Overcoming Loneliness

You don’t need to be lonely! 

I’d like to introduce you to my cousin Efrem. He’s is in his ’50s, and an MA Honours graduate in English, Literature and Anthropology. He has taught in high schools and coaching colleges in Sydney for over 20 years. Observing psychological aspects of education has helped him to better understand people and address their needs. His professional career and lengthy volunteering experience have given him the necessary empathy to positively impact people’s lives. 

Efrem now works for a major Sydney charity, helping people with chronic illnesses. We both share the same interest in people; we love to know how they tick. We have talked over this for hours at his favourite Surry Hills café in Sydney – with our extra large cappuccinos, cheese toasties and a jug of water. I have yet to meet someone with such an infinite understanding of human nature, rich knowledge of history, literature, philosophy and religion. I don’t need reference books or Google, I just call Efrem!

So I’ve asked Efrem to talk about loneliness (so prevalent at this time), explain its causes and what we can do to avoid pitfalls of depression, anxiety and hopelessness which can result.

Efrem discusses ‘Loneliness’ in the first of his talks on Shirl’s Pearls
As Efrem says, ‘loneliness’ is defined by psychologists as “feeling lonely more than once a week”
The 3 forms of loneliness – existential, emotional & social, can hugely undermine our health

What a pet can do for you by Jeff

I’d like to show you the benefits of living with a pet. I’m a single pensioner in my 60s, and I absolutely LOVE dogs! (sorry, cat people). You really couldn’t ask for a better companion!

Dogs love you unconditionally: you’re their life, and they are yours. They just want to be with you. Apart from their obvious gestures of love towards you, just look into your dog’s eyes their love for you is obvious, and they recognise your love for them in return. It becomes a privilege to care for this most loving and loyal creature. Make the most of this precious gift! To me they are family – period.

Rosie’s last months on her pram
My Rosie as she was – snug on her bed

But alas, dogs don’t live as long as us. In early 2021, my beloved Shih Tzu, Rosie, had to be put down due to cancer after 12 years of us bonding together. We had the most perfect 12 years – she chose me at the pound, not the other way around. I was blessed to have her in my life. Rosie was initially given a month to live, but my love and care and the doggie pram I pushed her around in, extended her life by 2 years and a month. The cancer then got worse, and I had to do the right thing (by her, not me) to have her put down.

My grief was overwhelming. I’ve felt a loss of purpose in life and felt more alone. I no longer had a loving companion, no snoring in my room at night, no Rosie chasing her teddies or sitting happily at my feet. And then the COVID lockdown reared its ugly head.

The loss was such that for my own health and wellbeing, I needed another dog-companion. I knew my Rosie, whose presence I felt, wouldn’t want her Daddy suffering like that. With so much love left within, I really needed to love a new companion! 

Before the lockdown, I tried every pound and animal rescue place imaginable, both up and down the coast and out west to Dubbo in New South Wales – but to no avail. I was exhausted just trying … filling out application forms in case there was a suitable dog for adoption – only to be then told I was No. 30 in line. 

It was all due to the 2020 lockdown – there were absolutely no small dogs available. I was told the cost for a Shih Tzu, poodle or Cavalier Spaniel puppy was as high as $5000 and even $6500, which I simply couldn’t afford. Whilst I knew my problem was minor compared to the toll of lockdown on others and the horrible loss of life, in my own sphere, it wasn’t. I was simply not travelling well.

Pet insurance?

Adopting a rescue dog or puppy may also mean getting pet insurance – as your dog may have or develop future health issues. 

Pet cover? Think twice

My Shih Tzu Rosie was a rescue dog, and within 3 weeks of adopting her, she needed intestinal surgery due to maltreatment from her previous owners (including feeding her the wrong food). It cost $3K, but I paid $2K with insurance. No pet insurance company offers 100% coverage. Over the years, Rosie developed more health problems (e.g. a kidney issue which costs $4K, but $2.5K with insurance). But by then my faith in pet insurance began to wane.

When Rosie turned 10, my insurance premium rose from $90 to $130 a month! But because she was insured earlier, she was still covered for existing ailments. You can’t get insurance if your dog turns 10 without previous cover. Some conditions are excluded, and the disclosure statement is often not very clear in this regard. For example, teeth are not included, and there are yearly limits on some procedures depending on your level of insurance. Most insurers offer 80%, 70% or only 50% coverage. I thought my insurance would help when Rosie was diagnosed with cancer, but NO. Most of her new ailments were not covered; not once in the 2 years of her cancer did I actually use my insurance. I decided to cancel it, save money and self-fund her care. And it made a huge difference. 

Some clinics such as ‘Greencross Vets’ in Sydney offer their own pet plans, which I took up; I kept that going until her death. The $16 monthly plan gave free vet visits, saving about $80 a visit. Vaccinations were free, with formal appointments rather than lengthy walk-ins.

Overall, I think insurance can be important early on, but a total waste of money after that. You’re far better putting money aside to fund your pet’s healthcare. Insurance doesn’t offer value for money. Rosie meant everything to me and wanted for nothing – and I felt no guilt cancelling her insurance. We love our dogs, but in reality have to consider what we can actually afford.

I persisted – and found my beautiful boy, Elroy

So for those of us who are alone and lucky enough to have a canine, feline or bird companion, I wish you all well. To those of us who don’t, hang in there and keep trying to find one – as I eventually did, in my lovely little Elroy (also a Shih Tzu). In the meantime, it won’t be easy – but I know the memories of our lost loves will tie us through!

Closing words from Shirl

Many years ago I attended a seminar where the speaker talked about affirmations. We had A4 sheets and a pencil on our chairs, and were told to write what we wanted to “be”, “have” and “become”. I was in my late 30s then, extremely shy and lacking in confidence. But I knew exactly what to write. At the top of my list was “I want to have many friends, and be a public speaker.”

I still have that list today, 40 years on. We were told “nothing changes if nothing changes … take action!” So I did. I read books on personal development, joined a business network, visualised and verbalised the list everyday on my morning walks. And you know what? Eighty percent of my affirmations have come true! Today we have so much more expert support.

We CAN overcome loneliness. Efrem and Jeff have helped us understand what it’s all about, and what we can do to manage it. If this sounds like you, please reach out to professionals and friends who can help. Use the tools. Be consistent with your action plan, and rewards will come sooner than you think.

2 thoughts on “Overcoming Loneliness

  1. Sweta Bagla

    This is by far the best article i have read on loneliness and depression. Each testimonial and story is so true to its word and so pure and honest. Love what you give to the world Shirl.

    • I have to thank Efrem for his contribution. He is compassionate, perceptive and so interesting to talk to – we have planned many more topics to cover. Nice to read your comments Sweta, thank you.

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