Have you ever started to read a book and, about three chapters in, realize that you are also playing the plot out in real life? Sometimes the right story will land in your hands and have important relevance to your life at that very moment. I have a habit of doing this.
Such was the case when, last April, I purchased Adventures in Solitude: What Not To Wear to a Nude Putluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound by author and CBC Radio host Grant Lawrence. I figured it would be a good supplement to the trip I was about to take to the West, but wasn’t quite ready for how connected I would feel to Lawrence’s lifelong experiences in the remote Southern coastal destination of Desolation Sound. Now, I could probably write an entire post on how a dying breed of talk show hosts at CBC (Stuart McLean, George Stroumboulopoulos, Jian Ghomeshi) are carrying on the forgotten art of storytelling and proper interviews, but it’s safe to say that Grant Lawrence can be added to that list.
Lawrence’s award winning book stood out to me in one very poignant way: he framed his past at the Sound as both a physical and mental challenge, bringing to the forefront the idea that prolonged periods of isolation in sparsely populated areas can have serious psychological consequences. In fact, about half way through the book, Lawrence dives into the full details of what he refers to as ‘going bush’ (can you see the connections I’m drawing here?!?). According to the author, there are five stages of ‘going bush’: extreme loneliness; onset of depression; resentment; paranoia and eventually.....death. According to Lawrence, many individuals who lived in the Sound for years ended up committing suicide as a result of an inability to cope with ‘going bush’.
|Exhibit A: Just another day in the bush.|
As I obviously have a tough time empathising with the final stage of ‘going bush’, I can certainly think of times while I was travelling that I experienced the other four to some degree. My other blog that I co-manage, Becoming Bushed, is dedicated to taking a humorous approach to the mental effects of living far away from anywhere, much like Lawrence does as he recounts his time at his father’s rustic cabin in Desolation Sound. All of this begs the question: should ‘going bush’ actually be considered a serious mental disorder?
My natural curiosity has led me to the internet, the source of all knowledge. Not surprisingly, it was difficult to find any dependable sources that would fully relate the idea of ‘going bush’ with a mental disorder, but I did find evidence of extreme isolation and social segregation which led to pre-existing mental health problems such as severe anxiety, manic depression and schizophrenia. Two major works on this topic are the books The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty First Century (J.Olds, 2009) and From Antarctica to Outer Space: Life in Isolation and Confinement (A. Harrison, 1991). The former conducted scientific research to conclude that ‘Surprising new studies tell a grim truth about social isolation: being disconnected diminishes happiness, health, and longevity; increases aggression; and correlates with increasing rates of violent crime.’ (Olds, pg. 24). The data can be scary, but coping mechanisms exist.
In a world where the vast majority of people are moving to densely populated areas, the plight of the lonely traveller may be more pushed aside than ever. It is easy to detach yourself from friends and family back home while pursuing solitude, but it can be unhealthy at the same time. I’ve learned over my years of semi-nomadic living that it is important to always stay in tune with life outside of your immediate reality. One great way to achieve this is to start a blog, communicate with loved ones frequently, or read the news every morning. Always keep yourself and your head in check when you’re in the bush, or the bush controls you.....