There’s a fine line between a healthy amount of solitude, and too much of it. I love solitude, so I naturally skew toward the too-much. Unfortunately, too much of it isn’t good; isolation can increase one’s risk of depression and/or anxiety… which can, in turn, diminish your motivation to spend time with others… which isolates you further… which —
You can see how this problem might compound over time.
Hence, this year, I actively took more time and effort to keep up with friends around my busy schedule, as well as to make a concerted effort to expand beyond the familiar circle I already had. Some examples:
- I booked a trip to a place 5 hours away (to Prague) just to reunite for a day or so with friends from Pennsylvania on their vacation to Europe. Doing this turned out to be one of the highlights of my whole year.
- I began making phone dates and occasionally exchanging emails with a friend I’d met over a decade ago but mostly only “known” from our sporadic comments over the years on each other’s social media feeds. I’m thankful for this new friendship. I love hearing her perspectives and like the feeling of having another soul sister I can be real and uncensored with — and knowing that she can understand me without my having to “translate” my soul.
- I took the initiative to invite someone cool from my writing group to hang out outside of our meet-ups. I’m also thankful for her presence in my life.
- When several people in my networks asked me this year if we could chat or hang out, I’ve been open to it, instead of allowing myself to eschew unanticipated human contact (my default program), and my life is richer for these wonderful people too.
Having normal social interactions doesn’t sound like anything big, but the reality is that it takes genuine effort for me, much of the time, to schedule friends in around my deadline stress; or talk myself out of bouts of anxiety; or reason myself out of, say, the seasonal depressive mood that inspires me to dig my heels into seclusion.
And I am the better off for trying to be more open like this.
On that note, this year has also afforded me a rare opportunity to open my life and my “home” to someone in particular for extended periods of time: a dear friend I’d met in my China days decided to pull off a major life change and move to Berlin after leaving his job this spring, and from June – November, I was hosting him for long stretches at my own apartment in Berlin so that he could decompress from the stress of his transition and more easily scour Berlin’s housing market. This was challenging — sharing a single sofa-bed in a single, shoebox-sized room. But the experience helped me learn to communicate more clearly and directly regarding my personal space and my needs. It helps, of course, that this friend is also a healthy and direct communicator, so truthfully this experience has probably even helped to erase years of relationships of various stripes wherein I felt I needed to walk on eggshells any time I had something to express (or felt that having to walk on eggshells was normal).
I’m grateful to have grown enough to speak up sooner than I was long inclined to; this is helpful in any any healthy relationship.*
All that said, I am grateful to myself for making concerted efforts in 2018 to achieve more social balance and to allow both literal and figurative space in my world for the possibility of new and enriching connections with wonderful new (or “old”) people. May 2019 also bring you a richness of opportunities for true connection, and the courage and openness to explore these.
*I emphasize “healthy relationship” above because speaking your mind, no matter how respectfully and delicately, can trigger extremely volatile and angry responses in some partnerships. If that sounds like what you experience, please talk to a counselor, trusted friend, or even resource shelter right away, to find some ideas for coping with the stress and minimizing the dangers.
This post is part of a larger series on the ways in which I’m taking stock of my own growth in 2018. The series is introduced here: