Random Thoughts

A Year In Isolation

I should stop reading Camus in waiting rooms on sunny days. Not everything written here is necessarily true.

Well, it's been a year in isolation from human contact now, with not much but random exceptions.

It seems to me like it has been perhaps what overcoming an addiction - like quitting drinking - must be like for many people.

Every day carries a shadow of dread - will I be strong enough to cope with this strange life? Will the events of the day conspire to knock me down badly enough that I have no way to right myself? What will I do if that happens? What did I do the last time that happened?

All my familiar structures for easing life's burdens have vanished into thin air, with no obvious - or obscure - way to replace them.

Even a good day leaves in its wake these worries for how tomorrow might be, or tomorrow's tomorrow. Or next week's next week.

The effort sometimes required, often sustained over days or weeks in a row, just to maintain a forward-moving, positive sense of self is herculean, and immediately brings with it the worry that I might not be up to the task tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or - how long do I have to live like this? How long will it be before life becomes or seems something like normal again?

Taking one hour at a time, even a day or perhaps two, the short-term reality does not seem like a big deal. "Staying in today?" "Yes, a quiet day. Staying in tonight, too." But when the days pile up on each other, when they pile up on me, and a few genuine, major unmet human needs and activities are simply not on the list of possibilities, on the list of available ways to spend time, the imbalance begins to take its toll.

I have been far more alone through this than I could ever imagine, to the point where written communication is failing to connect (this refers specifically to the "aching mind/tingling fingers" expression, and its follow-ons, but is reflective of a general growing sense of disconnectedness).

And, I didn't quit drinking (note: in reality, I did, but not in the terms of this analogy). There is no heroic struggle, as one might hope to find a meaning in struggling to live past the breaking of a terrible habit, the putting to rest of an addiction or addictions. I am not engaged in this almost continual battle with the literal forces of insanity, the clouds and tides of illnesses of the mind both named and as yet unidentified in order to reach some personal goal, some better self, to put away the terror in hopes of resuscitating some joy, somehow. The only goal is to minimize the cost, to reduce what is lost by the time what is so achingly missing can once again be a possibility.

And the abstract battle of hope and fear that such a possibility engenders.

After all, our social lives are an incredibly complex construct, and depend on a huge number of risks being overcome and bargains being struck to function at all. As we engage in this cycle of risks and bargains - and, indeed, rewards - it is an ongoing, self-perpetuating cycle, since we are continually reaping the benefits of prior efforts.

We all know that "other people" are an absolute horror to deal with. But as we face that horror on a daily basis, the richness that lies just beneath their - our - surface can be shared. Breaking this cycle puts us in a very dark place as individuals born of a tribal yet very independent and violent species. Can we regenerate the cycle of risk, bargain, and reward from first principles? Or will a part of ourselves - of myself - now remain forever held back, untouchable? Unseen, unknown, unharmable - but unlovable?

In isolation from any of that reward, the risk - the horror - mounts, while the perception of the reward becomes slowly more distant, a fading memory. It ceases to be the obvious solution to the problem, as the problem itself slowly shifts to seem to be "other people". Our efforts to dilute the empty strangeness with their shadows, the words disjointed in time, and not their presence becomes slowly harder and gradually much less rewarding: indeed, it was never even close to an acceptable replacement.

And the absence of social intercourse makes the imagined possibility of it seem ever more remote and more difficult to reclaim and rebuild into something of value that permeates our lives. My life.

The people I interact with have come to seem harsh and unforgiving. It makes me wonder if I have become to seem the same way. There is a distinct concern that some of these changes may be irreversible.

The absence of a future to imagine makes the challenge of designing a path to it seem insurmountable.


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© Huw Powell

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