Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: Lonely by Emily White

Conditions like depression used to be talked about in whispers if at all. There was something shameful about being depressed. Surely it was just something the sufferer could cure him or herself if they put their minds to it. Now we know that this sort of thinking is wrong-headed for depression but we seem to have shifted the stigma to loneliness. And not only have we shifted the stigma but we are reluctant to name loneliness as a chronic condition needing recognition and treatment in some people. After all, we all get lonely, right? So it can't possibly be anything worth researching, spending time and money on understanding. This in-depth memoir by Emily White certainly proves otherwise.

White suffered chronic loneliness for years. She knew all of the platitudes about going out and meeting new people to combat the problem but she just couldn't. Being of an analytical mind, she threw herself into researching the problem of loneliness as a means to understand and perhaps finally combat the hell with which she was living. She found a paucity of information compared to other afflictions and discovered that loneliness was often conflated with depression. But she knew there was more to it and so kept digging. Her very thorough research weaves around, through, and beside her own story of isolation and lack of social connection. She candidly describes her own symptoms as she sank further and further into a state of chronic loneliness, how she compensated in her life, and how ashamed she was of naming her feelings, despite the fact of having watched her mother battle loneliness and therefore knowing she had a genetic predisposition for the condition. White examines the recent rise in loneliness, social factors that exacerbate the problem, and the long-term physical and emotional effects of being socially unconnected. In addition to published articles, she also interviewed volunteers who identified as lonely, using their reports to add weight to the scientific findings and echoing her own struggles.

The concept of chronic loneliness being so debilitating is new to me, more familiar as I am with situational loneliness (loneliness with a root cause in a certain situation like a move or divorce). I found White's struggle with loneliness and the fact that she chose to research it in depth as a partial coping mechanism to be incredibly interesting. The research she presents in the book is comprehensive but it often overwhelms the more personal aspect of the memoir. There was a lot to absorb in the book and that made the reading dense although White is good with words and presents scientific findings in an accessible manner. Although billed as a memoir, it is probably more properly belongs in the psychology or social science section than with the biographies and memoirs as it is heavier on the objective research than it is on memoir. But that's more a classification issue than anything else. Folks looking to read a straight memoir won't find that here but will instead find a book that goes a long way to try and bring this under-examined condition to light and to erase the stigma so prevalent around admitting to lonelinesss. It's not just a personal social problem, it's a debilitating ache that should be given more credence in the mental health profession and indeed society at large.

For more information about Emily White and the book, be sure to visit her website or her blog.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Interesting! I really appreciate people coming out and talking about things like depression and loneliness. Some things seem so isolating until you mention them in a crowd and realize that you're not really alone. But that social stigma on depression and loneliness is so pervasive that it must take a lot of courage to stand up.

    Thanks for being on this tour!

  2. This book certainly sounds fascinating. I haven't really heard of loneliness as an illness, but when you think of it, it makes sense. Great review!


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