If there’s one thing our current technological age has taught us, it’s that you can feed, clothe, and entertain yourself without having to interact with the wider world. As a result, the need for healthy habits, chores, routines, and decent hygiene seem to have disappeared for some people. Social isolation is not just a pandemic thing. It’s been an increasing phenomenon since the turn of this century.

Hikikomori is a Japanese term for this phenomenon. It seems to be more prevalent in Asian countries, and more common among young adult males. Many of them say they can’t handle the extreme pressure that society exerts on them to be successful. They hole themselves up in one room, and don’t emerge except to use the bathroom. Many of these people reside in the homes of their parents. Others just simply live alone. It is estimated that there are about a million Hikikomori in Japan and about 320,000 Hikikomori in South Korea alone.

Many people start to isolate themselves because of shame or defeat. They feel they’ve failed to achieve goals. They’ve had broken relationships. They fail exams. They can’t get or keep a job. In cultures where there’s an expectation of cultural uniformity and social shame, the pressures are even more intense.

Some people reenter society on their own, but that seems to be extremely rare. Others need more help, such as in one extreme case where the young man stayed in his room for 10 years. There are now more communal living places that are set up to help resocialize people, give them counseling, prepare them for jobs, teach them, once again, how to talk to one another. That’s a good thing. But the need still seems to be outstripping the availability. And Hikikomori isn’t designated as a mental illness, like depression or agoraphobia, so there’s no standardized treatment at this time. Health care providers are struggling to understand what to do.

Unfortunately, this pandemic is not helping people who want to get back out into the world. It’s harder to find jobs. It’s harder to even find places that are open. It reinforces that feeling that being isolated is the only way to be safe. COVID-19 may even be encouraging more people to become Hikikomori.  

Most recovering Hikikomori seem to regret how much of their life was wasted in isolation. They miss out on so much. The internet can’t keep you warm at night. And yet it must be hard to seek the warmth of human connection when you can’t even remember how to talk to people. It’s a hard spiral to pull out of.

Not everyone can or should be prom king. There is a lot of middle ground between extreme introversion and extreme extroversion. The ruler by which we measure people should be more flexible, but also it should allow someone to say, without shame, “I need help.”

Sources for this post:



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Harsh Environments

I wonder about the people who live in these places.

I have always been fascinated by harsh environments. The relentless heat of the Atacama Desert. The cold, windy, thin-aired regions of Tibet. The remote isolation of Pitcairn Island. The International Space Station. Someday, the Moon or Mars. In particular, I wonder about the people who choose to live in these places.

From my comfortable perspective, I can’t imagine making the sacrifice to live in the extreme. You’d have to be very motivated, either by the desire to conduct research or the ability to make insane amounts of money, or you’ve been given no other choice. That last bit would be my definition of hell.

I can’t imagine being born on an island in the most distant reaches of the ocean, and never knowing anyplace else because you’re too poor to leave. I would hate to feel trapped and miserable in perpetual snow or heat. It really demonstrates how weak we are, when faced with the forces of nature. I feel really grateful for my circumstances.

Well, until yesterday. Nature reared up and slapped us in the face on that day. A snowstorm beyond all reckoning. So bad, in fact, that I couldn’t make the 25-mile commute to work, even if I stuck to the major arterial roads. The slightest hill had cars spinning out. The on ramps to highways were full of collisions and abandoned cars. I’m glad we were stocked up on groceries, because I wouldn’t have even wanted to go a block down the street to the grocery store in this mess.

Sometimes you choose the environment, and sometimes the environment chooses you.

My bridge yesterday.
My poor dachshund, second guessing his need to pee.
There’s a reason my rain chain isn’t called a snow chain.

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Why I Air My Dirty Laundry

The worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation.

Sometimes, perhaps too often, what I write in this blog makes relatives and friends squirm. I discuss my sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather. I talk about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced on more than one occasion. I describe my struggles with depression and my weight. I talk about my childhood. I rant about politics and other disappointments. I share the many ways I feel misunderstood. I expose my soft underbelly.

There are some out there who wish I wouldn’t do this. They find it embarrassing. They can’t even bring themselves to read my book all the way through, even though it’s an anthology of mostly quite positive posts. (I’ve found that the more someone knows me personally, the less apt they are to actually read my book or my blog. I suspect this will hurt my feelings less and less as time goes by. Time will tell.)

But I have good reason for airing my dirty laundry. I believe that most of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another. It’s a big part of the human condition. Personally, I have always felt that the worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation. It’s easy to feel as if you’re the only one going through stuff if nobody else is talking about it.

And here’s something I can’t stress enough: None of these things were my fault. The trauma visited upon you by others is NOT. YOUR. FAULT. I say this because very few people will tell you this. Nobody told me this. It took me decades to figure it out on my own.

So I talk about it. I talk not only for myself (writing is excellent therapy), but also for those out there who feel like they don’t have a voice. If just one person feels a tiny bit less alone for having read my blog, then I’ve accomplished what I have set out to do.

Perhaps, too, it has something to do with my lack of filter, and my utter indifference to the standard levels of mortification. Or maybe it is more about the fact that I have complete confidence in your self-determination. If something I write makes you uncomfortable, I am quite sure that you will exercise your right not to read it.


Not alone

Rural Retirement

The thing that would drive me crazy would be the boredom.

I hear a lot of people talk about moving when they retire. They want to head to a third world country to get the biggest bang for their buck. Or they talk about moving way out in the boonies, where housing prices are lower and the cost of living, in general, isn’t as costly. These ideas make sense, but there are several factors to consider.

First and foremost, to my mind, is healthcare. The older you get, the more prone you are to catastrophic health issues. Do you have quick access to a hospital if you have a heart attack or stroke? More importantly, is it a hospital you feel you can trust to give you the best care? It’s all well and good to live in a shack on an island in the middle of the south Pacific, but it would be unfortunate to have to fly 3,000 miles to cope with an unexpected allergic reaction to coconuts.

Another thing to consider is the isolation factor. The older you get, the more isolated you become. Younger people get impatient with your slower pace and your antiquated opinions and your oft-repeated stories. That seems to be a part of the circle of life. But do you want to isolate yourself even further by putting miles between yourself and your family and friends? Sure, Skype exists, but it doesn’t feel as good as a hug.

Also, it’s important to remember that rural locations don’t have as much ready access to the services you might well need. Counseling. Grief support. Adult Protective Services. Home health aids. Tow trucks. Public transportation. Grocery stores. Maids. Airports. Libraries. Pizza delivery. While it’s possible to get by without these things, it’s a lot less pleasant.

The thing that would drive me the most crazy would be the boredom. And boredom, combined with isolation, can lead to depression. I never thought I’d say this, but you can only read so many books, especially if your eyesight is failing. You can only play so many games of solitaire, or watch so much TV.

I’d miss being able to go to restaurants and concerts and movies and festivals. I’d miss having options. I don’t want to bury myself in a casket before my time. I will want to continue doing things when the mood strikes, even if it doesn’t strike as often as it once did.

Yes, it’s a great idea to stretch your retirement dollar, but look before you leap. The sacrifice you make may be more extreme than you intended. You get what you pay for. Find a healthy balance.

Rural Retirement

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On Being Recognized

It never fails to take me by surprise.

It’s happened a couple times before, but it never fails to take me by surprise. There’s nothing as flattering/unsettling as being recognized by a total stranger. For a split second, I feel like a rock star.

I stepped out of the bridge tower just as two women were walking past.

“Are you the one that operates the bridge?”

“Yes I am.”

“What’s that like? Is it a good job?”

“Best job in the entire world.”

“But don’t you get bored?”

“Well, I write a daily blog called…”

“Oh! Is that you? I read that! Can I shake your hand?”

Like I’m somebody, or something. It made my day.

It’s really strange to realize that your anonymous little life isn’t nearly as anonymous as you think it is. I work in isolation. I blog in isolation. And yet people rely on me to get from point A to point B, and people read what I write. Go figure.

It’s so easy for me to forget that. I spend so much of my time being silent that I forget that I am making an impact in my own way. A quiet little noise.

And so do you, dear reader. Always remember that it was tiny drops of rain, imperceptibly, over time, that carved out the Grand Canyon. We all matter.

Isn’t it great?

http _i.huffpost.com_gen_1585786_thumbs_o-GRAND-CANYON-RIVER-facebook

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A Message from Beyond

The other day I had a full blown meltdown, complete with an ugly, chest-heaving cry, the kind that leaves you with a splitting headache. This was due to home buying stress, mostly, and a lack of sleep, and a feeling of isolation. Sometimes the emotional plumbing gets backed up and requires a good plunge, you know? (Not to worry. I’m fine now.)

My poor dog Quagmire always gets very upset on the rare occasion that he sees me in this state. He starts crying himself, and throws himself into my arms, and licks away my tears. He’s a good boy.

Even while being tended to by Quagmire, I was still attempting to tackle paperwork for the house, such is the overwhelming length of my to-do list, so, still wailing, I grabbed my scanner out of the closet. I wiped the dust off the box and took it out… and found a note from Chuck, my late boyfriend.

He used to call me his bunny. The note said, “I love my bunny!” and then there was a big scribbled blob, with an arrow pointing to it, and then it said, “Really bad drawing of a bunny. Sorry. I crossed it out.” And then there was a heart drawn below that.

If only he knew just how badly I needed to see that exact note at that exact moment. Maybe he does. I hope so.

Oh, I still cried. But at least I felt like somebody, in some realm or other, gave a shit. And that’s all I needed. I went to sleep, with Quagmire in my arms, for 12 hours. And woke up feeling emotionally black and blue, but ready to once again start tackling the overwhelming pile of stuff that lies ahead of me this month.

What are the odds that I’d come across that note at that specific point in time? Thanks, baby. I love you, too.


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Could You be a Bridgetender?

Within 5 minutes of meeting a new bridgetender, I can tell if he or she is going to last. And I’m never wrong. Opening drawbridges isn’t for everyone.

Some people don’t even last for that 5 minutes. They take one look at the catwalks and stairways, suspended precariously high above the water, and they quit right on the spot. And some tenderhouses are considerably shabbier than others (when they’re gross, they’re very, very gross), and that can turn people off as well.

Others quit after a few days. They can’t take the isolation and/or the boredom. Very few people are accustomed to no human interaction whatsoever for 8 hours at a stretch. That amount of introspection can be very uncomfortable if it’s not your thing. Solitary confinement is considered to be a form of torture, after all.

If you are used to spending your holidays at home with family, this is definitely not the job for you. And if you’re the type of person who likes to show up late, the coworker you are relieving will kill you sooner rather than later. If you have only a passing relationship with the concept of ensuring the safety of the traveling public, then we’d all rather that you go away.

If you are inflexible, you won’t thrive when working on a bridge. Yes, for the most part this is a sedentary job, but that’s punctuated with times of great activity. Doing maintenance. Responding to emergencies. Opening the bridge (well, duh). If you come to resent those parts of the job, or think the world owes you a living for doing absolutely nothing, ever, then you will not be happy here.

Sadly, there’s no uniformity of benefits or pay scale for this job. In some parts of the country the compensation is absolutely abysmal. (I can’t stress this enough: UNION.)

I’ve also run into short timers who were hesitant to talk on the marine radio, or couldn’t read or write well (there’s a lot more paperwork than you’d suspect), or were afraid to step outside alone at night or in inclement weather when things needed doing. These are always red flags.

Rereading this, I realize that I make it sound as if this is the worst job in the world. On the contrary. I’ve written about my love for this job in this blog on numerous occasions. But as with any other profession, you have to be suited to it. You have to have a certain je ne sais quoi. I may not be able to describe it to you, but I can spot a bridgetender with staying power at 50 paces.


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Too Peopley

Apologies in advance. I’m in a mood. I’ve probably snapped out of it by the time you read this, as I generally write my entries several days ahead of time.

There’s a reason I’m a bridgetender. I thrive on the isolation. I like working independently. I also live alone, unless you count my dogs, and that’s by design. I don’t get people. People often don’t get me. My dogs are my best friends.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have no filter. If I think it, I tend to say it. Sometimes that’s perceived as tactless. That’s truly never my intent, but there you have it.

To say I’m an introvert is putting it mildly. People suck the life out of me as a general rule. I can only take them in small doses. After a while I feel the need to go off and hibernate somewhere.

I have this core belief (stemming from a very damaged childhood) that most people think I’m weird and therefore cannot possibly like me. From an adult perspective I know that’s not rational, and I’m sure all my friends will be horrified to read it, but there it is: my soft underbelly.

I only write this because if I feel this way, I’m sure others do, too. And if you are one of those others, I’d like you to know that you’re not alone (even though half the time you probably prefer to be). I’m right there, too, and yet the vast majority of the time I’m actually a fully functional human being. Go figure.


Revisiting My Relocation

Back in August, 2014, I moved from Florida to Seattle. This was a huge leap for me as I didn’t know a soul out here, and had never even been to Washington state, let alone to this city. All I knew was that I desperately needed a do over, and the opportunity presented itself, so I took it.

Yesterday I had a chance to revisit my epic journey across the continent because I’m going back and reviewing my old blog entries to determine which ones would make good anthologies. I don’t know where I found the energy, but I blogged during the entire trip, from Florida to Georgia to Kentucky to Missouri to South Dakota to Montana to Washington. 3100 miles, just me and my dogs and a lot of time to think.

At the time I was both excited and scared to death. Now, looking back at it from the other side, I don’t think I realized how brave I was being, and how totally insane the whole situation was.

I also look at the things I worried about and have to smile. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to dress for cold weather. I didn’t even own any long sleeved shirts. And I was in a panic about driving in snow, but I’ve only experienced one day of it in the two winters I’ve been here.

And it amazes me the things it didn’t even occur to me to worry about. I seem to have underestimated how hard it would be to make friends and find romance. I think on some level I just assumed I’d pick up my life where it had left off. I had no idea the amount of isolation I was about to subject myself to. Had I known I might not have had the guts to do it.

Do I regret my decision? Not at all. In fact, I wish the current me could go back and tell the 2014 me that all my obstacles would be surmounted (well, except for the romance one), and in fact, it would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I remember savoring every moment of that adventure, and I’m so glad I had the presence of mind to write about it, because that means I can take that voyage again any time I want. The trip remains the same. It’s the traveler who is constantly evolving.

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Thwart a Terrorist — Build a Bridge

As I’ve mentioned before, my most viewed blog entry is the one on Bridge Symbolism. It’s viewed about 25 times a day, by people all over the world. I have no idea why, but it gratifies me. Now more than ever.

Bridges symbolize connection more than anything else. They join places and people together that might otherwise find it difficult to interact. They link us. They allow us to reach out.

In a world where terrorism seems to be on the rise (as we have all seen recently), it is more important than ever to connect. Terrorists are the very opposite of bridges. They want to cause disconnection. They want us to stop interacting and communicating and learning about one another. They do not want us to be linked. In fact, they want to block our paths. They want us to be afraid to go around the next corner or across the next border.

So I implore you to reject all forms of disconnection and isolation. Cast off all forms of hatred. Extend your hand to your neighbor. Cross over. Make someone welcome. Be a bridge.

[Image credit: careerrocketeer.com]