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The Holidays and the Epidemic of Loneliness

Sad Queer Man Alone Holidays Epidemic of Loneliness
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I will not be alone this Christmas; however, it wasn’t always that way, writes John Casey.

When you think about the holiday season, you envision friends and family get-togethers, out-of-town visits, exchanging gifts, shared meals, and making memories – that’s what this time of year is all about. It’s easy to forget that the Yuletide scenario doesn’t apply to everyone.

It’s no secret that there are some of us in the LGBTQ+ community who don't look forward to this time of year, when gathering with family can be a difficult, if not impossible, ordeal. Some have been shut out by their families, either recently or long ago, while others have lost theirs through the years. Then there are those in the middle who have found themselves without a partner or without children and feel desolate that the opportunities for a full life and family have passed them by.

In October of 2019, I wrote about what I perceived as the gay “fear factor at 55.” I spoke with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, since we both turned 55 in 2019. Part of the fear factor I identified and felt was being a rapidly aging gay man who might end up alone, without a partner and without children. That fear consumed me.

It was ever-present two months later when on Christmas day, I sat surrounded by holiday cards from family and friends that included pictures of kids, grandkids, and happy and fulfilled lives, and letters announcing weddings, births, graduations, and anniversaries.

On that Christmas, I was alone, still grappling with severe depression and alcohol abuse. Depression made me feel isolated, and coupled with my drinking and those holiday cards, it was a recipe for disaster. On Christmas day, I sat not by a tree, but by multiple bottles of wine. I drank till I blacked out, overdosed on psych meds, and woke up two days later in an ICU.

I survived, continued to drink, and continued to be self-tormented by my prospects for a lonely future. And the week before Christmas in December of 2021, I repeated the drinking, the pills, the ICU, and this time added a psych ward. Two years later, I am sober, I am content to be by myself, and I feel lucky to be alive and loved.

Many will be alone this Christmas and in myriad ways. Some because they are already alone, others because of the darkness of depression. There are the elderly, particularly our LGBTQ+ elders who might be without a partner, children, or family.

This year some may have experienced the death of a partner, husband, or wife, which makes the holidays gruelingly sad and lonely. There might be family and friends around, but there’s only half of a whole that always celebrated Christmas together.

There are queer youth, in the closet, who come home from college or are on their holiday break, and who can’t be themselves while at home with their families. They are excruciatingly alone, amongst the company of people who they feel would never understand them. They sit singular, the agony of their thoughts and feelings bubbling beneath, while everyone else bubbles around them.

To be lonely is indescribable. Many of us have felt alone now and then, but to be truly alone is a plight that shows no mercy, and something very hard to understand, unless you’ve been — or are — there.

You can be overwhelmed by the loud racket of desperately lonely thoughts in the quiet of your own home. You can be afraid to tell anyone that you’re by yourself because being lonely is nothing to brag about. You rarely, if ever, admit to being alone. It is a circumstance that is often secret and is dangerous and detrimental to your health.

Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory regarding social isolation and loneliness and how it is becoming an epidemic in the United States. Loneliness and isolation have been a growing issue for years, and the pandemic only made it worse.

“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives,” Murthy said in a statement at the time. “Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”

The statistics bear out the fact that lonely people are everywhere, but that isn’t much solace for someone who suffers from loneliness.

The advisory also warned that loneliness can also be dangerous to your health. It has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, addiction, suicide and self-harm, dementia, and earlier death. Further, and rather shockingly, the report said that loneliness can be as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is even worse for us than being obese or sedentary.

It's as if this information adds fuel to the distress fire of loneliness. You’re mentally saturated with feelings of despair, and now it’s affecting your physical being. But, but, but — while you think you’re alone, and you very well might be physically, consider this a message of some hope that you are not alone. Someone does care about you, and at the very least, I do.

In the last four years, I’ve tried to kill myself twice, because for the most part, I felt dreadfully alone despite being surrounded by love. If you feel lonely, you know what I’m talking about. But consider the fact that you might be surrounded by more love than you realize.

If you’re an LGBTQ+ elder, you are loved – even if you can’t feel it. Our community reveres you because your struggles have allowed this generation to be so open. Don’t forget that. We revere you more than you know. And, if you’re an LGBTQ+ teen or youth who thinks there’s no future for you because no one understands – or no one will accept you – that’s not true, and time will prove that you do belong, and that you are special. You need to hang in there because all of us accept you, and we are counting on you as the guardians of our future.

And you now have a high-profile ally. New York State recently appointed renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer as the state’s -- and the nation’s -- first loneliness ambassador. Dr Ruth, at 95, has made it her priority in her remaining years to raise awareness of this critical issue and find ways to address loneliness.

This means, at long last, experts and society are waking up to the seriousness of loneliness, and that should be welcome news for those who feel no one cares.

I took steps to address my inadequacies about being lonely. It wasn’t easy. You can’t take a pill, force yourself into a crowd of people, or wave a magic wand for loneliness to disappear. Like everything else it takes time, it takes effort, and, again, it is not easy.

If you know someone who might be lonely, take the initiative to reach out and offer them reassurance, a visit, or a nice meal. Don’t assume everyone you know has companionship. Take a moment to recognize the symptoms of loneliness in anyone in your life who might seem distant, withdrawn or that you haven’t heard from in a long time.

Don’t be afraid to extend a good wish. You won’t be bothering them, or embarrassing them, or making them feel bad. Take the chance, make the effort to check in. It’s not hyperbole to say that by doing so, you might save a life.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at or text START to 678678..

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.