How to walk the tightrope between social burnout and agonising isolation?

I’ve been planning to write a post about solitude, loneliness and isolation for a while.

Is solitude good or bad? Everyone thinks it’s bad. And I’m crazy I got myself into it.

Then why the heck did I get myself into it?

Is hiding yourself away in the country for months without having a face-to-face conversation for weeks … or was that months, too? … healthy?

Today I saw one of my blog visitors wrote an article entitled Isolation & loneliness: which one is more damaging to your long-term health? … yesss … through no fault of the writer’s or article’s, that was just the last stab needed to turn that knife in my heart.

So I’ve decided to finally write it, even though I’m tired and exhausted.


Important: respect jazz standards.

If you can read while listening, find the most gorgeous background track for this piece below. Or play it before or after – if you close this window without paying homage to Billie Holiday’s soul … your shoelaces shall be undoing themselves in annoying moments (yes, my arsenal of threats is limited).


Those who haunt

The last year has given me the choice between meltdowns caused by solitude and meltdowns caused by humans rubbing up against each other. Meltdowns actually often caused by humans generating sensory overload with TV, radio, and such. (Meltdowns if we talk in autism terms; if you aren’t autistic, what I mean is states in which all I can do is cover my head with my hoodie in a dark room and rock back and forth on the floor for a while, because my head is too full of junk as I have no built-in filters).

I could either live with my parents and brother (four adults, two bedrooms) or in my grandma’s haunted place. Still haunted by her good soul. But otherwise by no one – at least no one after whose unannounced visit I wouldn’t feel the urge to both smudge and disinfect the house (i.e. there’s some remote family here, but for unclear reasons they emanate cold disdain).

I don’t relate to anyone in this town – yes, I can say “good morning” to the neighbours and the guy who sells me apples from his garden plot. Or the lady who has chicken and illegally sells eggs.

But I’m a visibly genderqueer aspie who’s lived in 6 countries and dropped out of 3 PhDs and … I can’t count how many vocations that most people don’t even know exist. Who sees visions and invites transsexual witch friends over (well those who are mentioned know, I hope you’re OK with the mention). Who goes to feminist camps or residential courses in butoh dance (a vid of my teacher). I either read arcane neuroscience papers for my underpaid job or do energy healing in my free time, and the rest of the time I think about whether I’d like to have a sex change.

I mean how much can I ask these people to swallow?

This is a catholic country.

And no, neither my self confidence nor my social skills are up to maneuvering that heap of a cultural incompatibility dung. Autistic or not, I’m blessed with an amazing lack of natural skill at making tactful small talk and smoothing over all these differences with the right half-true word in the right place. Or the right gesture. Or whatever people do. I just shut down.

Multiple types of people overload

To make the long thing short, that’s why last year I chose to stay on my parents’ living room couch (in the TV room and a floor under to the deaf neighbour’s TV room = constant stress from sensory overload. And that neighbour is a night owl so when my parents stop, he starts).

But I was scared and wanted the human warmth.

And it was good on a level.

I just wasn’t capable of doing much else apart from figuring out where to go to avoid the TV, radio and other people’s emotions.

Because I’m also an empath.

This means that if my dad is angry, I think I’m angry. If my mum is sad, I think I’m sad. If my brother is sick, I think I’m sick.

Even if I gradually figure out that I’m feeling their feelings and not mine and try to let it go (which I’ve been taught is the road to sanity), it’s still exceedingly hard not to feel them constantly, physically, when sharing a privacy-free space for 24/7.

And it’s hard to let it go, too. It’s hard to just let it go that my mother is sad, for example. Could you just let go if you viscerally felt your own mother’s sadness but couldn’t do anything about it?


The hermit tradition

That’s why this year, willy nilly, I’ve sought out the forest.

The metaphorical forest, cause I still have to walk 20 minutes from here to it. It’s not as quiet as I’d prefer it to be. Still.

Let’s say I’ve sought out the forest, because that sounds better.

And I’m not even seeking God or something.

I’m seeking out a stable enough background to be in a stable physiological and emotional state for long enough to be able to think and feel without being swept up by a major washing-machine like energy swirl every couple of days.

(It has still led me to wonder whether that’s why some of those healers of yore did it. Maybe the motivation isn’t always glorious. Cause maybe those healers, yogis and what not were also too sensitive to get a handle on themselves and their perceptivity while there’s noise all around. Auditory and emotional and other people’s visceral noise.)


The washing machine of solitude

Of course the first thing that happens upon entering the forest is tailspin after tailspin after tailspin as the visceral memories of all the abandonments and betrayals (and self-betrayals) I’ve experienced in my life get triggered.

At least for me, being alone – really physically alone – triggers everything that ever had to do with abandonment. Yes, no one has literally abandoned me this time. Still, if I could live with people among people in the ways that they do, I probably wouldn’t be here.

It’s not their fault, it’s not my fault. It still happened and brings up all the memories stored away in my body of when it’s happened before. When I couldn’t help it, fight it, had no choice.

It feels like all primal betrayals and abandonments are the first wave of craziness that must be overcome. For months.


The next level is perhaps just the naked fear and anxiety a human feels when there is a feeling that you don’t have anyone you can fully trust and ask for help unless you can pack your stuff and get on a train for many hours. And you can’t do that when you’re melting down, burnt out, or even when you just have the flu.

Next phase is knowing this and learning to not freak out.

Naked if subliminal fear. It’s not like I’m alone in the jungle. Worst case I could ring random people’s doors who would have no idea how to handle or help me, but there are theoretically humans. Still there’s a level of that primal fear for it not being the tribe.

I believe that primal fear made me physically sick for a few weeks.

At that point I thought I’m hurting myself, and should go back to my parents. Which is what distance friends I was in touch with over electronics said, too.

I’m seriously not sure why I stuck to it. Some kind of gut instinct. Some kind of silent and persistent clam instinct: I’m sucked to here now and I’m not moving. (I’ve had perhaps 30 addresses in the last 10 years – I guess this is the moment of the clam’s revenge.)

Minor clearings of sky

I did start getting what I wanted, a bit, here and there.

I started feeling emotions – as distinct things – and sequences of emotions.

Instead of one huge screaming cacophonic chaos mass in insane fluctuation.

Going about my day very slowly, picking apart at what time I start feeling which feeling. Feeling it.

The quintessential waste of time to anyone I’d confess to what I’m doing here.

But I think that’s what I’m doing.

I’m trying to pick apart the single threads that throw me into chaos.

To tame … it’s not just a beast. It’s a zoo.

(See my previous comment on that, the Zen allegory of the ten bulls.)

So apparently this insanity isn’t going to stop before I’ve acquainted myself with every ant that lives here, talked intimately to every termite that’s otherwise going to eat away at my foundation for days until the whole thing goes into tailspin again.

And maybe finally one day I can also see the elephant in the room.

There’s a bunch of rhinoceroses here as well, I believe.

I’m not even sure who brought them.

One part of the truth is perhaps, I can’t endure the chaos of the world anymore as long as there’s any chaos left in me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the chaos. But I can’t afford to be blind outside and blind inside. I’ve exhausted my (youthful) power of constantly walking through walls.

How about seeing them instead and walking around them?

(Btw. I believe that’s what emotions are for. See my last post on anger.)


Counting the ants of emotion in solitude

Can a modern half-Westerner in their right mind devote months to creating an inner emotional map by observing emotional ants, in solitude? Apparently, if it saves your life in some way.

As a kid I liked observing ants a lot.

These emotional ants are magical, too. They turn into whirlwinds of tastes, colour, smells and lights. They re-form the body apparently.

I still don’t know what I’m doing.

I’ve gotten over thinking that I’m crazy by now (what does that mean anyways? And it still doesn’t stop me from doing said stuff apparently.). Perhaps I’m following some ancient instinct yet another time. Some atavistic map of memories that dictate the soul how to save itself when nobody knows the way anymore.


Please share

Am I the only one walking that type of path?

What’s your relationship with solitude?

5 thoughts on “How to walk the tightrope between social burnout and agonising isolation?

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