“Depression and anxiety flourish in solitude.”
How many times have you heard that from a therapist? I know I have… countless times. While there is a degree of truth in that statement, for many years I think I was confused by it.
Do I not do anything alone at all? If I’m alone, does that automatically mean I’m lonely? Are loneliness and being alone even different?
To answer that last question… yes, they are different. Drastically different. And, in my own experience, I had to be alone in order to fully comprehend just HOW different loneliness and solitude are.
Loneliness – the confusing, dark gray, lingering cloud.
As much as I hate to say this, the whole “I feel most alone when I’m in a room full of people” trope is very true. This may only be my experience, but I really only felt lonely when I was almost manically delving too much into the people around me.
I think the hardest thing to realize about myself and my relationship with loneliness was that I can have a hard time differentiating dynamics with people.
Every dynamic is an emotional investment for me; whether it’s with an acquaintance, companion, friend or family. I can get very confused, drained and sad when I feel the connections are unrequited or if someone isn’t as emotionally invested as me.
I feel this way even when their values don’t match mine and I’m put in situations I don’t want to be in.
This may be a biased opinion, but I truly don’t think I realized all of this until I gave myself space to do things on my own. I didn’t have the mental clarity to decide whether or not someone had “good vibes,” as they say. I was always sort of this people-pleasing, yes-man… which caused me to feel very lonely and like the connections with the people around me were shallow.
Solitude – the most daunting, bright light in a dark room.
Solitude isn’t for the faint of heart.
It can be VERY intimidating and honestly, a little sad. Sometimes because you think you look like an idiot for doing something alone. And if you’re like me, you get really uncomfortable with pity. It takes a lot to stick up for my genuine feelings when people are like “Aren’t you lonely?” “Couldn’t you find someone to do this with you?”
However, despite those small pains, solitude has challenged me in ways I never thought I needed. The strength and independence I feel going to stores alone and walking around, going to a workout class by myself is freedom on another level.
I even went to church alone one morning (which I haven’t done in a VERY long time), sat in a seat all by myself with no one around, just staring at a statue of Mother Mary and teared up from thought.
I couldn’t help but reflect and think, “people don’t allow themselves the space to develop a sense of what individuality is.”
It’s a crazy thought to have while you’re staring at a statue, but the thought has power.
People have this belief that they can only do, experience or submit to something if it’s exactly like what everyone else does. But that’s not true.
You have the ability and personal freedom to do whatever you want, believe whatever you want and create your own individual ideas.
I don’t think that’s something I’d ever have been capable of thinking if I hadn’t had time to learn it on my own. Church, especially for me, has always been a sort of “community-based” thing. I can’t say I believe or agree with everything that’s preached, but I can say that having an individual set of beliefs is something that’s very liberating and emotional to experience.
Developing that core sense of self and your own personal values is a truly indescribable blessing. I also don’t believe solitude 100% means your ~alone~, I think it’s more of a very daunting, brave and meditative act.
Sitting in a restaurant or café with a book just chilling, going to a store or even just attending a random yoga class… scary to think of right?
But I promise you, ordering that coffee and sitting in that booth with a book alone might just give you more insight about yourself than you’d ever hoped to find.
The possibilities become endless.
I can say that for the first time in my life, I’ve had the most energy and excitement. I genuinely get stoked having a free day because I never know what my day will bring… the point is that I, at least I think, am brave enough to decide. I can do whatever I want.
When you go to college or move away, there is so much pressure from others to “meet people, meet people, meet people.” This is understandable, but it’s also important to allow yourself to find your own individual joys and routines.
Maybe that’s finding your new favorite restaurant, walking around outside to get familiar with the neighborhood or even finding your go-to grocery store.
What I mean is, find the things that speak to you and ease off the gas pedal of feeling like you can only do things with other people. OR that the priority is about other people.
Fear, anxiety and intimidation are normal when doing things alone. It takes guts, that’s for sure.
But when I tell you the admiration you have for yourself will skyrocket, I MEAN IT!
I am so proud of myself for busting through the anxieties and just… doing things because I genuinely want to.
For the first time, it’s not really about the other people, it’s about what I want to do, what I’m curious about, what I value and what I believe on an individual level.
That, my friend, is the gift from the solitude that keeps on giving.