In fairytales, a true love’s kiss conquers all evils and vanquishes all illnesses, but true love isn’t always pleasant in real life. Love means allowing your kids to fail; setting boundaries so there would be long-term safety. It involves making difficult decisions and sticking by your loved ones even when they’re no longer so lovely. Would we, as a people, be more compassionate and resilient if children grew up learning the power of true love, illustrated by worn-out princesses caring for incapacitated, aging princes reeking of bedsores? Because if true love were as easy as kissing a beautiful young thing enclosed in glass, more people would have found it.
Three weeks ago, I arrived in Taiwan to find my cat too weak to withstand his scheduled chemo for aggressive lymphoma that’s spread to his liver, lower intestine and one kidney. He was severely anemic and underweight and a long list of health issues was also suspected. Then, without any changes in his medications (what many people consider to be hard science), he has made a miraculous recovery by being loved with constant companionship at his level and by taking hours to humanely feed his medicines instead of ramming a syringe down his throat. My cat made a 26% weight gain and his three large tumors are suddenly nowhere to be found. This week, he walked up flights of stairs to the bedroom for the first time in five months! I hope this brings you some encouragement if you’re also in a difficult or caregiving situation.
Immune, cognitive and a whole range of other health systems are closely linked to one’s social and mental health. Researchers and doctors are constantly making new discoveries about human health. This is not hocus pocus. There are recent findings on autoimmune disease and schizophrenia. Love, companionship and care matter! I see it in research and through my personal experiences–both good and bad.
I have felt particularly responsible for my cat’s poor health because I left him, my parrot, my husband and my parents years ago to move where my daughters would receive much better psychoeducational support, only visiting during school breaks. Six months after I moved from Taiwan to California, my youthful and rambunctious African Grey passed away suddenly and unexplainably. Bonded parrots have been documented to die from broken hearts. Did loneliness kill him? Loneliness not only killed my parrot, but it’s killing a lot of people around the world right now.
Some interesting statistics for you:
1. The 2020 US Census Bureau survey found that 36% of adults reported feeling lonely, with young adults and those living alone (elderly) being at higher risk.
2. In the United Kingdom, a survey published in 2018 found that 9 million adults often or always feel lonely, which is approximately 14% of the population.
Mental health troubles are silent and unseen, yet they have severe consequences.
Studies have shown that loneliness is akin to the health consequences of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of developing mental health disorders. It has been linked to an increased risk of developing heart diseases, weakened immune systems and mental health disorders. Loneliness also decreases productivity and increases sick leaves. This is a global problem–the World Health Organization (WHO) finds around 10-20% of older adults globally experience chronic loneliness.
The good news is that this is a problem that you can help solve! Call a parent, a child, or a friend you haven’t spoken to have a while and find out what’s been happening in their lives. Love is action. Invest in your people! Instead of responding to social media posts or browsing, privately message someone close to you and spend a few minutes learning about what interests them. Every bit you do counts to make the world a less lonely place.