A girl traded out a lemonade stand for one that offers psychiatric help for 5¢. A boy approaches whose hair looks like a musical bass cliff knocked on its side. He sits down and asks, “Can you cure loneliness?” She replies, “For a nickel, I can cure anything.” He presses her again, “Can you cure deep-down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no-hope, end-of-the-world, what’s-the-use loneliness?” She screams back, “FOR THE SAME NICKEL?”
For an artist whose work includes figurative photography, painting and short films, one may wonder why I’m quoting the Charlie Brown Valentine special. After all, loneliness isn’t a subject often discussed in our culture. Much like mental illness, there’s a stigma attached to admitting that you’re lonely. Some see it as a label befitting a loser or someone that is damaged and needs to be fixed. Preposterous sentiments considering we all have experienced loneliness in the form of loss, isolation and rejection at some point in our lives.
The importance of talking about loneliness is becoming more clear. John Cacioppo, founder and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, cites one study that shows loneliness can increase your odds of an early death by 45%. That’s a higher risk factor than smoking, obesity or excessive alcohol consumption. He also cites two recent national studies that show that 40% of Americans feel lonely at any give time, a figure that has doubled since the 1980s.
I’ve often feel that art is about building community and giving a voice that connects us to our deepest hopes and fears. This is why I started the Lonely Mythos Project to promote dialogue about loneliness. The goal is to destigmatize loneliness and provide inspiration of how to positively deal with it. Since October 2016, we have posted people’s stories on a blog once a week. Each is paired with a photograph that visually interprets what has been written. While these stories can be difficult to read, we always seek to highlight the hope that is present in any circumstance. This hope lies in our ability to transform our loneliness into an opportunity for personal growth and helping others.
Princess Diana once said that, “Loneliness is the worst pain in this world.” As pain killers go, it’s evident that things like Facebook and Smart Phone addictions merely mask the problem of loneliness. It’s only when people honestly share their stories will we better understand that loneliness is a universal human experience. If you’d like to read about other people’s stories or share your own experience with loneliness, visit the blog at: www.lonelymythos.wordpress.com