When I was at boarding school in 2007, there was a time when I began isolating myself socially. It seems contradictory given the fact that I was essentially in a full blown manic episode the entire time I was there, September through November. But there was a period of social isolation that I recall, where I holed myself up in my dorm and only left for classes and occasionally for food. There was a voicemail on my phone (it was a rudimentary, navy blue flip phone, for anyone curious). This voicemail was one I kept for probably months following the episode. I don’t know if I kept in on there purposefully, but I know I listened to it multiple times even after the situation necessitating it had expired. It was from a friend at school. He said (paraphrasing), “Hey, Katie. It’s been a while since we’ve seen you, you’ve become something of a social hermit,” and then finished with something like, “come hang out, let’s do something” — something of that nature. The fact that he left that voicemail, to me, is still an amazing thing. I mean, I hadn’t known any of these people for more than a month or so, and so him reaching out feels, still to this day, so significant and deserving of credit.
I’ve had other people reach out to me in a similar way throughout the years.
People who probably didn’t even know they were doing it. But to me, being reached out to — especially at particular points in my life — has felt significant.
The last few weeks have been a period of serious social isolation for me. I’ve been vocal about it, too, to some of my friends. “I’ve become a super social hermit lately,” I’ve said (or have thought about saying) a few times. (I guess without thinking much about it, I’ve tied it back subconsciously to that original experience of socially isolating).
“I have lost a lot of the desire to leave my house,” I have said jokingly at other times during the last weeks.
I’ve told my husband, “I don’t really want to talk to anyone right now.” Always accompanied by a grin or some laughs. The interesting thing for me this go around, is that these feelings and the accompanying behavior does not feel at all connected to depression. What is it about the particular mood episode I’m experiencing that causes this desire (or natural tendency) to socially isolate?
I don’t know, but there are days during these last few weeks when I’ve rejoiced at an empty calendar and pictured beautiful days relaxing inside, watching lots of movies, hanging out, doing stuff with my daughter, watering and fawning over my many little plants that I’ve been working on as my latest project — basically doing everything I can do to just stay out of the spotlight socially.
It’s pretty opposite of how I am and what I like to do. Being around people really rejuvenates me on a typical day or week. Hanging out, talking about everything, making light, funny conversation with friends and acquaintances, these are some of the things I live for during a normal week. I enjoy being around people. It lifts me up and makes me happy. There are also times I like to be alone to recharge, but on a regular day a full social schedule is a happy thing for me.
Enter a hypomanic and depressive, rapid cycling funk and you have a weird combination of social isolation and social energy. I have enough energy to joke around with people about how much I don’t want to leave my house. But despite the jokes, seriously, I really don’t want to leave my house.
At the same time, when I am out and about, I still talk and laugh with people. It’s just right back to my little sphere afterward.
I’ve had a few friends tell me in the last few weeks, “I’m worried about you.” Which I guess would indicate that I don’t seem like myself lately.
My comment to Tristan, “I don’t want to be around people right now,” has occasionally been modified to, “I should not be around people right now.” Because when I’m in a hypomanic rapid cycling funk, I do and say things that are off-kilter. I act weird. I do and say things that I later regret (because they are weird).
Guys, have I ever mentioned that I am an extremely odd individual?
I mean, I’m pretty sure the word “insane” is currently believed to be a stigmatizing word. But it used to be used in the regular vernacular to describe people like myself. People didn’t used to understand mental illness. So they lumped it all together and put people with all kinds of diagnoses together in an “asylum” where they largely didn’t know how to really help improve the situation for most of them.
Fortunately, the nuances of many different mental health conditions and experiences are now understood in much more detail. And functioning on a daily basis is possible for many people that used to be believed “beyond reach,” in some form or another.
I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words about his wife, Zelda, who is believed to have lived with schizophrenia. I don’t have the exact quote and for the sake of time right now, I’m not going to go search it out (so someone can correct me here if you are able). He said, if I remember correctly, “It is difficult to see someone with so much zeal for life so unable to truly enjoy it.” The end part of the quote I think was quite different from how I wrote it here. But he was essentially describing how his wife Zelda had so much passion and zeal and energy and love for life, and yet could not maintain a vision of reality long enough to truly live life for any extended length of time.
What does any of this have to do with social isolation?
I may have digressed here. But the essence of how I feel right now, and what I am getting at, is: it is possible for me to have energy and desire to do things and joke around while at the same time truly not wanting to have anything to do with people at all.
A moment like this current moment, a time like the present day I’m in, is not a depressive time. I feel, generally speaking, pretty happy. But the overall feeling is an odd combination of hypomanic energy and the desire to be entirely and totally away from the world and from people.
The words and descriptions I’ve used in this post feel pretty inadequate to describe what I’ve been experiencing.
But it is what it is.
I may feel pretty distant from friends and acquaintances, and pretty isolated in my own bubble over here, but I’ll be back eventually. Some episodes just need to be lived out before I get back to whatever normal somehow looks like.
And I’m happy to be here, because, being more aware than ever of my situation and the types of things that go on in my brain — and even though right now my moods are anything but normal — I’m confident I’ll get back to my old self after some time has passed.
And having that awareness, despite all that happens from day to day, is a good feeling.
And one note to end on:
If you have reached out to me during a time of social isolation, here’s a word to thank you and perhaps to explain what it means to me.
Here’s most likely what has happened.
If you’ve been that friend who has reached out or will reach out to say “I’m thinking of you,” “I’m here for you,” “I’m worried about you,” or “I love you, you’re awesome,” or “how are you?”
I’ve probably responded, “Thanks so much!! You are the best! Life is crazy, but I am doing well overall!”
I’m definitely covering up the fact that I’m socially isolating. I’m waving it off with jokes, for sure. I might have dodged attempts to get together, I might have given some (relevant) excuses for not being able to do x, y, or z.
I may not really want to be with people right now or go out of my house too often. But it’s not because I’m depressed or at risk in that regard. I’m just socially isolating…for some reason. I don’t know how that works in my brain. I’ll get back to you to hang out eventually, I promise. 😉
If you, like my friend at boarding school, were the one leaving a voicemail on my phone, or a text message, or a word of kindness, you should probably know that I’ve kept your text or voicemail long after it was sent. And it means a lot, and deserves a lot of credit. You will probably be on my mind for years to come.
You should know that.
Love you all,