This morning, as per usual, I was halfway listening to the tv while I ate breakfast. The TV was on, and it was playing something; it really didn’t matter what, just something to drown out the silence (or the construction noise outside my window, which has deemed essential). My go to morning distraction is either old episodes of Friends (via TBS) or Star Trek: the Next Generation (via BBC America), but today, being Monday, it was last nights episode of “60 Minutes”. On it, they had an episode about the psychological effect of isolation, and the effect that quarantining has had on folks.
This probably would have been a story that I would have ignored, except that last night I was reading about this very topic in “The Economist”. When two respectable new organizations bring up concerns on the same topic, one tends to think, this may be important. What got my attention, though, was not all the extroverts whining about being alone. It was the worry about the long term effects of isolation and separation from other people would have on humans. That’s when it hit me.
I’ve been living the quarantine life for over a decade.
Isolation, lack of human contact, disengagement from others. Yep, these have all been mainstays in me for a while. Some was intentional, some accidental. Some of this could not be avoided. It started in earnest, though, in 2008, when my mom passed away. As terrible as that was, the worst was the years afterwards, when I focused my time on making sure my dad and my family were well. I’ve never had many close friends, and during this period, one of my closest died (from a genetic condition) and so did my cousin, who was like a brother to me. Then my dad got ill and passed away. Also, during this period, I lost my job and I started working by myself. I stopped online dating sometime in here, and I never rejoined it. I worked from home, I lived along, and I found as many reasons to avoid people as possible. About all I went out for was the gym, movies, and happy hours. I had managed to self isolate quite well.
There is a chiropractor I have seen for years, but I hate to call her this. Her influence on my overall health can not be overstated. She is an incredibly caring person, blessed with an abundance of common sense, and someone I am very fond of personally. I would outsource more of my life decisions to her if I could. If she was not a lesbian in a committed relationship, I would ask her to marry me. She was the first one to raise flags about my isolation.
I have never done well connecting to people. I don’t dislike them, but I don’t connect well. I’ve been told I don’t open up enough, and that I’m private and guarded. In my mind, however, I talk too much about myself, and that is what keeps people away. I am very suspicious of folks, probably based on childhood events (i’m not sure — i was seeing a psychiatrist, but then they stopped returning my calls). I was tired of annoying, petty, mean people, and I wanted to make myself independent of ever needing them. However, in doing so, I have managed to isolate myself from everyone. Congratulations: mission accomplished. I have so taken myself out of society, I believe I have become foregetable.
And part of me is okay with this.
This was the part I found most troubling by the news stories on isolation: I wasn’t bothered by it in the least bit.
Am I dead on the inside? I don’t feel any pain or loneliness at all. There is a downside to the isolation, I will admit; you tend to be forgotten. You work so hard to avoid people, you forget how to make an impression. You don’t stand out in job interviews, you get ignored by service staff, and first dates tend to be disastrous (at best — if they occur at all). It all reinforces the notion that you don’t connect with people, and that you never will, so its best to avoid them completely. And that is the happy little trap I’ve found myself in. It’s been such a long time that I have been in a good relationship, that you don’t even remember what it was like.
I suppose, then, it makes perfect sense that for the last few weeks I have been having dreams about ex-girlfriends. Or rather, one. The one that got away. I haven’t studied much Freud, but from my base understanding, I would assume he would say my subconscious is trying to tell me something — that I need to reconnect with people, in a meaningful way.
Something my beloved chiropractor/personal goddess has strongly encouraged me to do is find more activities to connect with people. She was very encouraging in getting me to do more volunteer work, which has become quite an obsession of mine since my dad passed away. It was a way of turning my sadness and self pity into something positive. For me, being able to volunteer again is the only reason I will be glad when quarantine ends; it will prevent me from spending too much time about my own life. It may not be a good reason to re-engage with the world, but it is a start.