My partner has gone on a family holiday for ten days, and when I’m asked if I will stay and house sit and take care of the eight cats and a pooch I’m ECSTATIC. I’m so happy, my first thought is literally “Oh my God, I get to smother all of these amazing animals with love and affection and I can live my best life”. But, as soon as the filled house has emptied, I feel alone, anxious and restless and I have no idea what to do with myself. I feel ridiculous because “normal” people can be alone. “Normal” people probably don’t give ten days by themselves a second thought.
But what if your mental illness prays on your loneliness?
Whilst I’m naturally introverted, I also get very lonely and this is when I get severely obsessive thoughts; I imagine up scenarios, or fixate over past events, or obsess over the “what if’s” of the past and future. It’s exhausting, depressing and usually ends with me convincing myself that I’m a bad person.
I fear being alone so much that I try to avoid that situation at all costs. Busyness is my distraction, but the anxiety generated by the endless need to find ways to be in perpetual motion is emotionally damaging and exhausting. I either compulsively work or clean, and I fill the gaps in time with one social event after another – whether it be going on day trips, visiting friends and family or watching Netflix with a companion rather than alone – I generally never pause long enough to reflect or focus on the self. I struggle to fall asleep and usually have restless nights if I am by myself, which again is exhausting and emotionally and mentally damaging.
I think what scares me most is that being physically alone means a lack of protection. It means being isolated with my thoughts, which when suffering with anxiety and depression can be terrifying. Being alone means being vulnerable to real emotion, and my first thoughts are ‘what if something bad happens to me?’ ‘What if my depression becomes so bad that I want to hurt myself?’ ‘What if I black out again, with no one to help me?’ Ultimately, I don’t know how to feel secure by myself and I can’t help wondering:
- Have I lost touch with who I am as a separate, living, breathing entity? And is this one of the main reasons why I feel such discomfort with the idea of being alone?
- Does my self-esteem depend on my relationships with others?
I feel like we’re in a cultural paradox where society simultaneously tells us that we are social butterflies that must never be alone – but also that when we are – we must be entirely self-reliant and happy. Yet when does society ever teach us how to be contentin solitude? In the age of social media, being entirely alone has become almost impossible. So is it really that surprising for solitude to trigger anxiety and depression?
If you or anyone you know suffer with mental health, please contact Mind charity: https://www.mind.org.uk