Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Storied Mind: Isolation

Posted by JohnD


Posted by JohnD
3 days ago

BetweenLove-Fear-Eddi 07-2gen450.jpg

Some Rights Reserved by Eddi 07 at Flickr

Susan and Dano have presented in comments here
two different ideas about isolation that I need to explore more deeply,
with your help. This is hard for me to pin down alone. My mind wants to
wander, to lose focus, to put itself to sleep because this gets at
something I don’t want to face – so bear with me as I try
to chain together a few thoughts about what is happening in the urge or
the necessity to isolate.

Dano has written with crushing
power about the worst times of depression when the illness flattens her
under its unremitting pressure and pain. Isolation, then, is not a
choice but a necessity. The ability to face others, to speak, to
interact is completely stripped away.

I know that when
I’m crashing into the thicket of Depression, I need to be alone.
The very act of making eye contact, speaking, inhaling and exhaling
have become monumental tasks. I feel contagious, as if by even being
near me, others will get sucked into my mental black hole.

know this feeling. When it hits, I can’t talk, can’t think,
can hardly move in any direction. And all I’m hearing are voices
tearing into my soul, full of hate and contempt. It becomes so intense
I think I can’t stand living with myself for another minute.
That’s when my inner rebellion begins, and I know it’s a
battle for survival. The determination comes back that I’m not
going to be defeated by this illness, I won’t let my mind be
poisoned into wishing for death. That’s the inner struggle going
on. If I don’t isolate myself to get through this fight, I
won’t last long. That’s not choosing isolation –
it’s a victory for survival and inner resilience.

wrote in a comment here about a different state of feeling – or
at least one that I see as very different. She calls it a Siren song of
isolation -

I long for it when I am depressed, take the
phone off the hook, don’t collect the mail, no human contact. I
don’t want it. A few days into it, I long for it, but get so
afraid of it…..I’ve lost so many friends over the years
through this I don’t know. How can you long for something which
is so toxic, but sings to you like a siren and destroys you in the end,
and all your friendships and love relationships?

Siren song is a good comparison. In Homer’s story, that song is
an irresistible call to sailors passing the Sirens’ island, only
to lure them to their deaths. Ulysses wants to know what their song
sounds like so has his crew tie him to the ship’s mast, then seal
their ears with wax, warning them not to pay attention to anything he
might say or do to get them to obey the Siren’s call. So he
listens and fiercely orders his men to free him and to head for the
nearby island where the Sirens live. They ignore him and so he and his
men survive. He has managed to outwit another of the fatal snares set
for him and other travelers in their dangerous voyage. It’s a
great fable for this problem.

I’ve heard this song
too and have longed to give into it. But, like Susan, I know it will
destroy me if I do. So what’s the equivalent of tying myself to
the mast? I have no ship’s crew to turn to for help because I am
not letting them get near me, but if that’ s true, I’ve
already given in. I have to search back to the first moment I feel this
lure, the first step I take to seal myself off. What is that? One of my
best defenses against other symptoms is simply catching myself starting
to accept the reality of the symptom. That’s where I have to stop
and think; This is not a real state of mine – it’s a symptom of depression – shut it down, kick it out, just stop it! NOW!

has worked when I start hearing the voice in my head telling me I
can’t do anything right, I’m no good at this, give it up. I
can catch myself believing that trash and yell back NO, shut up, you
have nothing to do with me! And recently, I’ve been able to catch
myself falling into another trap, especially when I’m writing,
trying to reach deep inside, express real feeling. I suddenly get foggy
in mind and feel the need to sleep, or I actually start nodding off in
front of the computer. I know damn well that if I give in to that, I
will wake up not refreshed but sluggish and more depressed than ever
because my defenses are down. What I do instead is jump to an alternate
activity, something more mechanical that can absorb my attention for a
few minutes – or I get outside in the air, pace around, look up
at the sky, respond to the simple life of the day, feel a part of that,
come alive again. Then I can go back to writing, truly refreshed and

What, then, is the first thing I do to isolate
myself? In my case, as I think about it now, I stop talking to people,
everyone, focus on my own thoughts, which suddenly take so much
attention that I hardly notice anything or anyone around me. If
I’m already alone, I cut off every possible way I might be
reached. Turn off phones, computers, don’t respond to any
knocking at my awareness, withdraw into a mesmerizing passivity,
staring into a rich nothingness that offers a hope of inner peace.

depression’s disguise as a pleasant condition promising
restoration. It is inducing me to step aside from a troubling day, take
a little rest, a little harmless rest. I can see myself soaking into
the feeling, like bathing in perfect water. I want to slide under the
surface and glide, glide smoothly in comfort and tranquility, the
medium I flow in offering no resistance. I long to become one with it,
feel myself dissolving in its warmth, wanting nothing more than to
disappear as I descend.

But in the midst of that I can
suddenly see I’m heading into a kind of death, either literal
destruction or the emptiness of a total blockade against everything in
my life. Panic sets in, and I am desperate to back away. By then,
though, a lot of damage has already been done, especially to those
closest to me, who have so much support to offer until I shut them out
without a word.

All that I know how to do is to catch
myself at that first sensation of yearning for the comfort of solitude.
If I can recognize that, call it what it is – another symptom,
not a real need of mine – I can see around it, avoid it, reach
out to my loved ones and simply say, here’s what’s
happening, I’m trying to fight, bear with me. Get a few words
out, let myself hear a voice responding and so move farther and farther
away from the fake call of a deadly Siren.

What do you do to break out of this trap?

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