Though it may seem counterintuitive, forced isolation can help you realize how good spending time alone can be
Throughout my life, there have been many things I learned so late that I kick myself for never doing earlier. There are even more things I have yet to learn. In this new column, I plan on exploring the importance of these changes and asking myself why it took so long to get to the modicum of maturity I currently have.
In my teen years, I was painfully extroverted. Not in the sense that I was loud or especially outgoing — but in the true sense of the word extrovert: I gained all my energy from being around my friends. If I didn’t have some sort of social engagement at least once per weekend I would start to go a little bit insane. I didn’t understand how to use my spare time, and the thought of being stuck in my bedroom on a Friday night made me feel like a social failure. Not that whatever a 17-year-old could do in suburban Virginia would be all that thrilling anyway, but at that time, anything was better than trying to entertain myself for a night.
So why, for so many years, did the idea of spending extended time alone scare me so much? Years of untreated anxiety disorders? Well yes, but we can put a pin in that one. But I think in a more “big picture” sort of way, I valued my time in relation to others, not on my own terms. When you’re so worried about what other people are doing, it’s easy to forget to listen to your body’s alerts that you’re overstimulated or that you need some time alone.
Breaking the cycle of fear-of-missing-out or “FOMO” dictating my behavior came slowly with age and then rapidly with COVID-19, the great social-life equalizer. During COVID, especially in the beginning of lockdown, most of us had no choice but to stay home and entertain ourselves. At first, lockdown hit me with the realization that everything I did for fun involved going outside and socializing — going to bars, shows, or restaurants. But soon, it made me realize how much I had been craving time just alone with my thoughts.
Sometimes it takes a major outside force to make you realize you’ve been ignoring shifts and changes in your personality all along. Spending a lot of time alone made me realize that I had just been running away from spending time with myself, and that’s a skill that I’ll need to continue building up. Over the past months, I’ve been able to gain an appreciation for solitude as a time to reconnect with my emotions, assess my goals, and process my week. It’s an ongoing process, but I’ll pin it as a COVID highlight of sorts.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam