I’m an introvert. When stimuli become overwhelming, I retreat to a quiet place and ground myself.
I’m a depressive. When my depressive episode is in the midst of a downward spiral, I retreat to a quiet place and lose myself.
This is the world of my mind. When faced with both positive and negative stimuli, and being overwhelmed by them, my go-to response is to retreat and be by myself. In this I am not alone. Many introverts do the same. In fact, there are times when extroverts will do the same for, you see, depressive episodes make introverts of us all.
I make these remarks because I have a long-standing fear that is made manifest from time to time. My fear is that I will seek seclusion to ground myself and, in that process, lose myself in a depressive episode. My fear is that I will not perceive the difference between seclusion and isolation.
Is there, though, a difference? My dictionary suggests that although solitude, isolation and seclusion are synonyms, they differ in nuance:
“solitude refers to the state of one who is completely alone, cut off from all human contact, and sometimes stresses the loneliness of such a condition; isolation suggests physical separation from others, often an involuntary detachment resulting from the force of circumstances; seclusion suggests retirement from intercourse with the outside world, as by confining oneself …”
This suggests that seclusion includes an element of voluntary choice that may not always be apparent with isolation. This gives me a reference point to assess why I am withdrawing, perhaps a way to address the fear.
The fear was made manifest in recent weeks when I found myself finding excuses not to leave my apartment. The last time this happened, I was in the midst of the most destructive depressive episode I had ever experienced. You can, in light of this, appreciate my sense of disquiet.
However, on this most recent series of occasions, I was engaging in activities I found to be pleasurable. I was reading, albeit with reduced comprehension. I was painting, losing myself in the application of colour. I was engaging in mindful activities, my morning mindful coffee ritual for example. I was blogging and tweeting and posting on Facebook.
So, I asked myself, was my reluctance to leave my apartment voluntary. And the answer was, not entirely.
I sensed there was more behind this reluctance to leave my apartment. I sensed that my personal demon, the Black, who typically sits on the very periphery of my mind, was sending out probes, searching for a crack in my defenses to exploit. I could feel its eyes upon me, could sense its cloying presence, could feel the dark tentacles which had reached out to seize any opportunity it could detect.
Upon sensing this probe, my mind fell into its go-to response – I withdrew. But, and this is a key but, my mind also drew upon the new tools I have acquired since the Black was last present. And the new tools worked. They worked automatically, to apply my new defences against the Black. That is why I was still reading, painting, enjoying mindful activities.
This gives me comfort. My tools work. They have been tested, albeit in a small way. Moreover, this event tells me that while I may not always be consciously aware of the difference between isolation and seclusion, there remains a subconscious awareness.
My fear remains but it is less pressing than it once was. For that, I am glad.