To Those Who Feel Isolated as a Result of Social Anxiety
To all the loners, outcasts, and those who feel like they do not fit in or belong.
To those who feel isolated, to those who isolate themselves only to regret it later when the pangs of loneliness come.
This one’s for you.
I know what it’s like to be isolated by others, but I also know what it’s like to isolate oneself. When you’re plagued by anxiety and social anxiety, isolation can be attractive. It appeals to you with its lack of both worries and human interaction, but sometimes human contact is needed. Understanding is an underrated human need.
Know I feel your pain and I understand how daunting it is to literally put yourself out there. It is the out there we are deeply afraid of. The unknown nature and unpredictability of it. Leaving the house is scary, especially when depression makes getting out of bed a victory. Yet I have found it is better to face that fear on a regular basis than to cave in and isolate yourself, physically, emotionally and mentally for long periods of time. The longer I stay in the house, the more difficult it is when am I eventually forced to leave.
In my case, school is the main reason I leave the house. Since university closed around four months ago, I’ve rarely left. I go to church on a Sunday but that is the only constant. I’ve only gone outside with family, and recently when I had to go to school for a day to finish some work there, I had a panic attack worse than any I have had in a long time. When I was adjusted to the rhythm of school, such an outing would have caused anxiety, yes, but much less than what I experienced then. The intensified anxiety is a result of how I have become so used to staying at home. Anything deviating from my new norm is more terrifying than it was before because I have fallen out of that rhythm of coping.
This has led me to realize that not only does this isolation bring on depression, but it also has made me unable to cope as well as I used to with outside stimuli. As if the resulting depression and self-recrimination was not enough, it is now even more difficult because I have to somehow get back to where I was in order to cope better than I am now, which is still not actually coping.
It is a situation I find myself in with a little bit of surprise. I isolated myself both voluntarily and involuntarily, because it’s appealing to stay inside and revel in that comfort and because I find myself mostly incapable of putting myself out there. I did not see this, the consequences of that safety net, coming. It hit me suddenly as I struggled for air on the drive to campus.
I expected some of the consequences because I know them well — such as strain on friendships, self-recrimination for letting myself and relationships deteriorate as a result of my anxiety and bouts of loneliness which I mostly fight off with the comfort of fictional characters from television and books, who feel like close friends, and copious amounts of tea.
Isolation is attractive because it takes away many factors that contribute to my anxiety, yet it also creates new ones. It is difficult because being antisocial provides a certain degree of comfort, yet it also breeds loneliness. Some days it’s easier to be happy by escaping into fictional worlds and finding solace in your own company, yet the other side of the coin is too much time to think about things. There is too much time spent dwelling on all the regrets, on the way your mental illness affects your life — too much time spent wondering how your friends are spending their time. Sometimes there is the hurt of seeing them spend their time with other people: people who are capable of socializing with them like “normal” people can. Time spent mourning the loss of time, time spent mourning the lack of a social life, while confounded with a deep longing to connect with other people.
Feeling stuck in isolation, both of your own making and the making of others, is hard to break out of. At some point, you run out of excuses to stay in, like the one I’m using right now because I’ve got an exam I’m working towards. After that exam, I have a month free of obligation, yet I can already see the next excuse to not try to be social with peers — I need to get my driving license so I will have to practice driving. Then I’m back at varsity which will force me to be around people who aren’t my family. I’ll have to adjust, yet I will still be isolated, because I probably won’t try to go out and be social because of my anxiety and use schoolwork as an excuse again. Unless I try to change.
Yet right now, this is where I’m at and if you’re in a similar place, I’m with you. Here in the darkness, shut off from people and society. Fumbling through only necessary interaction while also longing for an out, a way to be outside and put myself out there. The waves of loneliness lap at my feet but sometimes they wash right over me. Sometimes I allow them to because that way I hold onto the vestiges of perceived control, then I try my best to go on, always looking through the window, hoping that someday I will open the door and take the first step to the out there and my feet won’t drag as they do now.
I feel your loneliness and pain. I know sometimes it feels like nothing hurts more than this. I feel your longing for human interaction and contact. It is a precious gift we have trouble finding our way to. We muddle through, soldier on and every time you try is a brave act, a Herculean effort for which I admire you because I know how hard it is to try, even when your breathing picks up, your heart beats out of your ears and your sweaty hands shake as you do. Keep trying. I’m proud of you for trying, for surviving. Don’t be too hard on yourself for all the times you stayed in. If it’s all you have, hold onto the things that keep you going, even if you’re like me and watching the socially-inept group on “The Big Bang Theory” make you feel less alone as they struggle with the same things we struggle with.
In this room of isolation, open the window, then open the door. Don’t let the stifling air smother you as it becomes stale. Open the window, let the fresh air in. Don’t stare through the glass that separates you from the outside. Open the door, take a step outside, drag your heels if you must. It will get easier the more often you do it.
Dip your toe into the water of the outside world, I know we’re afraid of drowning, but believe that you can swim or at the very least, you are capable of learning. Trust yourself and if nothing else, take comfort in the fact that I am there with you, as unsure on my feet as you are.
Right now we are metamorphosing, yes — we feel safer in our cocoons, we cling to them longer than we need to — but we are meant to leave them and fly like butterflies. Our wings are unsteady at first but we will soon take to it, break free of isolation and fly in the great out there and what a beautiful, hard-won sight it will be.
Sending my love,
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