2020 has been a difficult year. One feature for most of us has been being stuck at home and then becoming grumpy with those we live with.  My housemates- ‘Me’ Myself’ & ‘I’ have been truly tested. The experiences of this year has changed so many aspects of our lives.

Yet for me the isolation of the Melbourne lockdown was a partial relief from the need to keep challenging myself to connect more with people, even though I totally crave this. How did I end up in this situation? Finding it in some ways harder to come out of isolation cocoon than staying in it?

COVID-19 has exposed many for the first time, to an ‘isolation’ type lifestyle, to having barriers to how we connect with others, family, social and work. Whilst the wonders of digital technology have been a boon to creatively bridge some of this, society has ‘overnight’ been thrust into a new world.  There has been fallout with the impact on our ability to live our lives as needed or wished. Some people will be experiencing resulting mental health issues and loneliness for the first time.

Parts of my COVID -19 isolation experience have not been significantly different to my usual lifestyle. Though setting oneself apart in isolation can be a personal decision; mostly it’s the result of circumstances or even a subconscious choice. I am not alone in this situation.

So whilst my usual lifestyle includes a small circle of caring family and friends, the COVID-19 experience has made me reflect more on the reasons for my shrinking circle of human connections and resulting loneliness.

For much of my life I’ve felt that I haven’t fitted in, nor ‘belonged’ to a distinct group. Whilst there is so much choice and opportunity in my Jewish community, for some of us there still isn’t a clear comfortable spot.

I have been solo most of my adult life, excluding a brief marriage which blessed me with a son. I’m very communal minded, yet the stress to earn and cover basic needs has taken away my energy from wider participation.

In my early 30s I had my first hearing test and wasn’t surprised to discover that my hearing was a ‘little off’.  Unfortunately my hearing further declined and a bit over a decade later I acquired my first hearing aids. Now on my fourth set I rely on these to effectively hold a conversation. I’m relatively well adjusted, so most people won’t consciously pick that I have a problem. However hearing loss has become a further excuse for not joining in communal and social gatherings. I inevitably miss significant parts of conversation and social cues.

Personally, the additional loneliness created by the COVID experience has led to better self-awareness. Thankfully I have the ability to take up my challenge to create new situations and hopefully, less loneliness for myself.

What about other people who live isolated and lonely lives, whether this situation is new or has been longer term?

It will always be difficult to identify a person who might be lonely, there are so many variations.  Also can we judge if being ‘lonely’ might always be bad?  What is the real impact on individuals and resulting on our wider society?

If people are lonely what might we do to create an environment to help those who want assistance?  Do we have a right or even obligation to interfere? I believe that we need to take care and not be paternalistic, rather be informed of what we might do for people with lived experience.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a wonderful step up by Jewish communities, including in Melbourne, to support people and families.  However I have a few questions: how can we get beyond the obvious material and immediate needs? How can we ensure that some of the issues brought to light, such as loneliness, can be better addressed moving forward?

Few people will continue in isolation by choice. In many cases the resulting loneliness and separation may be hidden, behind a veiled existence. Let’s not let the isolation of others be ignored, let’s start to tackle this issue!

In retrospect what does isolation now mean to you? What have you learned about yourself? Have you learnt things about other people and view community differently as a result of lockdowns and isolation?

While these ‘lessons’ and experiences are fresh in our lives, embedded in our thoughts let’s make a start. Look around, especially for adults who live mostly on their own, all ages, situations, women and men. Tactfully pick up the phone, be a friend, reach out, include them. Be gentle, not paternalistic, they may not be able to express what they want, but ask anyway.

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Andrea Cooper
Andrea is passionate about inclusion including access to information. Her work is in advocating for Inclusive Communications to reach audiences from diverse cultures, with limited English literacy, with a communications disability and or limited digital access/ ability. Andrea is also a health consumer advocate with her commitment coming from personal experience including having moderate hearing loss. She serves on committees including at Alfred Health and the Dental Health Service Victoria. Andrea has been a member of the DHHS/ Safer Care Victoria, Consumer Leadership Reference Group (COVID) and a participant in the Consumer Health Forum’s ‘Loneliness Thought Leadership Roundtable’.

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