Solitude vs. Isolation – Where is the healthy place to land?

I have this lovely friend. She’s been through a lot in her life, a lot that could make her bitter, introspective, and a touch soul-destroyed. But she’s more than a survivor. Her’s is a life that is now devoted to supporting other people who have survived horrendous damage – be it psychological, spiritual, physical, or sexual abuse – and to finding her own way to thrive again. She never claims to be perfect. She’s upfront about the ways in which she’s not. But she is getting on with life and helping other people while she helps herself. Because “perfection” is not a prerequisite of “contribution.” I love that.

Side note, before I get to the main topic: how come there isn’t a cosmic quota for how much hardship a person can go through in their life before its all lottery wins and lucky breaks? Because I think that would be an amazing idea.

Anyway. She sent me a picture of Jim Carrey captioned with a quote of his. It said “Solitude is dangerous. It’s very addictive. It becomes a habit after you realise how peaceful and calm it is. It’s like you don’t want to deal with people anymore because they drain your energy.” Apparently old Jim — AKA the mask, Ace Ventura pet detective, the guy with the stretchy, plasticky, comedic face – has undergone a spiritual awakening of sorts and is now all deep-thinking and wise. He just returned from weeks of solitude in the bush or something like that  (I’m not sure here. Don’t quote me).

My friend asked me my thoughts on the quote. I have to say, its an interesting one. I like that Jim is so out there with his reinvention, and I’m not sure whether he was being poetic, or sarcastic. But here’s what I think about solitude:

There’s a difference between solitude and isolation. Loving solitude is a beautiful, healthy, regenerative thing. Needing isolation can be dangerous. 

There was a time where I couldn’t do solitude. I didn’t feel safe alone with my thoughts. I hid in plain sight – busy running a business, writing a book, being at every event, working crazy hours, maintaining a nuts kind of a social life, and so on. What would happen if I stopped? What would happen if one of the juggling balls dropped? Would I drop them all? Would I be completely out of control? Then I confronted the things I was afraid of. One by one, I took them down out of the “too hard” cloud that was hanging over my head. It was terrifying. It was empowering. It was painful.

It was beautiful.

Life has been reinvented somewhat. It looks barely anything like it did three years ago. Jobs, social circles, expressions of faith, hobbies, houses, daily routines, approaches to wellness – so much has changed. I thought about the things that were too hard to think about. I discarded the things that weren’t healthy, even if those unhealthy things had become a crutch for me and it scared me to do so. I grew. I changed.

On the other side of the reinvention, I love solitude. Taking time away from the grind of daily life to sit on my back deck and watch my kids play without checking my phone or working. I love sitting outside and listening to the sounds of breeze and birdsong. I love sitting by the crackling fire with a glass of wine and nothing big on my mind. I’ve released myself from the evangelical tendency to think there are eternal consequences for my every action or inaction (Because like, God is pretty big. I don’t have to be).  I’m not trying to solve the worlds problems or think my way through complex big ideas. There’s time for that, but not during my wine and crackling fire time. Coz a girl has to recharge!

Solitude is not something I could ever do before.  But now I love it.

The thing is, its very different from isolation. If solitude is regenerative, isolation is the very opposite. 

Even in my raging workaholic days, I could do isolation. You can be isolated in a pile of work, too busy to connect with people who care about you. You can be too busy to be alone with your thoughts. You can pull away from the world and hope no one notices. That is isolation. It’s a form of hiding. Where solitude says “I’m here. I’m me. I don’t need to be anything else,” isolation says “Don’t come near me. Leave me alone. I don’t want to be around anyone.. I can’t be around anyone.”

Isolation doesn’t mean you are spending time with yourself and you are happy about it. Isolation can be damaging. Because isolation, to me, is fruit of fear, or of poor mental health. That can make you judge yourself far too harshly.  It can make it very hard to rejoin society when you feel better, because that choice makes you confront the fear what people thought of you during your absence, or what they will think of you when you rejoin. (Side note: I’ve also found that most people don’t think about you nearly as much as you think about yourself!)

Getting out of an isolation loop can be tricky. There are so many reasons you got to that point. Getting back isn’t always as easy as just turning up to an event and announcing your return to the land of the living. Isolation doesn’t improve silence. It compounds it. The silence of isolation isn’t comfortable. Its heavy with all sorts of bad.

Knowing your own personality type, your comfort zone, and your type of “healthy” is an important skill in maintaining the balance between solitude and isolation. 

My friend pointed out that abusive people will often shame you for needing solitude, recharge time or ever saying “no.” Their demands take precedence over your own health. It’s taken her a while to reclaim her need for solitude.

Now – a need for solitude is different from isolation. If you are an introvert, then quiet time matters. So don’t feel pressured to fill every diary spot. A person who knows you and cares about you will either know the difference, or they’ll listen when you say “this is what I need.”

If it crosses over into isolation, then the friend stays important. They may gently challenge you and say “Hey I don’t think this kind of isolation is healthy.” An abuser will say the same thing, about solitude or isolation, but they make  it all about them-self or their expectations. If someone comes and presses on your self-protection bubble, then ask yourself which one it is. If its the caring friend, let them in even if you are feeling pretty crappy about life. Their love and care will make it easier to come out of the isolation bubble, even if the conversations that requires aren’t easy. If it is the demanding, selfish person who is making it all about them, then you are free to choose solitude, and you should – for the sake of your health.

Because Jim Carrey is right about one thing. Sometimes people drain your energy. Solitude can be a little addictive like that. These days I have an “emotional coinage” budget. I don’t spend more than I’ve got in the bank. Some people will take all you’ve got. Other’s will help you recharge. Sometimes you give when there will be no return on investment, because you love that emotional vampire. Sometimes, the person you’ve got to spend your emotional coinage on is yourself. Know yourself. Know your needs. Know the difference. Sure, challenge yourself in certain areas. That is healthy. But a healthy person sets their own terms, and recognises their limits.

So there you go! My thoughts on Jim Carrey’s quote.

Solitude can be great. Isolation, not so much. Know the difference and revel in the healthy one!

Happy Friday ya’ll

Kit K

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