Mental Health and Isolation
Updated: May 31
The difficulties of mental health issues often lead to loneliness and isolation, as we shut ourselves off from the world out of shame, or an attempt to break free from the ever- stimulating and exhausting interactions of daily life. The temptation to withdraw into isolation is understandable and often a physical extension of an attempt to internally dissociate from the contents of one’s mind. We are all vulnerable to the desire to shut down when faced with the pain of a certain anxious way of making meaning, the inflaming of old wounds of rejection or abandonment, or a feeling of emptiness within life. Many of us have made a historical tendency of ‘fogging out’, ‘zoning out’ or ‘turning off’ when confronted with this discomfort. Very often this leads to the sluggish, sticky state called “hypoarousal”, the aspect of our nervous system related to the ‘freeze’ response. Whilst this reverie from life initially feels like a somehow soothing haze, we become increasingly despondent, shamed and stuck in this state. Chronically utilising this strategy creates the experience of being trapped in our dulled nervous systems, as the switch to dissociation becomes so automatic that we no longer feel we have a choice when entering its chambers. Our attempts to contradict this pattern become increasingly difficult and eventually feel futile, as our will is worn down by the frequent disruptions to our day to day functioning. “This is me”, we think, and chastise ourselves for our lack of fortitude or strength, a dialogue all too familiar to those afflicted with the experience we call depression. And though it may have been you at one point who chose this strategy, perhaps as early as childhood, it becomes less and less ‘your choice’ as your mind and body take on this posture of protection before you are consciously appraising the actual dangers of a situation.
The road back from isolation – from ourselves and others – is a tiresome and effortful process, but one that nonetheless must be done to return to the potentials and pleasures of the present. The journey begins with finding the gap, the space between the choice to resort to our old haven of isolation, or to stay where you are, right now, with all of the feelings and thoughts which are contorting you. Slowly, you learn to be with what is inside of you, even if you don’t know how to make sense of it. Sometimes tolerating it is enough to heal. Sometimes you need the listening ear or the warm hug of a friend. Sometimes responding to that pain, soothing it, or challenging it, inspiring it, is the way. And sometimes you seek out wisdom or counsel, in elders, books or the quiet space of a therapy room. Whatever may happen, you will be on the road to reconnection. Rejoining yourself, in the world which has been waiting for you.