Ask yourself: what is one thing my community needs that I could do something about? Does that highway on the edge of town have garbage on it that needs to be picked up? Does the local library need to be painted? These are things almost anyone could organize a group to accomplish head-on, and thus, to bring a group together in positive action.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Duane Gilson. D. Gilson is a writer for ExpertInsuranceReviews.com who has taught writing and popular culture studies at the university level for more than a decade.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
I’m the youngest of eight children, but there’s a 12-year gap between me and my next sibling. So in many ways, I was raised as an only child since they were all out of the house when I was very young. A lot of people might see this as lonely, but I escaped into books. A lot of summer days, my mom would find me in the bathtub atop a pile of pillows with a stack of books and snacks beside me. In a big way, my love of reading is what drew me to becoming a writer.
When I started studying writing seriously in college, I realized the art form was a way for me to connect to the world outside myself — in other words, to be less lonely. Additionally, writing helped me make better sense of the everyday joys and tragedies that happen to everyone.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I both write and teach writing. On my first day of teaching, I was an inexperienced masters student… and only 24 years old! I waited down the hall for my students to enter the classroom so I was awkwardly standing at the front of the room waiting on them. When I finally walked into the room, my foot caught a stray chair and I fell flat my face. My stack of syllabi and textbooks went flying, and when I looked up, my nose was bleeding profusely. Thus, we didn’t even have class that first day. Our next meeting, I was much less nervous and we all laughed about what had happened.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
The world of academia can be stuffy (though it’s certainly not as stuffy as it’s often portrayed in popular culture). And when I was starting out, I loved to send emails full of exclamation points — I’m easily excitable and want to express that excitement to others. When other professors would email back without a single exclamation point, I would take this way too personally, even thinking it meant they didn’t like me. A mentoring colleague finally talked to me about it, and I learned 1) not to use so many exclamation points in professional settings and 2) not to be offended when others don’t communicate the way that I do.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am! I’m finishing up an essay collection about my childhood in a Pentecostal evangelical megachurch and then coming out as queer. I hope that this project helps other queer people coming out of such fundamentalist backgrounds to realize they are not alone.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
My brother committed suicide when I was twelve years old, and I have no doubt this was, at least in part, due to his loneliness and isolation. As a child, I was diagnosed with both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, two conditions that can often lead people to withdraw. As an adult, I’ve chosen a career (writing and teaching) that let’s me both have the alone time I crave while also forcing me to be public for short spurts. As a professional in higher education, too, I’ve gone through a lot of training and done a lot of research on loneliness and mental health.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
- In general, I believe most humans will step in and help another person they see suffering. If we are isolated, there’s a good chance no one will see us suffering and thus, no one can step in to help.
- Loneliness and isolation can lead to or exacerbate many other mental health and physical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and even, it’s been shown, cardio-vascular health, given that isolated people are often less physically active.
- As recent elections have shown, there’s a desire for individuals to see themselves as legitimate victims. Isolation and loneliness further this desire — especially in certain groups (like white cishet men) who are finding their loneliness mirrored to themselves in potentially-dangerous online communities.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
Loneliness leads to isolation, and a group of isolated individuals does not form a community or society at all. When we connect with others, we are often driven to work for the common good. When we don’t, the common good is not a concern.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Technology certainly can help connect us to other people. For instance, I can use Facebook to find events in my area, from festivals to concerts to races. These are all great ways for me to connect to people that I might otherwise not know about. Technology, however, can often make us feel like we are connecting with people in deep ways, when in reality it can serve as a panacea: a false medicine for what we actually need.
- I think we also face a loneliness epidemic because in general, we’re overwhelmed. What started as a 24-hour cable news cycle we could avoid by turning off the television has now become a news cycle that is sending us push notifications on our phone — and during a presidential administration making lots of noise every day, these alerts are seemingly endless. This causes us, often, to withdraw, which leads to loneliness and exhaustion.
- We’re working more than ever, and our work is often so tied to a device: a phone, a tablet, a laptop, etc. In many ways, we might think retreating into ourselves is our only option for unwinding from this constant push to work, but it can also lead to loneliness.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
- Every Monday, write a message — a text, a card, an email — to a person you haven’t talked to in the last month. When I do this, it helps me stay connected to people I care about, which is important to combating loneliness.
- As silly as it may sound, I don’t need to always be engaging with people, but it is healthy for me to be around people. If I’ve been working too long in my office, I’ll take my computer and go to a coffee shop, for instance. Even if I don’t talk to many folks, the smile I exchange and brief conversation I have with a barista is a small gesture of generosity that helps, in even a small way, to combat loneliness.
- I’m a writer, and writing can be pretty isolating. That’s why I make sure I’m part of a regular writing group. Writing groups can be found in almost any community. If one doesn’t exist near you, start one! I also attend writers retreats, which allow groups of writers to come together and work on their craft together.
- Ask yourself: what is one thing my community needs that I could do something about? Does that highway on the edge of town have garbage on it that needs to be picked up? Does the local library need to be painted? These are things almost anyone could organize a group to accomplish head-on, and thus, to bring a group together in positive action.
- As folks age, they statistically read more. Reading can be an isolating activity, but it doesn’t have to be. Join a book club or start a book club!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a storytelling revolution. Sharing stories connects us, and learning to tell our stories helps us feel less isolated.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Britney Spears. I write about her a lot in my work, for starters. But also, as one of the first true celebrities of the digital age, I think she could teach us a lot about how technology can both connect and isolate us.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Find me at dgilson.com or on Twitter @dgilson.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!