Susan and Dano have presented in comments here two different ideas about isolation that I need to explore more deeply, with your help. This is hard for me to pin down alone. My mind wants to wander, to lose focus, to put itself to sleep because this gets at something I don’t want to face – so bear with me as I try to chain together a few thoughts about what is happening in the urge or the necessity to isolate.
Dano has written with crushing power about the worst times of depression when the illness flattens her under its unremitting pressure and pain. Isolation, then, is not a choice but a necessity. The ability to face others, to speak, to interact is completely stripped away.
I know that when I’m crashing into the thicket of Depression, I need to be alone. The very act of making eye contact, speaking, inhaling and exhaling have become monumental tasks. I feel contagious, as if by even being near me, others will get sucked into my mental black hole.
I know this feeling. When it hits, I can’t talk, can’t think, can hardly move in any direction. And all I’m hearing are voices tearing into my soul, full of hate and contempt. It becomes so intense I think I can’t stand living with myself for another minute. That’s when my inner rebellion begins, and I know it’s a battle for survival. The determination comes back that I’m not going to be defeated by this illness, I won’t let my mind be poisoned into wishing for death. That’s the inner struggle going on. If I don’t isolate myself to get through this fight, I won’t last long. That’s not choosing isolation – it’s a victory for survival and inner resilience.
Susan wrote in a comment here about a different state of feeling – or at least one that I see as very different. She calls it a Siren song of isolation –
I long for it when I am depressed, take the phone off the hook, don’t collect the mail, no human contact. I don’t want it. A few days into it, I long for it, but get so afraid of it…..I’ve lost so many friends over the years through this I don’t know. How can you long for something which is so toxic, but sings to you like a siren and destroys you in the end, and all your friendships and love relationships?
The Siren song is a good comparison. In Homer’s story, that song is an irresistible call to sailors passing the Sirens’ island, only to lure them to their deaths. Ulysses wants to know what their song sounds like so has his crew tie him to the ship’s mast, then seal their ears with wax, warning them not to pay attention to anything he might say or do to get them to obey the Siren’s call. So he listens and fiercely orders his men to free him and to head for the nearby island where the Sirens live. They ignore him and so he and his men survive. He has managed to outwit another of the fatal snares set for him and other travelers in their dangerous voyage. It’s a great fable for this problem.
I’ve heard this song too and have longed to give into it. But, like Susan, I know it will destroy me if I do. So what’s the equivalent of tying myself to the mast? I have no ship’s crew to turn to for help because I am not letting them get near me, but if that’ s true, I’ve already given in. I have to search back to the first moment I feel this lure, the first step I take to seal myself off. What is that? One of my best defenses against other symptoms is simply catching myself starting to accept the reality of the symptom. That’s where I have to stop and think; This is not a real state of mine – it’s a symptom of depression – shut it down, kick it out, just stop it! NOW!
That has worked when I start hearing the voice in my head telling me I can’t do anything right, I’m no good at this, give it up. I can catch myself believing that trash and yell back NO, shut up, you have nothing to do with me! And recently, I’ve been able to catch myself falling into another trap, especially when I’m writing, trying to reach deep inside, express real feeling. I suddenly get foggy in mind and feel the need to sleep, or I actually start nodding off in front of the computer. I know damn well that if I give in to that, I will wake up not refreshed but sluggish and more depressed than ever because my defenses are down. What I do instead is jump to an alternate activity, something more mechanical that can absorb my attention for a few minutes – or I get outside in the air, pace around, look up at the sky, respond to the simple life of the day, feel a part of that, come alive again. Then I can go back to writing, truly refreshed and energized.
What, then, is the first thing I do to isolate myself? In my case, as I think about it now, I stop talking to people, everyone, focus on my own thoughts, which suddenly take so much attention that I hardly notice anything or anyone around me. If I’m already alone, I cut off every possible way I might be reached. Turn off phones, computers, don’t respond to any knocking at my awareness, withdraw into a mesmerizing passivity, staring into a rich nothingness that offers a hope of inner peace.
This depression’s disguise as a pleasant condition promising restoration. It is inducing me to step aside from a troubling day, take a little rest, a little harmless rest. I can see myself soaking into the feeling, like bathing in perfect water. I want to slide under the surface and glide, glide smoothly in comfort and tranquility, the medium I flow in offering no resistance. I long to become one with it, feel myself dissolving in its warmth, wanting nothing more than to disappear as I descend.
But in the midst of that I can suddenly see I’m heading into a kind of death, either literal destruction or the emptiness of a total blockade against everything in my life. Panic sets in, and I am desperate to back away. By then, though, a lot of damage has already been done, especially to those closest to me, who have so much support to offer until I shut them out without a word.
All that I know how to do is to catch myself at that first sensation of yearning for the comfort of solitude. If I can recognize that, call it what it is – another symptom, not a real need of mine – I can see around it, avoid it, reach out to my loved ones and simply say, here’s what’s happening, I’m trying to fight, bear with me. Get a few words out, let myself hear a voice responding and so move farther and farther away from the fake call of a deadly Siren.
What do you do to break out of this trap?
Image: Some Rights Reserved by Eddi 07 at Flickr