I’ve always been surrounded by people. I’ve been trying to remember a time when I wasn’t, when I was utterly and completely alone, but I can’t. I guess there were some times back in freshman year in high school, when I had a bit of trouble fitting in with my group of friends in my section, but even then I had friends to eat with during lunch break, and friends to hang out with after school.
I remember back in college, the first time I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, and I was an ISTJ. I didn’t understand it back then, but I find it funny now that I was ever labeled an introvert (I’m an ESFJ now, FYI). Now when I tell people that I’m an introvert, no one believes me, because like I said, I’ve always been surrounded by people. I’m not exactly the friendliest person around because I haven’t really mastered the art of asking questions, but I could hold my own well with a group of new people. I like being with people. Not in the party-in-the-club or in the shopping-crowd way, but you know, spending time with people I love. It’s one of the easiest ways to keep my love tank full.
A few weeks ago, I shut down. No, no, perhaps shut down isn’t the right term for it. I shut up. It started with something, an exhaustion of some sort that just hit me one day that got me gnashing my teeth, sort of, because I was so tired about that one thing that just. won’t. quit. So I shut up, and sat back, perhaps even staring stonily at the distance. But after that particular feeling has passed, I kept at it — the keeping quiet, not the stony staring into the distance. I felt like being quiet for a change, not be really “around”, fade into the background and sit and watch as opposed to always having something to say. Okay, this “fading” was really meant for my online life, where I had this sort of “omnipresence” that my friends teased me about. (I mean, really. I just happen to be online
all the time when things happen or show up on my feed. How can I not react?) When I shut up, I stopped looking at the things on my feed. I mean, sure, I browse and react sometimes, but other than that, I just didn’t say anything.
It was nice, not saying anything. It was nice to be an observer for a while.
I bought a present for myself last Christmas, something that I finished reading within five minutes but I didn’t regret getting: How to be Alone by Tanya Davis. I spotted the book while looking for a gift for some friends, and I knew that I wanted it as soon as I recognized the poem inside. I know, I know, I could read it online and even watch the video over and over again, but the book had illustrations, and I wanted to own something that had it. Something I could keep going back to whenever I needed to read it, to soak in the words and to dig for nuggets of wisdom in each page of that short poem with each reread. My favorite parts:
If you are at first lonely, be patient.
If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.
Society is afraid of alone though. Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements. Like people must have problems if after a while nobody is dating them.
But alone is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it.
You can stand swathed by groups and mobs or hands with your partner, look both further and farther in the endless quest for company.
But no one is in your head. And by the time you translate your thoughts an essence of them may be lost or perhaps it is just kept. Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those “sappy slogans” from pre-school over to high school groaning, we’re tokens for holding the lonely at bay.
Cause if you’re happy in your head, then solitude is blessed, and alone is okay.
One time I asked myself if this being silent thing is just a fad, that maybe it was a cry for help that I was just masking into something else. That it was really me, wanting people to notice that I’m disappearing, that I’m not showing up anymore. But when I thought about it some more, I knew that it wasn’t. It’s not that I completely stopped showing up, anyway. I still did. I spoke up sometimes, and people still see me and hang out with me outside. I just didn’t actively seek out other people as much as I used to. Like, finally, that incessant need to be with people all the time stopped being so demanding of attention. This reminds me of that time, soon after the last time I got my heart broken. I woke up one Sunday, and when I realized that I didn’t have any plans for the day, I felt panic rise up in my chest. I need to get out, I can’t stay home, I must be with people — thoughts that rushed in my head the moment I realized that I would be alone with my thoughts. Thank God my friend sent me a message then, inviting me for early dinner, which I immediately accepted.
But now…I’m no longer afraid of my thoughts. In fact, I don’t mind being just with them now. I found that I don’t always have to have someone to tell my thoughts to just so I could process it. I’d like to believe that I’m stronger now, that my thoughts will not get the best of me anymore. I’d like to believe that no matter how far my mind runs, it cannot go too far because they’re all still in my head. And my head is not always such a dangerous place after all.
I could just sum it up in one line, as what I told a friend when I tried explaining myself (even if I really didn’t have to): I’m just happy to be my own company right now. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with people anymore; if anything, choosing to be by myself every now and then is teaching me how to cherish the times when I’m with people again. But right now, I’m just learning to enjoy being with myself. Learning it again, I guess, if we want to be accurate. :) And there’s nothing wrong with that.
This doesn’t mean I am going to choose being alone forever. I’m not going to be a hermit now, or hide from the rest of the world because I prefer my own company over other people (how conceited is that?). I think I had finally just started to settle down into something, like the chaotic part of my life is over. Or perhaps it’s still there, but I had just learned to roll with it, and accept it for all it is and will be.
And besides, I’m never really, completely alone, anyway. As strange and contradicting as it seems, I can be by myself and still know for a fact that I am never completely alone. Because I am loved, and being loved kind of cancels the lonely out of alone. :)