Interview with Emily White on Lonely: A Memoir, Part I
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07/14/10 Dawn Morgan Elliott
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Emily White is a lawyer-turned-author who wrote Lonely: A Memoir, earlier this year. WMNF spoke with White and began by asking why she wrote a book on the topic of loneliness.

"I knew that loneliness was probably fairly widespread, and I couldn’t understand why no one was writing about it in the first person. There was lots of third person stuff, where they talk about a lonely person, objectify the lonely person. But not having any first person material available made me feel stigmatized. And I wanted to break through that stigma as though loneliness is something you can’t admit to by admitting to it myself."

In the beginning of the book, you make a lot of distinctions between loneliness and depression. Why was that so important?

"A lot of people told me in pre-publishing period that maybe I was just struggling with depression. I had had serious depressions in the past, and I knew I was dealing with something different. I run a blog attached to my book, and what I hear from person after person is thank you for creating a dialogue around loneliness itself as something other than depression. These people tell me: ‘You what, I’m not depressed, I’m lonely.’ And it was loneliness I wanted to hone in on in the book."

Can you talk about the risk factors associated with being lonely?

"In the past 20 years, the notion of loneliness as ephemeral or inconsequential has really been challenged. What researchers have discovered is a host of ill effects that attach to loneliness, such as high blood pressure, broken sleep, a compromised immune system, a link found between loneliness and onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and impaired cognitive functioning, which means you don’t solve analytical problems as quickly or as well as non-lonely people."

Do you think people are becoming lonelier?

"I think people are actually getting lonelier. If you take indicators of sociability, such as how often do you see your friends and family, how many confidantes do you have, how much time do you spend alone, what emerges is a picture of individuals in America growing increasing isolated. I don’t think our culture can become more isolated without us reacting by becoming more lonely."

Do you have numbers or demographics on who is lonely?

"One major demographic that has been tested is income. As your income drops, you’re more likely to have trouble with loneliness. Largely because in out culture, our socializing has gone beyond the house, meaning we go to Starbucks for coffee, or you go to a sports game or a club, and you need money to do those things."

Listen to the second half of the interview here.

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