What’s the Deal with Isolation?

So, what is it with being alone? During my recent lengthy engagement in an institution I spent a lot of time talking with my therapist about the role that isolation plays in my illness … Can it be a sign of an oncoming cycle? Can isolation help trigger a cycle? Prolong a cycle? What needs am I looking to meet by isolating? Is isolation a way of expressing control over my surroundings that I lacked during certain unfortunate incidents in my childhood? All good questions.

Part of “it” is just always feeling weird. She (therapist) kept encouraging me to define “weird” and I was never really able to put words to the feeling. But I think my innate pull towards isolation goes deeper. And I try not to judge it … it is what it is … unless it puts me in danger.

When I am around a lot of other people, I often feel a great deal of anxiety … so there’s that. Actually, just the idea of being around a lot of other people usually causes a great deal of anxiety …

The funny thing is that throughout my life, during manic cycles, as I became extremely extroverted and confident, I have been successful at all sorts of endeavors that required being around and in front of dozens and hundreds of people.

Leading seminars … giving speaches … being on television and radio. There have been periods where I have spearheaded initiatives and lead huge teams of people and volunteers. And (happy) periods where I have been the driving force behind large social groups that undertook all sorts of fun adventures.

Then, of course, all that confidence and energy and creativity would morph into strangeness and paranoia and agitation – and everything came crashing down. Eventually I would “come to” in a depression and survey the darkness and desolation and utter destruction I had made — once again — of my life and career and relationships.

And so, yet again, I would swear off people and all forms of social engagement. “Not for me,” I would say. But of course, bipolar being bipolar (my experience of it, anyway), the cycle repeats and I would go through the entire hellish experience one more time.

Hence, my frequent fantasies of pure, perfect isolation. My mind drifts to dreams of caves, lean-to huts in the wilderness, desert encampments where I can live alone with the stars and sunsets. These things have filled more hours of my consciousness than I really care to recount.


And, hence, my actual contrived isolation, now that I am “older” and trying to get “one-up” on the manic-me that is waiting in there somewhere to trick me, again, into thinking that I can safely interact with other human beings.

Yes, I understand that isolating makes me “weirder.” Yes, I recognize that I almost always feel better after one or two low-key hours of appropriate human engagement  Yes, it is still incredibly difficult to lift up that thousand-ton phone and answer it when somebody is calling to see how I am doing … or to walk those endless 12 steps from my couch to my front door and go outside.

Yesterday was beautiful here … the first nice day after weeks and weeks of cold rain. I made a commitment to participate in a charity walk for a cause close to my heart. I woke up early and got myself there, withstood a crowd of 4,000 people and blaring music, and was out walking in the sunshine with others for hours. Did I break that day’s cycle of solitude?

My therapist would “praise” me for the effort, for taking the initiative, for getting out of the apartment, for getting involved.

But … I went alone and didn’t talk to a soul all day … and when I returned to my apartment I felt just as isolated as if I hadn’t even gone. I felt weird being at the event all by myself, while everybody else was there with other people. Errrrrr….. A mixed success …

… and today I’m not going anywhere!


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