‘Together’ by Vivek H. Murphy is one of the best, most interesting books I have read. It is about ‘loneliness, health and what happens when we find connection’. Vivek is a former Surgeon General for the United States and I heard about his new book when he was featured on the podcast ‘I Weigh with Jameela Jamil’ (which I also love and would reccommend). I was so intrigued listening to Vivek talk about the book that I had to buy it!
Loneliness is a huge epidemic all over the world and most are none the wiser. A lot of people, it seems, struggle to identify their own loneliness as it can become confused with anxiety and depression which often go hand in hand. It is also hard to identify it in someone we know because there is sometimes a shame that comes with admitting you’re lonely to others, even admitting to yourself.
This book includes a magnitude of stories about people who have struggled themselves and also those who overcame their own loneliness and founded fantastic movements to help themselves and the people around them to connect with each other. This is something that is so important for humans and is a physical need as much as a mental need that dates back to caveman times. Unfortunately, not everyone does overcome these struggles and this really brings home how much of an issue loneliness is and the importance of working hard to combat it.
One of my favourite stories was about a woman in Australia who kick-started the Men in Sheds movement that has spread worldwide. Maxine Chaseling’s father underwent heart bypass surgery which was successful but meant he had to retire early. His family knew that he was unhappy and depressed following retirement, likely feeling a lack of purpose and connection to peers, and so Maxine decided to intervene. She signed him up to help the local Meals on Wheels who were in need of drivers and also the ‘neighbourhood watch’ programme ran by the police. It gave him back his sense of identity and responsibilty as well as giving him the chance to connect with others.
Maxine was working at a community centre that offered various classes and workshops for the locals. She found that most, if not all, participants were women. It turned out that many of the husbands/partners were sat in their cars, alone, reading the newspaper, instead of joining in. Maxine attempted to go out and invite the men in but the offer was often, if not always, declined. With a desire to create a space where men could visit without ‘damaging their pride’, Maxine worked with a local carpenter to set up a men’s shed next to the club where they could work on carpentry. It was a huge success. The author of ‘The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men’, Barry Golding, described it ‘Women talk face to face while men talk shoulder to shoulder’. Men’s mental health is an increasingly talked about subject as we attempt to lift the stigma attached to men admitting to simply having feelings or struggling with mental problems and/or loneliness, despite it being so common. The men’s shed movement allows men who have always been told to ‘man up’ to connect with others and relate and share, without feeling embarrassed to ask for help or reach out for someone to talk to. It is such a wonderful movement and I loved reading about it in full.
This is just one brief example of the heartwarming stories to read about. There is a great range of people that we meet from a lonely college student who creates a club for strangers to come together and connect in a shared space to soldiers returning from war and overcoming the struggles of PTSD and loneliness as they transition from being surrounded by such strong teams that always have each others back to ‘normal’ life.
I have learnt an incredible amount from this book and it has changed the way I see loneliness and the importance of connecting with those around. So, I would absolutely recommend anyone to read this book and also to try smiling at a stranger.