Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Necessity of Solitude

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
(This post brought to you by me rarely leaving my room for the past three days)

There is value to being left alone. All humans need it, just as they need human interaction, but the amount varies by individual: a truly extroverted person likely needs only a little solitude, while the introvert needs more, but we all need personal space and alone time to a certain extent -- even the peppiest of party-lovers wants privacy when using the toilet.

But aside from the expected alone-time needed to sleep, dress and perform sanitary functions, many of us need more than that. It varies for me, but every three to six months I just get "peopled out" and need to withdraw for a while. There is something soothing to my soul about being in complete control of my environment (even it is just my bedroom) and not have to be answerable to anyone except myself when it come to volume, temperature, lighting, clothing, and activity.

I think of it as a field going fallow, or trees hibernating for the winter; a period of quiet that restores both body and soul so that I might be productive again. It's as necessary for my sanity and well-being as sleep and food.

The problem with solitude is that it's difficult to achieve that state of serenity when you're living with other people, as those with families will attest: many times the other people in your life just can't leave alone. Sometimes they need you (as parents with small children will attest); sometimes they don't realize they are being loud or intruding; and sometimes they need to use the same space you do (like married couples, or siblings sharing a bedroom).

In normal times this dilemma can be solved by leaving: taking a walk, going for a head-clearing drive, or just visiting the local library. In times of crisis though, when the feces has truly struck the oscillator, the logistics of alone time become problematic: is it smart to take a walk when the neighborhood is devastated and looters about? is it safe to drive when the roads are full of debris and you don't know when you'll get more gasoline? is the library even there anymore?

This is not a post full of solutions. As Evelyn is fond of pointing out, "People are not widgets", meaning that what works for one person will not work for everyone. For example, earplugs and books can go a long way towards blocking out many environmental distractions, but some people are bothered by the mere presence of others around them. There have been days when I haven't even wanted to look at another human being, let alone share a room with them.

Rather, this post is about understanding. Many people think that folks who need quiet time or solitude are depressed or are psychologically broken in some way or are "just weird", and that's not true. We all need personal space and alone time; people like myself just frequently need more of it than is typical. But the good news is that those of us who crave solitude can still be of use to the tribe or community in times of crisis: for example, there are many tasks which must be performed alone (such as late-night fire watch), or quietly (such as hunting), or which no one else wants to do, and these are ideal jobs for people who are feeling non-social.

In short, don't look upon people who frequently wish to be alone as inconveniences to be worked around or emotional cripples to be pitied. Instead, work with them, and find a way to turn their needs into a strength that will benefit the entire group.

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