Have you ever felt compelled to follow a course of action without understanding why? I don’t mean being compelled by external forces or other people’s expectations – I mean a course of action that seems to derive from within, but that doesn’t make sense. I put myself through abject misery and I actively torched friendships and relationships along the way in order to end up isolated because something in me demanded it, some aspect of me believed something better lay in isolating myself from other people. Well, I eventually achieved my isolation and it was worse than I could have imagined, but as I started to climb out of the hole I dug for myself I started to realize that many of my past actions did make sense in retrospect. I no doubt could have handled them in better ways, but in the end it “worked” in that I finally found myself confronting myself and unable to escape.
Isolation is an incredibly powerful thing. It can be torturous under some conditions and it can be uniquely beneficial under others. It’s the convergence of the two extremes I’ve explored and it has had a number of unforeseen effects on me that bear mention to anybody who may wish to pursue the ideas on these pages through similar methods.
The progress I’ve made in understanding and accepting myself in recent years was predicated on my attempts to find some kind of solution or advantage within an intolerable circumstance. I was extremely unwell and severely depressed at the time, and I isolated myself further, torching friendships in some cases, abandoning others, and distancing myself from family. In some cases I didn’t consciously understand why I felt I needed to do these things, I just knew I needed to. Imagine my surprise when I started to hear my own voice in the silence here, for the first time since I was a little kid. It was the expectations of other people that I overvalued and isolation from those people permitted me time to break the habits of emotionalism tied to their expectations and values.
The details of my life leading up to my emotional breakage are less important than the circumstances themselves. I’ve realized that had I continued to attempt to live by other people’s expectations I wouldn’t still be alive, I would have given up before now and committed suicide. Had I trod the hamster wheel in pursuit of profit I’d never have had the time and silence needed to do the work and heal from my messed up past. Had I had more tangible comforts I may not have been as motivated to persist in doing the work. It’s a common and true expression these days that it’s expensive to be poor, but there’s a cruel irony in the fact that poverty can also be a luxury in the twisted society we inhabit. I could not have accomplished anything related to this without it. Perhaps that’s another deficiency in myself I’ve yet to identify, or perhaps that’s just how things are.
All of my life I’ve had difficulty accepting other people. I’ve had the most difficulty accepting that people would choose to be the way they are in many cases, and choose to behave in the ways they do, and choose to believe the things they claim to believe. I have always had a strong sense of conscience. Even during times when I didn’t practice it, it still tormented me. I never lost sight of that in the way I observed in people around me. I never agreed anything was “good enough” and I never agreed that the expectations we burden ourselves with are OK. My life has been one of quiet resistance, while also trying to fit in to some degree, to have a social life of some kind, and the conflicts resulting from having to play along with the beliefs and values of people I cannot respect due to their obvious dishonesty with themselves was one of the major sources of depression for me.
The thing about abject misery is it can only get so bad before the brain itself falters in its ability to entertain itself. I ended up in physical pain, hungry beyond past experience, and in such an emotional spiral of self loathing and self denigration that eventually the emotions I was inducing began to wear thin. I believe the receptors in our brains simply become saturated and fatigued under this kind of strain. There begins a diminishing return on emotional induction and from there the feeling of it, the perception of my own emotions became more “two dimensional”, or less compelling. In one of those moments I accepted that the entire ritual of abusing myself with intolerable emotions was a voluntary process, that I was saturating my brain with these substances by thinking the dishonest and unrealistic thoughts, and that I had become addicted to the process of it. This was my epiphany and the point that would be considered a breakthrough from which I began to make progress.
In recent years I’m still conflicted. I have social needs going unmet yet I have very limited desire to be around most people. The issue seems to be that as I’ve changed my own values I’ve made myself even more incompatible with common expectations in this society. I’m not sure how I’ll resolve this, but it’s worth noting the problem.
There are also qualities to isolation that I think are unique. In the general din of our society and under the crushing burden of our expectations we cannot hear ourselves with clarity. At least I couldn’t, and as I became able to I realized I’m certainly not the first person to experience it. Sometimes we have to disconnect to grow because sometimes the expectations we value hold us back, and let’s face it, most of our expectations are not derived from ourselves, from our own values and our own sense of conscience. They’re taught to us when we’re children almost as a form of indoctrination. Our parents and caregivers, our educators and even our employers arbitrarily decide which emotions are appropriate to express under which circumstances and in what dose. We each internalize these group-thought expectations and thus we have this aspect of society, but the process is critically flawed with people unable to manage their own emotions raising children to do even poorer jobs with it.
Over recent generations we’ve seen an abandonment of common conscientious values because so many of them have been co-opted by religions and belief systems we no longer find appealing in their broader scopes, or with which we’ve developed ethical issues on other fronts. One of the more insidious aspects of religion is in how each religion pretends ownership of morality.
In isolation I’ve learned to tease out my own voice and to make my own acquaintance. I learned to self dialogue and I’ll discuss it more on the page regarding healing. It was only once I had divested myself of the expectations of other people that I began to treat myself with as much empathy as I intend to afford others.
Once I recognized my own voice I had to sort out my values and figure out who I’ve been versus who I am in the present versus who I want to be as a person. In the past when I’ve tried to reflect on these scales I’ve failed miserably because of the weight of other people’s expectations… I sound like a broken record and I apologize, but the matter cannot be overstated. Isolation resolved the bottleneck once I came to terms with the stresses and pressures unique to prolonged isolation. I found myself free to redefine myself, which in itself is a daunting idea, but I’ve persevered with correcting and developing my worldview and I feel my progress is self evident in my writing. I have a sense of conviction rather than pride. The ideas on these pages resonate as true for me, and so in the absence of ability to find comfort in denial, such as with religion, I’ve decided a better process is to work to honest acceptance of things so that the emotionalism of them becomes optional.
Any time a person says they won’t do something because it will make them feel bad you know they’re lying to themselves on multiple levels. Yet we’ve all done this. It’s one example of one of our poorer emotional expectations. We hold ourselves hostage to ourselves in avoidance of ourselves and the only reason we do it is because of our affinity for the molecules we use to produce our perception of emotions. It’s simple addiction to our own bodily processes and our own brain chemistry. Our emotional chemistry. What frustrates me, what I have difficulty accepting is that I’ve made strides in identifying and addressing this, essentially alone in an empty room, and if I can do that over the course of just a few years from a starting point of abject misery and extreme poverty, why isn’t this all chewed meat by now? Why haven’t any of our great minds identified and pursued emotional addiction, or endogenous addiction, as I see it? I know it exists. I keep coming back to the fact that we just don’t want to see it, and I’m the aberration.
Other side effects of prolonged isolation I’ve experienced include a mild temporal dysphoria in that minutes and hours can feel like days while at the same time days and weeks seem to fly off the calendar. Thoughts that make me wince or cringe elicit a much more intense reaction, momentarily painful at times. Audible breathing, apparently this is a common symptom and a self comforting mechanism. Reflecting on memories sometimes leads to more intense remembrances, almost flashback-like, like they depict in fiction. I never believed that was a real thing until it started happening to me. I pursue visualization in various ways recreationally and this may have made me prone to the effect. It’s not a good or bad thing, though it’s sometimes disconcerting to snap out of an intense remembrance. It’s almost like momentarily sleeping. I worry about spending too much time in that state, though I don’t know if it’s worth worrying about. The stillness and silence (when things are quiet) don’t bother me, but I can understand and accept that these aspects may be difficult for others. I do tend to have something playing, video or music, for background noise when I’m just puttering about. I usually write in silence, though sometimes I use music as a kind of mood stabilizer while writing.
As a footnote I’m adding later, I find remarkable the degree to which I still crave isolation, despite my loneliness. I crave those moments when I can hear my internal voice unadulterated by expectations. It can be really difficult and painful to remain isolated for prolonged periods of time but two factors I’ve recognized can help to mitigate the discomfort, somewhat. First, the quality of the living conditions in isolation are important. Creature comforts are important. I do not support the notion that austerity or deprivation are necessary or even beneficial in the pursuit of insight. Secondly, though it relates to deprivation, it is a very different thing for a person to choose isolation for a purpose they see as constructive than it is to be ostracized into isolation by one’s beliefs and values. I can choose to recognize both aspects as valid and they don’t cancel each other out. I accept that I’ve socially ostracized myself by my refusal to play along with the expectations of others more than is absolutely necessary to survive. This is my choice and I must accept the impacts of it. It’s a matter of priorities. But the loneliness is still awful.