I have been spending a lot of time alone in my room lately, but it feels like a good thing. I’ve never really stayed still long enough to consider what is my true nature. Lately, I’ve come to the realisation that I’m the kind of person who needs a lot of time alone in order to cope with times of social interaction. My family have always understood this about me. If I spend a lot of time sitting in my room reading a book or hanging out by myself in front of the TV or sitting outside alone on the rare sunny days that we get in Ireland, my family don’t ask me what’s wrong. They don’t ask why I sit alone or don’t engage with them more often. I think this is because my family know me better than anyone else, better than I know myself.
I like solitude. I don’t find it lonely. I often feel more lonely among a group of people with whom I do not relate than I do when I spend time in my own company. I enjoy working from home as an editor, and I enjoy going to the cinema alone. There are a few activities that I prefer company for – eating food, going for walks – but mostly I’m happy on my own. One of the things that I try to do when I’m feeling depressed is to surround myself with people in the hope that this will make me feel better. Sometime, this works, but usually only when it involved a physical activity that lasts no longer than an hour or two. I do enjoy company, I just don’t always need it in order to feel good about myself.
I remember reading up on introvert and extrovert personalities. Contrary to what most people believe, being introverted doesn’t mean being quiet and unassuming. It simply means that the introvert gets their energy from being alone, from inside themselves. Likewise, not all extroverts are loud and confident, it’s just that they get their energy from being surrounded by people, from outside themselves. According to this definition, I am an introvert. I am a (sometimes) sociable, confident, out-spoken introvert and I am definitely not a quiet, shy and unassuming person.
When I try to balance my need for solitude with my attempt to manage my depression through socialisation, I often get it very wrong. When I get it wrong, I burn myself out, I lose the energy even to talk, and I tire of social situations much more quickly than usual. When this coincides with a dip in my mental health, I can end up in a slump for quite a long time.
I have realised that I need to be careful about who I spend time with. Some people are what I like to call ‘energy vampires’ although perhaps they’re just extroverts who aren’t spending enough around lots of people to get the energy that they need. People like this drain me completely, not because I don’t like them, but because I can’t cope with the demanding nature of their requests for my time and energy. It’s also why I’ve realised that I need to be careful about what jobs I take on. Working as a video editor suits me perfectly because much of the job is quite solitary – sitting in a room alone, going through hours of footage and immersing oneself completely in the job for hours at a time.
I’ve often felt that there was something wrong with me when I craved solitude, but I’ve realised that this attitude isn’t helping me at all. I can tell the difference between being depressed and wanting solitude. Sometimes they overlap, but I just need to trust myself and my instinct. If I want to be alone, then I’m going to allow myself that. It’s better to be alone than lonely, and I rarely feel lonely these days, so I must be doing something right.