbeing, so we can reach out to care for others.
Elizabeth Murray, an artist, author, gardener, photographer, teacher, singer, sage, is based in Monterey but is accustomed to moving throughout the world. Until now.
“I am so used to connecting with others,” she said. “Besides my dog, I don’t get to see or touch anybody. The only time I see humans is when I walk the neighborhood. I’m trying to stay present, but when I think about it, I get worried. So, I engage my mind in creative ways. I’m taking classes via Zoom (a video conference tool); I think Zoom has become an important way for people to connect.”
Murray, a member of the “Wholehearted Community Choir,” gathers with more than 150 members to sing uplifting songs, via Zoom, twice a week. She’s making videos to inspire people to spend time in nature, make a journal, write down their gratitude. And she hosted her birthday party via Zoom, inviting friends from around the world to bring their drinks, poetry, blessings, songs, toasts, humor, food to the party.
She also spent Easter Sunday making masks for first-responders. The city of Monterey needed 500 masks, so Murray, with 20 neighbors she’d never met, sewed and delivered some 600 masks.
“It takes discipline not to get depressed,” she said. “You have to be rigorous about it. This is not just to get through this time; this is life-review time. How am I contributing to the earth, to society; how can I be kinder? We have to refuel ourselves so we can give. I need to be able to manage my loneliness and vulnerability because it’s not about just me; it’s about this state, this country, the world.”
Patricia McDermott, a marriage and family therapist, started her social distancing early, after falling and fracturing her neck, last November. A month after she returned to her Monterey office, the shelter-in-place order went into effect.
McDermott says she doesn’t mind being alone. But she does access an expansive community of friends and family – among them six children and 11 grandchildren – via Skype, Facetiming and Zoom. She also takes a free yoga class, online, through the Monterey Public Library.
“I think the people who are having the hardest time living alone,” she said, “are those who don’t know how to use an iPhone or the Internet, or how to get on Zoom, so they can connect, virtually, with others. It is the lack of connection that contributes to loneliness.”
In February, Melcher and McDermott gave a talk on loneliness at the Carmel Foundation, where 60 people, men and women, showed up. Two weeks later, shelter-in-place went into effect.
“Not having access to others and to the things that structure our lives forms a foundation for loneliness,” Melcher said. “So, create as much structure as possible. Make sure you don’t have a blank day ahead. Plan every hour of your day, and then work the plan.”
Senior loan officer MJ Viglizzo, calls sheltering in her Salinas home “solitary confinement.” Used to riding a Peloton bike, swimming, and teaching yoga at Chamisal Tennis and Fitness Club, she says she might go a little crazy if she weren’t teaching yoga to her faithful students, via Zoom.
“We get a lot of fun interruptions from cats and kids,” she said. “I’m so glad we can still do yoga together. Otherwise, my house is clean and organized, I’m cooking a lot, and my big outing for the week is going to the market. Who knew my highlight in life would be strategic grocery shopping?”
Judy Metz, who is accustomed to living alone, is not as lonely as she is bored. She’s used to getting up before the birds to go swimming at Carmel Valley Athletic Club, to meeting friends for lunch, going shopping – all the activities that enable her to connect with others.
“My big outing was taking my dog to the vet,” she said. “I have a house full of old books but nothing to read. What helps most is when I walk the dog and the neighbors are out. We all chat with each other from behind our masks, at 6 feet away. It is so great to see people and talk with them, to have those connections.”
Real estate broker Paul Brocchini also is used to getting up in the dark and going to the gym to join the early birds – a practice he’s maintained for nearly 40 years. When he’s not busy organizing his home, addressing deferred maintenance, and satisfying client needs, he walks, early in the morning, along a very scenic route through Carmel, where he often sees his fellow gym buddies, from a distance.
“We’re so fortunate to be sheltering here,” he said, “where there is space and such opportunity to get out and walk, breathe fresh air, and take in all the natural beauty of our community.”