It’s a strange feeling to be so isolated when you are surrounded by others – it’s something you never come to terms with in depression. I know I’m surrounded with great friends and family but I can have a sense of being removed from it that makes me socially awkward and scared of such occasions. This isn’t a blog to ask for kind words; to see this as a cry for help or a rally to friends to come and hug me is missing the point – it’s not a needy Facebook comment phishing for compliments – it’s just a fact of my life, nothing more. So much of my time is spent on my own regardless who else is in the room with me. It echoes the idea from many philosophers that only you exist and the world around you is a creation of your own mind. In that case I’m really fucked.
For most of my life I’ve felt like an outsider, a loner who moves through social groups but doesn’t really settle in one. I have great friends but I am aware of my awkwardness around them and how I end up making them feel unsettled at times too. It takes those with a lot of patience to be a friend to me because I’m not the easiest to be around between the jokes that go too far and the silences that punctuate conversations. And the most unusual thing about the loneliness is it becomes worse the bigger the crowd I’m in – it’s why I hate overcrowded supermarkets, don’t go to standing gigs and hate nightclubs. There’s a claustrophobia that is only solved by introversion.
Often throughout my life I have removed myself from groups to find clear space to be on my own in. Some used to think it was an attention seeing manoeuvre, but the opposite was true – being on my own actually stops that pit of loneliness being a problem. But the irony is clear to all that this puts me in a solitary position whichever situation I find myself in. It’s almost like you can hear yourself think and it calms you down. Whether on stage with the band or at the front a classroom I have space and distance from the crowd so that makes me comfortable, but step into it and I feel lost.
Most of the problem is in my head – obviously – but trying to help others understand depression means trying to explain the deep and aching loneliness that goes with it. The removal from society, friends and even those closest to you. Alcohol used to help at parties and nights out because it drowned out the thoughts and you started enjoying yourself, despite yourself. Now I am teetotal (due to the fact the tablets I’m on would be in direct opposition to the effects of the booze) I am more aware than ever of my socially inept self.
Inept is the wrong word but the negativity of depression makes you see the world in darker hues and flavours. You assume that the guilt or embarrassment you feel about situations is matched by those it involved and rarely is that the case – in fact very often they don’t even think about it. I’ve sent many an apologetic message in my time to cover stupid situations that stay with me long after the situation has been forgotten by everyone else.
Loneliness is a sad thing – real loneliness of those who live on their own must be crippling to the soul. I, on the other hand, almost have a false isolation, one I assume others who struggle with depression have – perhaps not. I can lose myself looking out a plane window, at the cinema, looking out at nature as if I’m the only person around and no-one around me even exists. If you understand that feeling then imagine that throughout your life in everyday situations. Pleasant enough but detrimental to relationships and friendships. I wonder if this is why many couples split up because of depression/mental illness? The inability for the other person to fit into the lonely world the depression creates. It is selfish more than anything else.
I’m lucky I’ve found one of the most patient people on the planet. Even when I’m isolating myself she holds on to me and reminds me that when I come back, I’m welcomed back to reality. Not all partners have that selflessness. I’m just glad she accepts the loneliness as part of me and doesn’t take it personally. Just as well or I might find out what real loneliness is.