Underestimating solitude’s value in a pandemic has revealed much about our fears of self.
Here is a basic definition of Solitude: The state of being or living alone; seclusion: to enjoy one’s solitude. A remoteness from habitations, as of a place; absence of human activity, the solitude of the mountains.
It is difficult to enjoy solitude when it is forced and feels more like jail. But time and reimagining one’s perspective, is prompting many to realize that forced change is, at times, the only way to change.
Underestimating Solitude: Fear of Self
Fears of solitude has come to roost. What is it about being in solitude that is so terrifying that we go to unimaginable lengths to avoid it? What is the root of that fear? Is it a fear of being forgotten, unloved, uncared for, feeling inconsequential? Fear of who we are in the most basic and authentic sense?
An observation: we are never truly alone. When I look around my studio, I see and feel the presence of personal connections from the past, present and future. My soul is always connecting, on some level, to every single person, place and thing I come in contact with throughout my life. This connection includes nature in the broader sense. Solitude assists me in this realization.
My studio space is full of life beyond the physical presence of other human beings. Over the years I have learned to open up my soul to those life connections. I do not fear solitude, because this is where my authentic self has emerged.
Solitude: Is it Important?
Our culture delegates who we are from the moment of birth. Pink ribbons, balloons and candy cigars for girls, blue for boys.
In addition, modern culture categorizes us by socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, language, family name, education status, politics and the color of our skin. How can we possibly get to know our true selves and feel a level of comfort in our own skin when stereotyping may or may not serve us as we grow and develop.
Granted these categories may provide us a sense of community, but is that always a positive? No, especially if the stereotype is based upon groupthink and imposed traditions with little attention paid to some level of detachment or retreat for the sake of learning about oneself more deeply.
When we are not allowed the time and space to feel and be ourselves, personal mental health suffers. Which is a pandemic in itself and is erupting exponentially, especially this past year. A mental health pandemic that is the undercurrent of suicide, substance use disorders, physical/mental/sexual abuse, poor physical health, homelessness, PSDT, depression, and the list goes on.
Solitude’s Value: Imperative to Our Humanity
I am always asking myself what drives us to act out against ourselves or others? Are we given chances to know ourselves on a deeper level or is our destiny decided for us? Does anyone ever ask what we want to be or do? Do we receive support or judgement for those expressions? Is there an opportunity for solitude at various stages in our lives to reflect on who we really are?
These are questions I can answer from a parental perspective regarding what led to my daughter’s substance use disorder. She was a child acutely aware and sensitive to her surroundings. She felt everything but was unable to express what was inside her heart and head. The shame and fear of rejection was excruciatingly painful and, in part, attributed to cultural norms, expectations and stereotypes that existed. Expressing feelings was (and still is) considered a sign of weakness and left her isolated, feeling she had nowhere to turn. Any responses she did receive were heavily ladled with the “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mindset.
My daughter suffered various traumas in her teenage years. Alcohol numbed the internal pain that gripped her and the serious drinking occured when she was alone. She suffered in silence, felt pigeonholed and has been struggling to escape ever since. Because she spent much of the pandemic alone, my daughter began to learn in a real time who she was to her very core. It was an extremely difficult year and one that tested her resolve. There were several relapses.
Depression gripped her (and continues to do so) because of all that she is feeling and the shear rawness of those feelings. But, in her words, it is a level of depression necessary in order for her to let go and move forward. Solitude was and is the balance she needs to transition from someone she was not (while under the influence of chemicals), to her true self when free of those influences.
Solitude – My Side
Although I do not suffer from any kind of substance use disorder, I was a hypersensitive soul, just as my daughter. I rarely felt that I fit into the cultural guidelines that categorized me. Carrying around a lot of internal anger, I hated being in my own skin. Always feeling I was not good enough for myself or anyone else.
Immersed in a purgatory of my own human existence. An existence glossed over because of my presence on the sidelines. I was a shadow, barely visible, stoic, non-verbal, of little consequence. Deep inside my soul, I was screaming, just as my daughter. I was ashamed of the disparities and inequalities. I did not turn to alcohol, instead my “go to” was stuffing it all inside. Hiding behind a facade of niceness. This led to low level depression for years.
Through my conscious efforts to embrace the concept of solitude, these personal revelations are surfacing. And despite the painful and difficult journey, it has been worth it as I continue to work at becoming more authentic.
Solitude’s Value: A Deeper Look
“We are born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we are not alone.” Orson Welles.
Even if we are in the midst by thousands, we are still alone in our true thoughts, dreams, desires and feelings. This quote drives home the idea of solitude as simply our reality and why it is imperative to our survival and humanity. Each of us are responsible to and for ourselves. The connections we make throughout our lives will not only serve us when we are in solitude, but will also enhance our lives when we are in the presence of others.
We are the only ones who can truly know or understand who we are and what we want. The only way we can truly focus on that understanding is to be in solitude with ourselves. The pandemic gave many of us that opportunity whether we wanted it or not. I have come to view solitude in a renewed light as I move about my daily life. Life will not be as it was and change is the constant, even outside of a pandemic. The pandemic simply makes it more imminent.
Image: “Shadows Beneath”
This image is one of my new acrylic paintings. An intuitively created painting revealing the nuances of shadows that lay beneath the surface. Those shadows that will remain hidden until a crisis or we allow them to surface through time, space and solitude. The metaphor is a landscape, exposing the roots below and the shadows which are both a part of the foundation of our existence. “Shadows Beneath”, 36″ x 36″ acrylic on canvas.