Written for Daily Hive by Mo Amir, host and producer of the podcast This is VANCOLOUR, based in Vancouver.
“We’re pack animals. We’re not meant to sit at home, cowering in a corner, with the reflection of our phone on us,” says writer and media personality Casey-Jo Loos.
As Vancouver — like every other city in the world — sequesters itself into new protocols of social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine, the collective physical seclusion required to combat COVID-19 may bring about or exacerbate mental health challenges, particularly the feeling of loneliness. But, as Loos’ self-published anthology of poetry and creative writing explores, solitude may also offer new and necessary horizons to improve mental health.
“I think there’s a beauty in solitude that’s not promoted enough in life.”
Published last February, Casey-Jo Loos’ i see you. i am you. is a collection of personal writing that features 30 illustrations by renowned tattoo artist Vanessa Dong. The book is divided into seven chapters: loving, fleeing, being, bleeding, breathing, scrolling, seeing. However, the reflections, musings, and meanderings are not explicitly intended to be consumed linearly, according to Loos.
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A genuine and experiential meditation on vulnerability, i see you. i am you. is a less prescriptive and more exploratory journey of self-help soaked with empathy for pain as experienced in its many forms. Its pages read as a warm hug for the most uncomfortable parts of ourselves.
“It’s not only about good vibes. There’s a plethora of human emotions. And, of course, once you open yourself up, once you crack yourself open, it can be scary and intimidating, especially if you haven’t healed those painful parts of yourself.”
This type of introspection can be especially difficult in a social world — both offline and online — that often demands positivity, even in inauthentic, toxic designs, just for the sake of appearances.
“We want to avoid pain. We want to hide it. It’s not convenient to talk about painful things with other people. We want people to see us in the best light.”
Solitude — the state of being alone, but not necessarily lonely — may provide that opportunity to explore the aforementioned pains of the human condition; an opportunity for what Loos describes as deep vulnerability. (The Deep V is also the title of Loos’ podcast.)
While solitude is the physical state of being alone, loneliness is the harmful feeling of isolation which can be experienced even if not in actual solitude. Loneliness can be as detrimental to physical health as smoking fifteen cigarettes per day.
Paradoxically, in a world that is more socially connected than ever through technology, loneliness is an increasingly common feeling of modern life. That increased commonality of loneliness is one of the chords that i see you. i am you. strikes so poignantly in resonating with a wide audience.
“Maybe we need to give up that fight of loneliness and embrace our solitude. We’re all having solitary experiences, but collectively.”
Loos accepts the new, technological methods of social connectivity. But, she warns of technology’s intrinsically addictive nature in which users obsessively seek validation. While social media has plenty of benefits, some studies attribute heavy social media use to increased levels of anxiety and perceived social isolation.
“I feel like we are more disconnected than ever… But then, we’re behind a device, so desperate for connection, so desperate to be seen and felt and heard.”
At a time when the physical distance is demanded from all of us, it may be intuitive to lean into our devices to ward off loneliness. This can be a healthy practice with the appropriate boundaries. But, as Loos advocates, a mindful acceptance of solitude may more effectively counteract the feeling of loneliness.
“We need time to do nothing. That’s where the magic happens, when you have time and space, not when we’re on our devices… In the not-doing, we have the capacity to undo so many things that we don’t really need, that no longer serve us.”
Mindfulness, according to Loos, can be achieved in many ways through solitude: Meditation, journaling, learning a new skill, walking alone, cooking or baking, reading, gardening, self-care, arts and crafts, or other projects.
A practice of mindfulness through solitude may be an opportunity for growth, healing, and happiness that eclipses the loneliness.
“If we don’t embrace that feeling of solitude, one day it’s all going to catch up in crazy grief, in my experience.”
For all her empathetic insights on the conditions of modern life that affect our mental health, Casey-Jo Loos is adamant that she is not a guru.
“The moment you’re vulnerable, people start telling you what pains them and what ails them and they’re looking for a prescription from you. Somebody reached out to me and said, ‘I just got fired from my job. I’m struggling with my mental health now more than ever. I’m waiting to get your book. I hope it has all the answers.’ And I’m like, what the fuck? Refund! No, I’m not saying I have all the answers. I don’t have any of the answers.”
Similarly, embracing solitude may not render all the answers to battling loneliness. But it may deepen life experiences before the protocols of social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine are eventually lifted.
Have a listen to the full This is VANCOLOUR podcast with Casey-Jo Loos