The Loner Life (aka: Reflexions on Solitude vs. Relationships)

 

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to life in exile, and what it means to live a solitary life.  It is a state in which I have lived for so long now, that it is almost beginning to feel comfortable – the way a person who loses his limbs may eventually learn to accept the loss of his limbs. He would give anything to get them back and return to life as it once was, but he knows that it is impossible. The best that he can do is find a positive way to live without. That has been my challenge.

Time-Alone-Quote

This is true. I spend a lot of my alone time reading, watching good films or TV shows, disconnectcleaning house, baking, doing crafts, writing, and gardening. Fewer relationship commitments means more time for hobbies.

Just for kicks, I have been exploring a myriad of internet quotes to gain inspiration. It is both amusing and frustrating, as the world is filled with so many conflicting philosophies and values about relationships, solitude, and serving the self or serving others. After days of poring over popular quotes online, I came up with several clashing conclusions: Letting go and moving on makes us stronger, but we should never, ever give up on anything or anyone. Having fewer friends means that we have fewer problems, but having friends means more people to support you through those problems. Friends help us to become who we should be, but it is by being alone that we discover who we are.

have no friends

These words would be much more inspiring if not for her problems with drug abuse and eventual narcotic-induced early death.

Oscar Wilde

I agree that it is healthy to spend time alone. But how much is too much?

 

So which is it? Do we stay committed to people, even when times are tough, or do we move on and leave people behind when they no longer serve us? Is it through friendships and relationships that we find ourselves and become the best versions of ourselves, or is that achieved best through solitude and self-reflection?I think that perhaps, those are two different things. In solitude, we discover who we are in a self-centered way. In the context of relationships with our peers, we discover who we are within the context of a relationship. We only discover different facets of the same person.

The question that I keep coming back to, the one which the world only seems to answer in paradoxes and opposing opinions, is this: Is it better to actively pursue connections and attachments with other people, despite the risks of disappointment and heartbreak, or is it better to live the detached life, observing the world from a safe distance where neither good nor bad can touch us? Is it better to seek happiness and identity within the context of relationships, or better to know deeply and please the self, thus avoiding the drama and pain and expectations of others? Does one offer more reward than the other? Does one result in more suffering than the other?

nobody

…and vice versa No risk, no pain. No risk, no gain.

Friendship gives value to survival

Forever a Wallflower (aka Social Phobia vs. Shyness)

This week is filled with social obligations. There are kids’ soccer games to attend, Back-to-School night at my kids’ schools, and taking my daughter to a playdate at a friend’s house. Maybe these don’t sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but to me, they are a huge deal. My stomach feels twisted in knots. The very idea that I have to be around groups of people I don’t know makes me feel somewhat nauseous and dizzy. The idea of actually talking to people I don’t know makes my throat close up, until I feel like I can’t breathe. I have developed this awful habit of looking anywhere but directly at people, unconsciously discouraging them from talking to me. It is very hard to get to know anyone this way, believe me! Every now and then, someone will smile and say, “Hi, aren’t you so-and-so’s mom?” I can usually manage a smile and a quiet, “Yes, I’m Tiare. Nice to meet you.” But the conversation rarely ever gets beyond that.

Am I shy? Well, yes, I have nearly always been shy. Since childhood, I was the one sitting on the sidelines with her nose in a book, occasionally observing the world and people around her. When I had friends, I was not at all shy with them. But making friends has never come easily for me. In fact, recently, it has felt nearly impossible, as my shyness seems to have grown into something much larger than simple timidity. Could I be dealing with a social phobia? I wondered. Out of curiosity, I took an online assessment by the Social Anxiety Research Clinic at Columbia University, which assesses and rates anxiety according to the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS-SR). I answered as honestly as I could, then submitted the assessment.

The possible scores were:                  0-30 SAD unlikely

                                                                30-60 SAD probable

                                                                60-90 SAD very probable

                                                                Score 90 or higher SAD extremely probable

My score? 102. Interesting. So now I am not only shy, but frightened to death of people.

The other day, I discovered a fabulous new iPhone app, called SAM.  ,developed by the University of the West of England to help people to manage their anxiety. Here is what it looks like:

iPhone Screenshot 1iPhone Screenshot 2iPhone Screenshot 4

I have been using it lately to help me to manage and track my anxiety. It has been a surprisingly helpful tool – like an imaginary friend or therapist in my pocket, reminding me to breathe through my panic attacks, and slowing down the world for a moment while I regain perspective.

Now I know, SAM is only a tool, and not a true treatment for anxiety. Talking to a real therapist or friend would probably help, too. But there lies the paradox – finding either would mean talking to people. Ugh.