There’s been some strange realisations during this lockdown. The main one being my wife’s hair is not what she’s claimed it has been for the last 21 years. Maybe the spike in divorce rates in Wuhan after their lockdown should have served as a warning to the rest of the world! My kids are great, but dear god I look forward to a time when schools can open safely. I miss going for coffee. Yes I can make coffee at home, but the joy of going to a coffee shop is being there, the aroma, the sound of milk being steamed, getting greeted by a smiling barista, and the “people watching”. Sitting down drinking a creamy flat white after the school run, while my wife thinks I’m at work, yes we all have secrets. In a world that now necessitates social distancing we may have realised how much we can accomplish without the fuss of meeting in person. But overindulging in food and drink accompanied by friends on zoom will never be the same as sitting in a nice restaurant or standing at a bar. Ultimately facetime, Instagram and WhatsApp still leaves us feeling out of touch and out of sorts. It would be easy to write this time off as a chance to wind down, get fitter, catch up on reading, learn a new language and try some new recipes ….. all the fluffy, happy clappy stuff saturating social media. But with this lockdown comes some harsh realities of isolation.
We’re not designed for “social distancing”. We didn’t evolve to be physically separated from other people, face to face interaction and contact is at the core of our lives. It’s unnatural, but more than that, it’s unhealthy. Evolution has fashioned us to be social creatures. From the time of infancy, we are aware and attuned to those around us, first our caregivers, later to our peers and then to the larger community. Friends are good for us; those who have strong friendships experience less stress, recuperate more quickly from heart attacks and are likely to live longer than the companionless. They are even less vulnerable to the common cold.
Runners are accustomed to being alone, they look forward to it. Running is the opportunity to be uninterrupted, nobody else’s thoughts or words invade. It is an assured space away from a world where it’s becoming increasingly strange. More than anything, however, running provides sanity; a time in every day that brings focus and time to make mental progress and sort out issues. It is alone time, the moment of the day when the most productive thinking is done. Thinking about nothing in particular, but the mind naturally finds topics to focus on. It’s usually things that have been avoided all week. Life changing decisions are made, new businesses born (mine is a teardrop coffee cart) and families planned whilst running. Even surrounded by thousands of other runners, mile 21 of a marathon it’s a lonely place, the pain and the brain telling you to stop. It’s just the runner, the road and their decisions. Non runners sometimes dismiss running as a way of life but for me it’s a means of appreciating and understanding it. This loneliness is temporary, it’s a choice and runners soon return to the cosy comfort of company.
The “comfort of company” is alien to so many of our isolated older people of our communities. Unfortunately the social isolation we are experiencing for this short period is the norm for many of our older population. It’s estimated about 400,000 people in Ireland suffer from loneliness. And it increases with age. TILDA (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing) found more than 37% of people aged 50 and over reported feeling lonely often or even some of the time. The figure stood at 36% of those aged 50-64, rising to 45% of 75-year-olds and older. With our population aging at a fast pace loneliness is set to get worse. Lonely people tend to have poorer health and quality of life. Fortunately organisations like the ALONE charity support people to age well at home. They offer help to resolve financial and pension difficulties, support engagement with local events and activities, access housing grants and adaptations, navigate the healthcare system, access housing and tenancy support, and resolve any other challenges that may arise. ALONE Support Coordinators act as a main point of contact to enable older people to access the supports and services they need.
My fellow Chartered physiotherapist Rob McCabe will run a solo ultra-marathon of 65km distance, adhering to social distancing by running 100 laps of a 650m track on 2nd May to raise much needed funds for the ALONE charity. As Rob has acknowledged, running this distance will be difficult, doing it alone will make it harder. But it is not as difficult as what many of our older community are facing in isolation at present. Go to https://ie.gofundme.com/f/65kmalone to donate. Maybe, like my wife you could donate this month’s hair budget!