Solitude vs. Isolation

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This unique time of stay-at-home orders and six-foot distancing from other humans is taking a toll on relationships and mental health. Fractured couples and families are taken to a new level of brokenness during enforced togetherness. Calls to police for mental health issues are up. Calls to domestic abuse hotlines are up. With bars closed, drunken driving arrests are down, but liquor store sales have risen dramatically. 

While the situation of enforced isolation is a challenge whether or not one lives alone, those who live solo face unique physical and emotional dangers. Isolation comes from the Latin word insula, meaning island. Isolation, chosen or unchosen, is situational. Loneliness is an emotion, a feeling, an interpretation of a situation which is also an issue for those in the midst of a dysfunctional relationship.

A sense of loneliness comes from the perception that we are missing something that we need or are without that to which we had been accustomed. From general discontent to out-and-out despair, loneliness is no fun.

Back about a dozen years ago, I found myself living alone for the first time ever. The kids were grown and gone. My marriage was over. The first couple of years were really hard. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I missed having someone there, someone to process ideas with, someone just to ask, “So, how was your day?” I missed physical intimacy, I missed someone to do things with that didn’t involve scheduling time with a friend. Generally speaking, I spent my time and energy focussing on what I didn’t have and in doing so, made myself miserable.

Over time, isolation and loneliness fitfully evolved into a fruitful and generally welcome solitude, a capacity to enjoy going places alone, to enjoy the freedom of doing what I want when I wanted, of being grateful for what I have, rather that fretting over what I don’t.

But still, there are times. There are those hours and days when the serenity of solitude is replaced by a sense of lonely isolation. Aloneness becomes loneliness.

My antidote is physical activity. Lately, to stay in a place of serenity I have been taking long walks, saying “hi” to everyone who crosses my path, exploring my new neighborhood, observing the first signs of spring, and the wondering at the strange stuff which had lay hidden under snow drifts. And then there are the birds and squirrels and dogs. No end of entertainment. Most days are good.

How are you doing? What is your prescription for staying balanced as the world sways beneath our feet?

One thought on “Solitude vs. Isolation

  1. Gail, Thank you for this distinction between solitude and isolation. Alone and loneliness. Yes, you are right it is a practice all on its own to be “one with self.” I agree taking long walks is freedom to notice things outside our sphere. And nature who is the best inspiration and teacher. Just listening to bird song, looking at the swelling buds on the trees. Hope. Thanks for this and let’s all look not at what we are missing, but what we are finding. Love to you.

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