Loneliness with Judy D’Mello and Jeremy Warshaw of the Is Anybody Out There Podcast


Ever felt lonely?

Why is it that people get lonely?

Why do we not have a word for the opposite of loneliness?

Can we become un-lonely?

These questions and more were the questions that sparked a documentary-style podcast series about loneliness.  As a society, we often don’t talk about loneliness, but we almost all can find a time in our lives where we felt it but did have the courage to say it.

When the world has never been more connected digitally, we are also at a crossroads where we also have never felt more disconnected.

Key Topics:
  • How a couple of transplanted Brits living in NYC thought of the idea (1:26)
  • Where does loneliness hit us the hardest (5:22)
  • How does loneliness fit into the remote work culture we are in now (8:21)
  • Can you be surrounded by people and still feel lonely (10:59)
  • How did the project find a medium within podcasting (12:46)
  • What challenges were there launching a podcast mini-series (14:58)
  • If you started over, what would you do differently (18:12)
  • What makes Art and Healing the charity of choices for this episode (20:47)
  • What advice would you give to someone just getting started (22:58)
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Hi and welcome to CausePods, I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at CausePods, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or their taking on global issues.

Please visit us at CausePods.org where you can learn about our guests, show their favorite charitable cause. Join our Facebook group of resources for CausePods podcasters and find a link where you yourself could be a guest here on CausePods. Again, that’s all at CausePods.org.

All right, folks are going to take you out to the Empire State, New York, we are chatting with Jeremy Warshaw and Judy DeMello. They are the hosts of Is Anybody Out There, a podcast serious all about loneliness. This is brought to you by the Connector. And what a timely discussion to be having as we’ve been facing a global pandemic for this past year. And certainly there are a lot of people feeling lonely, whether they are physically alone as they are trying to survive or for all of us being in our homes with just a small circle feeling that sense of loneliness.

Jeremy and Judy, thank you so much for joining me here this morning.

Thank you for having us. Thank you. So, Jeremy, by way of background, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your story? Because you did not start this because of the pandemic.

You have a different reason, I think, for talking about loneliness and how you two connected and you know why loneliness is such an important topic to you, too.

I worked on my own for many, many years, probably about 25 years now. And if you add that to the notion that I wasn’t born in this country, you can tell and I’m at the stage in life where the people I love, apart from my wife who lives with me, fortunately, people I love the most, apart from Judy live in the U.K. and I’m talking about my daughter and my my sister and my family and good friends I’ve known for decades.

So if you put that lot together, loneliness was a pretty toxic brew, I guess. And I was sort of feeling it. And although I’m a social person, as we’ve now found out, you can have lots of friends. You can have quite a busy social life, but you can still feel a great sense of loneliness for quite a bit of the time. So in terms of how it came about, this podcast, Judy and I were talking about what can we do with our free time to do something of value?

And loneliness was an issue that kind of resonated for both of us. It was Judy’s idea to actually go the podcast route and she can talk to that. But I was thinking, you know, with all the traditional things about how do we do marketing and how can we do our advertising as we both come from advertising background.

But Judy was said, you know, the two of us, and it’s a massively complex problem. And let’s start with something that we think we can communicate best, the visceral side of loneliness, which is more than just being conveyed in an ad, but through the voices of the lonely.

So we started to plan this a few months, maybe a few weeks before there was official knockdown, before we really knew that this was going to be something the whole world would be facing.

Judy, what about you? What’s your story and your connection to loneliness? So loneliness.

First of all, there’s no one definition of loneliness. And I think for me, loneliness came from a sort of disconnection to a place and that it started when I was very young and we moved from India to London. And I was never really rooted at that time in England because there was this huge anti-American sentiment, that movement that was going on. So I felt very disconnected at that point. And that is a different form of loneliness that sort of stayed with me through my life.

And then I came to America as an adult and never felt rooted here either. And I still don’t. And so it’s you know, it was a different form of loneliness. It wasn’t that I was sitting in my house alone and feeling lonely. It was really just feeling disconnected from a community. And when Jeremy started talking about it and also his loneliness came about through volunteering for with a with an organization where they pair volunteer up with and Cynthia, who happens to be living on their own.

So he was really getting deep into the world and understanding it. And when we talked about it, I thought it was so interesting because it affects people in so many different ways that I think we’ve brought to different points of views, too. We could bring to different points of views and many others as soon as we started talking to people. So that was really my connection. And also, I have to admit, I have to say that the freelance world, we’re both freelancers.

So we do actually spend a lot of time on our own at home. And sometimes that can be a lonely situation. So, you know, we just wanted to address the issue in however a way we could. And then, of course, the pandemic hit and it took on a whole other meaning.

So, Judy, you started to allude to and I want to get a little bit more specific. I think, you know, we talk about loneliness as just this abstract, this feeling of sadness and maybe sometimes related to depression. But it turns out that you guys have sort of looked into and are talking more about some of the bigger impacts that this can have on mental health, physical health, on our psyche.

Like what are some of the things that loneliness can do to us that most people don’t realize or think about? In the most mild form, I suppose, which is I think what Jeremy, Jeremy and I have experienced, you know, very mild and natural form of loneliness that many people experience.

I think there is a certain lack of something that you experience, both physically and emotionally.

There is something that is lacking in your life and.

If you’re aware of these feelings, you can help yourself to combat this lack I mean, you realize it if you’re aware of it, you realize it and you can go out and in some way find something to use to fill that lack.

Now, if it’s left unchecked, it can then escalate into something called chronic loneliness, which has people have said that it’s as harmful as smoking 15 cigarets a day. It can bring on early onset dementia. It can bring on a variety of, you know, physical, serious physical ailments like heart disease, early mortality. So when it gets to that stage, it’s a huge it’s a it’s a very serious condition.

Yeah, I would add to that that what comes first, chicken or the egg. But as a result of many of these physical health consequences, it also has an emotional component which can lead to severe depression, which you may or may not get out of, you know, but bit by bit, it’s subversive because you pull back, you withdraw, you don’t even know you’re doing it. But but you sort of start to check yourself out of the possibilities of saving yourself.

You become increasingly sort of shrunk and isolated. And that can lead to sort of self-fulfilling issues with, you know, making it the situation even worse.

And sometimes you don’t even have the option if you’re living on your own and you don’t have financial means to get out into the world, you just bear it. It’s a survival technique really built into society to make you part of the community, as Judy was saying. But if it goes for too long and if you can’t get back into the community, that’s when the danger starts. It’s a miserable, miserable condition.

I just want to add to that, too, if you don’t mind, that actually, one reason that really drew us to this project was the stigma attached to loneliness.

It’s a hugely shameful thing for many people to admit to. And I think that we need to destigmatize it because it is such a normal human condition, so many people to experience it, that it’s really a societal issue that we need to destigmatize.

It’s fascinating to say about the self-fulfilling prophecy or the cyclicality of it, where being lonely tends to just spiral down into, you know, more loneliness, by the way, it impacts you and the way you respond to things like that and you know, the stigma of it. My concern right now is that we’re going through this pandemic. You have more people who are working from home. You mentioned, you know, this is very prevalent among freelancers and folks who are doing this kind of work.

And it seems like even as we come out of the pandemic, a lot of companies, a lot of officers are saying maybe we don’t need to come to the office, maybe we don’t need all the space. Maybe we can continue to to work from home. And does that concern you that we’re going to perpetuate this problem by telling people to stay at home, do it on your own? You’re fine. Well, my take on that is there are a lot of good things about working from home and a lot of bad things, and a lot of it depends on your individual situation, because loneliness is a very personal state.

There isn’t one solution. Everyone go out to work or everyone you call a friend.

There isn’t one solution that will fix each person’s individual set of circumstances. So I think difficult though it is and sounds evasive, you have to take it on an individual basis as to the solution.

I think that when people actually go out to work, there’s a lot of hassle involved, you know, and not everyone’s workplace is a happy, happy, relaxed, enjoyable, supportive environment. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

So I don’t think that’s the answer.

I don’t think the pandemic is proving anything other than loneliness is affecting a lot of people. But, of course, you can work from home and still get out to have a coffee with a friend or you can still get out and see people. It’s just a question of where you are in your life cycle. It’s a little more complicated than just saying pandemic has revealed a problem. Loneliness has always been with us and it’s here for a reason. And it always will be whether we go to the office or whether we don’t.

It’s down to the individual signal.

Did a survey recently in 2020 that showed loneliness in the workplace is on the rise.

And I think that has to do with a sort of a cultural element to it is that we tend to in this country or in the West, I should say, you know, we tend to put a great priority on work.

And so we end up spending more time with our workmates who aren’t really mates in life then with actually are life mates who are real friends.

And so we are getting lonely in the sense that we we’re not we’re not connected to those real people in our lives because we’re spending so much time at work.

And so you end up in this in this lonely place, I suppose you can even be loneliness isn’t literally just being without anybody else. You could be among a lot of people and still feel lonely. And I think, you know, we’ve probably seen a lot of that through the summer with increased activism, with increased awareness on racial equality, sexual inequality, you know, all those different things where even if you’re around people, if you’re not around the right people, you could still feel lonely, right?

Totally. I’ve got this sort of grander notion that loneliness needs to be redefined or at least an extra element needs to be incorporated into its definition. It isn’t just about the relationships you have differ from the ones you want, you know, or some sense of being alone, but not wanting to be alone. It’s also a disconnection from society. And this is a little more amorphous. But I think what’s going on in the West and especially in America at the moment is we feel this great sense of we don’t connect not just to our local community, but to the government, to society, for whatever reason.

You know, as world of employment becomes more automated, as communities sort of become more you’re with us or you’re not with us, society is really saying you’re on your own.

And there’s a lot about what Judy was saying, the sort of the individual is the dominant force in this country and there’s less less reliance on communal support, communal resources, criminal activity than they’re ever used to be. So there is a feeling of life is a lot more feral now. And we’re on our own.

You know, it’s which is amazing to say is we’re in a world where, you know, we all have these devices in our pocket that supposedly make it possible to connect with anybody anywhere. And yet it’s funny that we can still feel more separated from everybody else.

So what was it that made you want to turn this passion, this cause into a podcast? Jeremy, you alluded to this is sort of Judy’s brainchild. So Judy wants to tell us, how did that all come about?

Well, we had been talking about what we were going to do with this idea, and we came up with the name The Connector, which was Jeremy came up with that name and we were going to have it as this sort of resource center. And I when I was thinking about it and, you know, I was on board with this and I don’t know what we were going to do with it particularly.

But I thought about it and I thought, well, podcast has such a great aspect. That is, it has a human voice attached to it. And you can it is more than a human voice. Even you can hear somebodies thoughts. You can hear someone laughing. You can hear, you know, how a person is is feeling emotional to something.

So it just felt like for if somebody is lonely and listening to this podcast, I think even just having that human voice talk to them, it’s seemed like a more upbeat.

Idea than somebody sitting on a computer and reading articles and, you know, ways to which which, you know, will also which are helpful and we’ll get there, too. But the podcast just seemed like a real human connection.

It’s a stroke of genius when she said it. I mean, because, you know, this is all about connecting with people. If you’ve got someone in your head talking to you as we wanted our approach to be not just the guest of the week, but we wanted to take the listener on a journey that Judy and I were going on ourselves. You know, we’re not experts. God knows we can talk to experts in a non expert way.

And hopefully the listener will sort of identify with our willingness to learn and discover.

I love that you talk about this connection, because so often when I’m talking to clients and other people about it, I would say podcasting is such an intimate medium. Right. We build a relationship with our hosts and with our audience. And so I’m glad that that’s sort of part of your journey. So you’re both from advertising the marketing. So, you know, you probably have a comfort with media in general. But were there any unique challenges through launching the podcast itself?

The unique challenge in this case actually was the pandemic, because we, the two of us couldn’t get into a studio and record voiceover bits together, you know, our combined parts together. So that was so that took a while for us to be able to get into a studio.

So it just the whole thing was just taking a long time.

There was a challenge that’s not launch related, but a challenge with podcasting that I found in particular was that so I went from advertising to be a journalist. So I’ve written endless articles for a number of different newspapers and magazines.

But writing for a podcast is a whole other deal.

And I didn’t expect that. I didn’t I mean, I thought about it, but when I actually sat down to write a script, it was entirely different. So that took a while for me to actually try and get a script to sound like like conversational as opposed to the written word.

What about you, Jeremy?

I think a challenge is when you’re funding this yourself and it’s a subject that isn’t commercial, although truthfully, it’s a course that, as you know, from what you’re doing on CausePods, companies would glom onto and happily want to associate themselves, you know, especially whether it’s a greeting card company or a flower company or an insurance company. There’s a lot of natural fits.

You know, if you’re doing a limited episode, podcast, series, as we are, then by the time you amassed a number of downloads and got yourself a sort of a reputation as, oh, this is a legitimate this seems fine.

You’re sort of coming towards the end of your term. But I think probably so. That was his background. And we knew that we would finance this ourselves going forward and see what happens. But as we were trying to be conservative about the money we were spending, we realized that the most important thing was obviously our Ed, our audio engineer, and it took us a couple of goes before we found the right person. And I think that was something I wish going forward we’d done before we started because it took a lot of time to go through someone who sounded good on paper and had all the tools and the technique and the talk, but actually didn’t have the commitment to what it really is a labor of love.

And because we’re trying not just to do cut the nose out and make the one conversation per week sort of polished, we’re trying to make it more documentary style and incorporate voices that come in and out with sound design and a little bit sort of Radiolab or NPR like or, you know, give it some of that. We’re only going to give about 25 minutes per episode. But we wanted it to be a theatrical audio experience and to bring it to life.

So I think the biggest issue for me was I wish we’d found and got real about the engineer who now we found and we’re thrilled with, and he brings so much to it that we can’t even have imagined, you know, when we start an episode. So that’s my challenge. And, you know, ultimately we overcame it.

But with that in mind, if you had to relaunch this podcast again tomorrow, if you were going to, you know, start from scratch, is there anything that you would do differently other than, you know, hiring your current editor? Now, there are other things that that you might have done differently or other lessons that you could give to other folks who want to launch a podcast specifically around their cause.

I think this comes also comes under the challenges. And so I’m thinking about it because it would be one that I would like to avoid.

When we started this podcast, I didn’t have. And, you know, I think we had a vague idea of what. Was going to be and we contacted a bunch of people to see if we could get interviews with them who were related to in some way to loneliness, but we didn’t have a clear roadmap of the episodes and, you know, where we were going with it.

And I think it became clear. And luckily, those people we interviewed, actually it all worked. But I think I would start with a really clear roadmap and script of where of each script and what we need and who we need to speak about the issue and, you know, be a little bit more focused. And I don’t think I was at the beginning.

So don’t blame yourself. It was both of us. But Dude is the primary writer and and the secondary writer and the tertiary writer. So she takes on herself, I think, for my purpose. I’d be a little bit more of the grubby end of things, which is I think once Judy got Barletta had cracked the creative approach and therefore the reason we wanted certain guests and a sense of commitment from guests. I think before we really got going, we would have put a press kit together for want of a better expression and gone knocking on the doors of advertisers.

You know, we don’t promise them gazillions of downloads. You know, we wouldn’t be that arrogant. The subject doesn’t really aspire to that. But I think, you know, we would say this is our approach. Do you want to come on board? And we’d have a much more of a rounded definition of where we wanted to go. And I think it’d be quite seductive to certain advertisers. You know, that’s when we do the second one, whatever that is, whenever that is, if Judy will work with me again, that’s the approach I will take.

I think going forward now, we’re also want to raise awareness for a cause that’s important to you. And you both decided that art and healing, this is the foundation for art and healing. You can learn more about them at Art and Healing Dog Eyeblink, emotional as well as the CausePods.org want to tell us what is art and healing do and why is this an important cause for this project?

I relate to art and healing because in interviewing the various expert guests that we have, it’s so important that obviously this isn’t loneliness isn’t just a mental exercise. It is an exercise. When we talk about that, loneliness isn’t just a mental affliction. It’s a it’s a physical one as well. It does affect you and your body as much as in your mind and art and healing. The foundation there have really nailed that issue. And they understand that whether it’s music or it’s creating artwork or film or whatever the artistic creative expression is, it goes a great way to bringing you back into the world, to sensitizing you, I guess, to some of the more healing modalities that are available to you and the person who runs.

It’s a fellow called Jeremy Noble, a doctor. Philanthropist by nature, never met him. But he has an incredibly focused and well intentioned corporation, I would say organization. They have great people on the board. They have first rate films that are put out by filmmakers who have a philanthropic slant to it. And while it isn’t always about loneliness, it comes back to, I think, feeling connected. As far as I’m concerned, the films are wonderful.

They have these webinars where they have you do all kinds of artistic activities together, whether you’re young or old. It has a place for you. I think it’s practical as well as hopeful. And it isn’t just a talkfest. It isn’t just, you know, worthy, but of no particular support whatsoever. It’s a great, great organization, you know, and there not many of them around.

Well, once again, folks, it is art and healing art. Or you can go to their website, we’ll have a link to them, a link to their donation page as well. If you want to support an organization like this that can help so many and it sounds like quite a noble thing that they are doing. So before we let you go, I just want to, you know, once again ask you if you somebody else listening, who has a cause, who has a passion, who’s thinking about launching a podcast, what advice would you give to them just getting started or, you know, to sort of get over that hump of of trying to get this out the door?

Judy, let’s start with you. Well, it goes back to really planning your message and knowing your audience, and I think that. Do as much research as possible as you can about what’s going on in the world that your cause exists and who are the people who are suffering from it.

And I think, you know, depending on the cause, I think one thing that I like what we’ve done here is that we’ve given voices to many people in the world of loneliness, and we brought in so many different points of views about loneliness. And I think that really helps so that it’s just not Jeremy and me sitting there talking about loneliness.

You know, we’ve brought in these different points of views that I think helps illustrate the fact that loneliness, different facets to it.

And I think it will help people to understand what loneliness is about. So perhaps with another cause, that might be a way to attack it as well.

And what about you, Jeremy? Well, I think that knowing what I know about podcasting, which is, you know, a lot more than nothing when I started, you better be committed to your cause, because that’s the that’s the main thing.

The only thing that matters, because you can learn, as we’ve done quite a bit about podcasting from this wonderful community out there, like yourself and all the other people out there who do provide a lot of free resources, you can learn how to work with a microphone. For the most part. You can learn, you know, how to interview if you just say, I just want a conversation, but you have to be committed to your cause, because if you’re not and you just want to do something that you think is cool and everyone’s doing it now, you’re going to that’s all it’s going to be.

It’s just going to be self-indulgent, masturbatory sort of experience. But if you believe in what you are trying to convey, then you should be fine. You know, the very least if even if only one person has heard it and been moved by what you said, you’ve been successful and it won’t have cost you much.

And hopefully, though, you will get to a lot more people who otherwise wouldn’t know. But you’ve got to be committed to the cause, couldn’t agree with you more.

You have to be committed and you have to be passionate about what it is you’re talking about. And it sounds like the two of you are very passionate about this topic. And I think it’s great that you’re raising or raising awareness and bringing up an issue that, you know, so few people are talking about. And hopefully we can, you know, get more people to think about it. And like you said earlier, try to destigmatize a little bit, make this less of a of a negative thing.

You know, a lot of folks are going through this right now and hopefully they can get the help and the support they need.

We’ve been chatting with Jeremy Warshaw, Judy DeMello, host of Is Anybody Out There podcast. You can learn more about it at the Connectome dot com. And of course, we’ll have links to that website as well as their show directed on Apple, Google, Spotify at CausePods.org. And here in the show, notes Jeremy and Judy, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Thank you. Mathew Will you be our friend? Mathew? Absolutely. Absolutely. Take care.

Thanks so much. Thanks for listening to this episode of CausePods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at CausePods.org. There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here. In this episode, you will also find a CausePods.org Barletta subscribe to this show on your favorite podcasting app, How to sign up to be a guest on this show and a link to our Facebook group, which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause.

And I can tell you right now, we’ve got one great deal from our friends, a part page, but you’re only going to learn about it and get that special deal if you are a member of the Facebook group for CausePods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the Military Veteran Dad podcast and what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast Consultive Dotcom.

Once again, if you want to learn more, go to CausePods.org. Thank you so much. And we will see you next time on CausePods.

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