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.