Making Space: A Case for Solitude
By Laura Taylor
We wear everything. Our wins, heartbreaks, failures, embarrassing moments, surprises, small disappointments. We carry it all, hiding under the surface waiting to pop up. And when our downtime is Downton, there seems to be little time left for those moments to resurface. When can you mourn, contemplate, dream, debate, think or reflect when also following on-screen drama?
Confronted by this a few weeks back, and feeling restless even in the few moments I tried to be restful, I decided to go away to a friends bach and set aside two days to be alone. Having never spent more than a day by myself, this scared the crap out of me and I kept inviting people to join me then subsequently uninviting them when I remembered the purpose of this was to be alone. People have always told me that I will looove a retreat and spending time alone is sooo relaxing. Well six hours in and I hated it - if I ever had any doubts that I am an extrovert, they are now thoroughly confirmed.
Two walks later and morale was slightly higher. I ordered a coffee and dragged the conversation with the barista out as long as comfortably possible, refraining from asking him about his hopes and dreams just to connect with someone again. I indulged in a podcast just to hear someones voice.
And this was my turning point, a podcast on the importance of boredom.
Boredom allows us the space to sit with all the unresolved feelings, unwanted memories and unappreciated moments and let them bubble up. We have gotten so good at reducing boredom, filling the silence and maximising every opportunity for productivity that it’s no wonder when some of us put our head on the pillow our mind gets its first chance to process what even happened today.
Our minds are also incredibly good at helping us avoid what we are not ready to face. Avoidance coping is a major player in increasing anxiety - we choose to deal with stress in a passive way, avoiding situations that make us nervous or might cause unbearable feelings to resurface, which in turn can just create a build up of anxious feelings. Other times, hard things will happen where we just keep pushing through and don’t get the chance to process it at the time. But eventually whatever we are suppressing mentally and emotionally has to exit physically.
I was the girl who took pride in coping. No matter what life threw at me, I coped and I coped well. ‘Doing too much’ became my personal brand. I never crumbled and was a pro at digging deep to get through. I survived on adrenaline, which everyone but me could see, and my body had become accustomed to living in a constant state of crisis. I had so much discontent for myself and being alone that it spurred this manic state of outwardly giving and continuously moving. I had battered my body for so many years, that everything had to come to a head, and it ended up manifesting as some intense anxiety.
Without going into too many details, it was one of the most awful things I have experienced. I felt so out of control of my own body. Everything seemed tainted, I would sit at work and just stare at my computer, unable to process an entire thought. I would spend days exhausted and would see the dark circles under my eyes as markers of my own inadequacy. I listened to every CD, did every exercise and read every freaking brochure, desperately wanting to know why this was happening to me and what I could do to stop it. Looking back, I think it was a combination of my fear of being out of control and my body just saying, enough is enough.
I had done it, I was finally not coping.
What’s the point of this? Because as much as we don’t want to admit it, burnout is real. You cannot trick your mind into thinking that a perpetual crisis state is okay, nor can you avoid your own needs and well-being. Self awareness and self-care are major buzz words at the moment, yet they are also something we suck at practicing properly.
I don’t want future-me to be breaking down over something that happened years ago I was too busy to process. So I’ve started making space.
In the moments when I want to pull out my phone and scroll, or call a friend on the drive home, I purposefully sit in the silence and just allow myself to accept whatever comes up and wherever my mind goes. And a lot of the time it is sweet nowhere, and that too is okay.
Sometimes when I’m feeling really motivated, I will do some kind of exercise. One thing I did, that left me a bit of a blubbering mess, was write out all the ‘wins’ I have had, and all the ‘losses’. And through it I realised two things - firstly I move on way too quickly. The minute I finish or achieve something, I’m straight on to the next thing with barely a moment to enjoy that I had accomplished what seemed so important a couple of days earlier. And secondly, I had a list of losses that broke my heart to write, and seeing them on paper offered explanation as to why sometimes I feel down or have the occasional wobbly moment. Writing them out gave them a physical place to live outside of myself, and made me less afraid of what’s hiding in my lil bod.
The weirdest part of it all, I’ve started to actually enjoy silence. By no means am I going to go off on a week long retreat, but I’m not scared any more to be by myself.
And as I get to know what’s going on beneath it all, I have so much more compassion and understanding for myself. I hope you can find it too xx