I used to crave it, even dream about it. Now, it scares me.
I used to find myself wishing for a moment of peace and quiet, a chance to shower alone, read alone do anything…alone. Not so much these days.
The house this morning was too quiet. Not even the ceiling fan was making the annoying arrhythmic tic that never allows me to match it to a song. The birds were oddly quiet, not the usual chirps and cheeseburger sounds in the trees. No crows yelling at each other from the yard. The coffee had already been brewed and there were hours before I would hear it beep letting me know I’d been awake for two hours. No email blips or buzzing from the phone. No music coming from the car down the street. The neighbor usually up with some project and an air compressor at the crack of dawn must be off on some trip. No sirens heading to the old folks home reminding me of my mortality. Quiet. I could hear only myself breathe in a labored anxious way, sensing something wasn’t quite right. Me.
Self imposed solitary confinement isn’t good for the soul. I started to feel it.
I’ve almost run out of documentaries to watch on Netflix. I know more about serial killers and how things are made than one person should probably know. It isn’t a good sign when you start to identify with the traits outlined by the FBI profilers. When you start taking psychology classes they warn you not to evaluate yourself or your family because you’ll find madness if you look hard enough. We’re all a little mad aren’t we…
Solitary confinement be it self imposed or forced drives you mad…eventually.
I’ve watched the prison documentaries about people who are placed in a cell for weeks on end and how it changes them, not for the better. Except maybe they get really good at push ups… at first. I’m still not good at push ups. I’ve seen the adds on Facebook about the elderly who are alone for a week at a time with nobody to talk to. Lonely, they begin to break, to deteriorate. I’ve read the stories of our fated authors waxing poetic and seeking internal peace, attempting to drown their demons. The famed who hide so long they forget how to be among the living. Sometimes they return from self -imposed solitary, sometimes.
We are meant to be social creatures but, there are those of us who do crave solitude.
There are those of us who need time and space to recharge, to sit with our thoughts and wrestle ideas free. But as with many things there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Alone with your thoughts for hours on end asking yourself again and again the same questions getting nowhere. The very makings of insanity, being alone with your thoughts too long... Feeling your brain click along trying to correlate the inner workings can only lead to the break. What happens when there is no mercy in our minds and we begin to travel too far into a void of our own making? It was not meant we should travel far…
We know that being alone on a deserted island leads to befriending a volleyball. We can all recall a story about the crazy cat lady who never came outside. We know about the youngster who retreated into the hills or into the wild, never to return. The temptation is real for some of us. The temptation to run and hide is almost always present. The hoping that maybe with a little bit of alone time we can make sense of the crazy world we walk in. But, and it’s a big but I can not lie… What do you do when you realize the once sought after quiet has devolved into torture. The ideas wrestling free aren’t the ones you need. The voices you hear aren’t the ones you should listen to.
I am drawn to the idea of a monastery, that collective calm of a group of people sitting quietly in a room together. Meditating, quiet with purpose. A collective knowing that there is a point to just being still, just calming the monkey mind. Oh that just seems impossible. Just quiet, but you can still pick up on the energies of the living. Hear someone else breathing, share a cup of tea in solitude, but not solitary. I’m learning the difference. Solitude is beautiful, solitary is lonely. One is the loneliest number… How does one escape their own solitary confinement?
In my too quiet house, my mind wanders in directions that don’t make sense. I think of Papillon. He eventually gets his wings. But he had to escape. He wanted to escape. It was his primary motivating force. Escape. Escape.
Find the motivation. Find the desire. Like the demonically possessed house in Amityville Horror an inner voice I rarely hear said…get out. Unlike the horror movies, I listened. I had no real plan. Just not inside, not inside my own head in my own self imposed crazy making cell. I grabbed coffee, grabbed water and grabbed the computer. Thought about the moto for a bit then realized I wanted to wear shorts. I hate it when an outfit dictates transportation. What a first world, white girl problem.
I needed loud, no really fucking loud music with bass enough to vibrate my bones into another frequency.
As I drove feeling the world re enter through my cheap sunglasses, I looked for a park with a lake and a park bench. I realized the rhythm was shaking me loose and letting the light back in. Keep driving. Loud. No louder. I sang at the top of my lungs with the windows down, I’m sure some of the passers by wished they had earplugs to save them from my music choices. I’m also pretty sure I made at least one person smile. Smiles are contagious.
I had a moment of unexpected clarity, and knew where to go. I found a park bench in the sun and started to let the light back in and observe the life around me. I began to sweat out my saltiness, literally.
I sat, sweat and started to write. Coffee, water bottle and nicotine…surrounded by beauty and people. Solitude not solitary.
I spoke to more people that day than I had for a week it seems. Actual face to face interaction in the world. I even found the young nerd herd. A LARP camp for kids. I told them I was a nerd too, and to be proud of it. I got a high five from the young members of the nerd herd and smiled. Smiles are contagious.
Then in the distance I could see the pending invasion. I saw them coming, maybe twenty of them with each of their strollers that cost more than my first two cars…combined. Head to toe in workout wear that cost more than a weeks worth of groceries some families still struggle to survive on. Perspective.
They stopped in the shade of the pavilion I had chosen to avoid. A mommy and me workout group of sorts, they started to do a workout singing the ABC’s to the kids in strollers. They all joined in for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Mozart wrote that music…I realized it had been decades since I sang those songs. I also realized in a strange moment that I felt somehow my age and not my age all at the same time. These women in their workout wealth with wee ones were my age, but I was miles and decades away from their realities. I sat with my coffee and nicotine in hand and recalled the days of never being alone. Like ever. Things change. It was a moment that connected me with my reality. I understood just how different I am from so many women my age. No, really different. The Universe connected me with gratitude for the path I am on. A moment of gratitude and a smile hit my face.
I’ll go back to that park, I’ll write there again. I’ll watch the kids swing and slide in the park and listen to their tiny little laughs. I will try to absorb some of the joy around me, feel connected to the world again and smile. Solitude not solitary, and smiles are contagious.
I walked away from this for a few days. Like the prisoner Papillon I had prevailed, I had escaped to find the outside world. I felt better.
Events in the news recently have forced me into a keen awareness of the dangers of solitary confinement and feeling alone even if you’re not exactly alone. In the last few days, the world lost two very unrelated people who shared a common bond. Sadly, they lost the silent fight. Two celebrities I imagine got to the place where it was too dark and they were too lost to find their way back. The solitary confinement of their minds was lying to them as it does for people with dark passengers. I know, I’ve heard that voice too. Hello darkness, my old friend…
There are many of us who hear that voice.
It is a vicious cycle for so many of us. Yes us. The simultaneous need to be free from the busy, the craving of calm that makes us retreat. We hide. We then find the too quiet house. The solitary starts to sink and settle in. The slow oozing of sanity cementing shut the cracks where the light should come in begins to build a cell. You feel it. You know when your brain goes…if you’re lucky. If you’re brave you let the world know. Being brave is hard. It is ok to borrow the bravery of others.
So drive. So grab the leash and go for a walk outside with the dog because the dog needs it. So listen to music loud enough to deafen the voice of the demons. So sing out loud to hear a different dialogue. So try to borrow joy for a moment and remember that solitary for too long isn’t going to fix it, just make it worse. Find the solitude but escape the solitary.
Plan a grand escape. Step outside of the cell.
Reach out, give a high five.
The world needs you.