One of the greatest tests of self is the ability to be alone. No TV. No phone. No games. No books. Nothing. Just you, sitting comfortably, alone.
Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
It has decades for me to be able to sit comfortably with myself and to be alone without being lonely. I craved space from others naturally; I’m an introvert, after all. But what I thought for years was a level of comfortability with myself turned out to be isolation, which is a different thing entirely.
As I’ve lived with my mental health conditions and have sought help for them over the years, I’ve slowly learned that isolation and solitude are two completely different things.
When I isolate, I want to be alone in my environment so I can control the stimulation myself. Although there is no one there, I’m not necessarily by myself: the TV is on, I’m scrolling through social media, talking on the phone, flipping through a magazine, or completely absorbed in some form of escapism like binge-watching an entire season of a television show. Isolation usually happens when I get overstimulated from being around too many people, and I want to go home and control my own stimulation.
Isolation is not a bad thing from its intent: I feel overstimulated, so I need to go into an environment where I can recharge and control my stimulus. But where it takes a negative turn is when it’s devolves from helpful to harmful. If I have multiple glowing screens going and an onslaught of things that prevent me from dealing with my thoughts or problems, that’s not helpful. If it progresses, I won’t leave the house for days, slipping into a depressive state where I don’t really bathe and/or I might not eat well. Eventually, I come out of it, but isolation isn’t good for me, particularly when I’m using it as a cover for starting a depressive episode.
I needed space but was afraid of the quiet. In the quiet, as someone who suffers from PTSD, chronic clinical depression, and is recovering from addiction, silence is where my thoughts are waiting to take me out. I’d avoid that for years. Until recently. Which is where I discovered the joys of solitude.
Solitude, I’m discovering, is something else entirely. When I need to escape the rushing noise of the world, I unplug entirely. All electronic devices are off. I sit in silence and just let my mind calm down. Without all the outside noise, the racing thoughts eventually slow down. I can rest. Sometimes, I take a walk in the park. But solitude is just me having some time to relax, maybe with a book if I want to research something I’m thinking about, and where I enjoy my own company.
I prefer solitude now.
By facing my racing thoughts and just sitting with myself right where I am, I’ve become incredibly comfortable with myself. I can sit by myself for hours (I prefer it, really,) and can entertain myself with healthier pursuits. I don’t need to escape myself anymore. I don’t crave the company of others to create enough noise to drown out my thoughts. I can travel by myself now. I practice yoga in solitude, I read, I take a bath, I cook; I am my own best friend, and I like doing things alone.
It also means that certain aspects of my life had to change. I can’t live in chaos, so my apartment is much neater. My bills are paid on time. I don’t like drama, so some relationships had to end. I prefer not to attend events where I know I’ll get overstimulated and want to leave. I limit my exposure to glowing screens, and have added more books to my daily life. Boring? Far from it. I’ve found the friendships I now have are richer and less prone to drama, the time I spend outside solitude has increased in quality, and I’ve become more aware of my need for self-care. I like myself, and since I’m spending more time with myself, I treat myself better.
What I’ve discovered in this trade of solitude for isolation is that I’ve found out who I am and how I want to live my life. I am not my thoughts, but I can create a life and relationship with myself where I can dream my way to a better existence. The more time I spend with myself, the happier I want to be to make that time even richer and more joyful. I found myself by spending time with myself, and it’s the best gift I have ever gotten. I recommend it entirely.