My social life has changed radically in the past seven years, and it’s hard to distinguish how much is due to Lyme, and how much is due to COVID. Now I’m trying to figure out why I like the quieter life so damn much.
“There is a difference between solitude and loneliness.”
This is profoundly important to recognize. I am not lonely, nor am I pining away for FOMO (for those of you who’ve lived under a rock for too long, FOMO is “fear of missing out,” something most of outgrow sometime between middle school and the twenties). If I wanted to see people and be more social, I would. But (she says in her best pouty voice) I don’t wanna.
Therefore, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what this means to me. I was stumped. I am not someone who shies away from people. Some might call me an extrovert, but I’m an extroverted introvert, i.e., someone who can be outgoing and enjoy chit-chat, but absolutely need to be alone to recharge. It’s quite a fascinating subject to read about, and there are some fine books written on introversion. Which brings me to the obstacle I kept coming back to:
“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
Our society is adamantly focused on extroversion. Whether it’s a commercial showing shiny happy people getting together or a Hallmark movie highlighting the exhausting search for family and love, we are rarely shown people who are alone and content. This was getting under my skin and causing me to judge myself; to deem my desire to be alone as a negative, rather than a positive.
So of course I asked my therapist about this conundrum. He asked me how I felt when I was alone. It brings me back to the comfort and safety of childhood, those nights when I curled up wherever there was privacy in our home and read. I remember staying up late in our study, watching the little tv dad had in there for watching golf and tennis, and discovering the joy of watching a good movie (I vividly recall in particular Oklahoma and On the Town.)
I answered my own question and there was my “permission.” If solitude was what I wanted, then I should have it.
“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
I have never loved my own company more than now. It’s a preference to be alone at this time. My craving solitude is more than a reallocation of my energy (still a necessary component of having Lyme). It’s more than a safety precaution in COVID times. I’ve always been this way.
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
Note that I say “at this time.” I don’t know if I’ll always prefer the level of solitude I have now. But for the present, I not only prefer it, I demand it. I’m certain this all has to do with healing from the past decade.
A lot has happened between 2010 and now. Mom died. My marriage went downhill. My ex took a buyout and left his job. Katie came back home (that was a good thing, but still stressful). We decided to divorce. That’s when life went into overdrive.
Between December 10, the day we decided to divorce, and January 17, the day I went to Bennington, I packed the house and got it ready to sell, and found another house. I was still negotiating the contract on the bus from the Albany airport and Bennington. I moved four weeks after starting grad school. There was much solitude during those two years, but not the kind that recharges, as anyone who has gone to grad school can attest.
And then came the Lyme years, where solitude was a given, not a choice. Being sick is a special kind of solitude, and it required all of my energy.
“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.”
Now that I am in remission for long stretches I have time to process this long stretch of change and begin to heal. Healing is a very subjunctive thing, much like grief, pain, sickness, and love. My process for healing is to immerse myself into things I want to do, including napping, walking, reading, cooking, swimming, cleaning, writing, studying, and yes, solitude.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but I’ve grown positively crotchety about guarding my time zealously. I am enjoying the peaceful feeling of the freedom to do what nourishes you after a long illness.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
This is the truth. I can’t be the only person I know who prefers solitude. I find my newfound solitude to be the the rewards of major lifestyle changes. I wanted this. I downsized my world to get this time, so my job is to honor what I have created.