My bedroom is comfortable. I’m protected. No one can judge me for my irrational insecurities. No one can make me feel inferior. But is this living? I think not.
Yes, it may feel safe. But when did safety ever merit any growth? Never.
It starts with an innocent thought and suddenly everything burns down. You literally hate how it makes you feel, but you can’t imagine what life would be like without it. I call this depression.
What maybe started as the winter blues is now a full-blown disorder. Self-doubt creeps up almost everywhere. And the thought of making it out of the house today, well, you know that’s definitely not going to happen.
I get it. I so get it. It hurts like hell and nothing makes sense —what’s up is down and down is up. So I say no to the invitations and get comfy alongside the barbed wire I’ve figuratively entwined myself in.
The thing is, isolating yourself when you’re depressed isn’t helping you feel more comfortable. In fact, it’s actually a pretty big cause of your despair. I mean, we’re not designed to live alone. Day after day, it will bring you down.
For the great majority of human existence, we’ve lived in small, intimate “hunter-gatherer” communities. Scientists who spend time studying modern-day “hunter-gatherer” groups explain that social isolation and loneliness are largely unknown among them. Why? Because group members spend the bulk of their time —practically all day, every day —in the throngs of friends and family.
Even Americans of a few generations ago benefited greatly from this abundance of community life that sadly has just about disappeared. Do you find yourself slowly retreating into the sealed comfort of your fortress-like home? Have you noticed that your once deep friendships are replaced by screens and gadgets? I do and I’m slowly realizing this only exacerbates my need to stay hidden.
The thing is, there are ways to break the cycle and ease your depression symptoms. Here are three.
1. If you must shut out the world, do it in a way that helps you rather than hurts you.
Being alone isn’t always a bad thing. However, you can’t live every day in solitude. I mean I know I need some alone time after a long day out. I need to decompress and not talk to anyone. But the emphasis here is, after a long day out. If you’re staying safe behind your rose colored sheets, you’re only dragging along those invalidating emotions.
So instead of retreating to a dark room and lying in bed to cry about your problems, try to get outside of yourself (figuratively and physically) while still being in your safe zone. Because your home doesn’t have to be a place of condemnation. Get creative, people.
Consider mind puzzles —logic problems, crosswords, or even board games. Why not whip out a jigsaw puzzle? Draw or paint, learn how to play a musical instrument, write stories or get lost in a movie. You could always read a book or a magazine and listen to some music.
Just avoid anything too heavy or deep when choosing your book or song of choice. Keep it pleasant and light. This way, isolation doesn’t become a period of deep introspection where you worry about problems by going over every single detail and beating yourself up.
You get the peace and quiet without the torment that can accompany you during a depressive episode. For me, I’ll shut my door and write. Sometimes, it’s hard to express verbally how I’m actually feeling. So by writing it down, I’m organizing the chaos in my head —except sometimes you literally have to say it out loud.
2. Have at least one person you can trust (and then confide in them about 3-4 times per week).
Notably, 25 percent of Americans have no meaningful social support at all —not a single soul they can really confide in. Nearly half of all U.S. residents report having no close confidants or friends outside of their immediate family.
And where has this gotten us? —a heightened probability of mental illness. Social isolation is a huge risk factor for the onset of major depression, which has nearly doubled in prevalence over the past 10 years. There’s also growing evidence that isolation increases vulnerability to multiple forms of addiction. This is not OK.
To reverse this, you should have someone special you can call when you need to talk, someone who can be with you just watching TV or going to a movie —someone who understands the meaning of comfortable silence. In the T.V. series, Grey’s Anatomy, they call it my person. Simply spend time with your person (as well as others) as much as you can.
You don’t even have to talk about how you feel if you don’t want to —sometimes, it helps to simply have someone there. However, I encourage you to use those resources and lay it all out on the table. If you find the conversation going somewhere that makes you uncomfortable, be clear that you don’t want to be questioned about your feelings or that specific topic. Hopefully, they’ll understand; I suspect they will.
3. Only shut the world out for a day or two each week.
There will be times when you just want to shut out the world and have your own space. Many people just want to be alone in a quiet room. There’s nothing wrong with this at all. But try not to make it a daily habit. Schedule some alone time once, maybe twice a week at most and be strict with it. You could tell that special person about this, which can help to keep you accountable.
That said, it’s about a balance. Yes, I’m literally giving you permission to shut the world out for a day or two each week but for the rest, be around people —especially your person. We are the company we keep so make sure you actually like yours.
Because we need it. We can’t live a fulfilling life without visually seeing and physically feeling the outside world as well as connecting with people around us.
If you’re like me, maybe you’re afraid to feel less than? And a result, you hide. Isolation is indeed a counterpart of depression. The key to diminishing that impact is to understand how it happens. You can then use that new knowledge so it helps you beat depression instead of keeping you trapped in it.
After all, healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life.