Are YOU OK Being Alone?
I don't know about you, but I definitely struggle with this...to the point that I feel the need to drag my husband to the store with me, even if I just need to make a quick run for a small item or gas. OK, in reality that, thankfully, doesn't happen as much anymore, but it's a real issue that I deal with. The question I ask myself on my worse days is if I even know myself, like really know myself. Sometimes I panic because, in the last number of years, I think about the times that I've actually had to myself. Totally to myself. I come up with very few instances...where I'm not also reading, on my phone, or some other task that keeps me preoccupied. Then, I panic further because, I think, what if I can't spend time with myself?? Is that why I seem to pathologically avoid it?
Why Must We Always Be SO Busy?
Since I actually, finally, got an iPhone, maybe 3-4 years ago, I've found that every possible minute can be filled with checking social media (for the 100th time), playing a mobile game (that I'm hopelessly addicted to), or simply checking what notifications I might have waiting for me. It's like an addiction I didn't know I had or needed. The digital age has, in some ways, taken away our free time. Currently I am trying really hard to not check my phone because inevitably I will end up on the 3rd (or more) just-one-more-level mobile gaming sprees, wondering where the time went and feeling guilty that I just wasted all that time. Couldn't I have been more productive? Sure, but maybe it's not more productivity we need. What if we are not spending enough time with ourselves, and this is part of our overburdened, burnt-out lifestyle problem?
There are a lot of ideas for fixing our need for better focus or more productivity. I've tried quite a few rounds of meditation (which I do like), but I felt like I was treating some symptoms, not the underlying problem. Life gets busier the more adult we become; it seems almost expected that we need to "grow up" and stop playing or being bored. Our time would (and should) be better spent accomplishing...well everything important... Problem is, that leaves little time to, you know, chill. Take a mental health day (or even hour). What I've learned, recently, though my journey back to creativity, is that I need to be bored, I need to play, I need to know when something is too much and when to call it.
What if the solution is to be bored? To get reacquainted with yourself sans technology and outside input? To, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, spend time in your own head, thinking your own thoughts?
A Processing Journey
I have been working on aloneness in small increments, especially since I quit my last job. There was a LOT to unpack surrounding quitting that job (I had worked there for over 5 years), and the sudden nature of the change. But after the fall-out, I began to realize that my life had become so busy and intent on moving forward that there was little time to sit and dream. I had no idea who I was and where I wanted to be. I was terrified of spending time alone with myself. But I did realize that I needed to chill, slow down, and just be for a while. I couldn't go on moving from one thing directly to another.
I figured that I should try to find my passion/dream/vision and see where that would take me. I thought about the times when I had been most happy and tried to pull together the why. What was it that was driving my happiness? I had been most happy working as a graphic designer at a print shop that utilized both my creative and logical skills. So, at first I felt that going back to graphic design would be my saving grace, that that was what had been and would again be, my passion. But the thought of working using my creativity that was still so fragile, for the sake of others, just stressed me the hell out. It took me embracing my time alone to start unpacking why.
Through this time doing my thing, I've realized that the missing piece for my happiness is giving back to the community. Helping others. It's an aspect of my job as a graphic designer in a small print shop that I had entirely overlooked because I wanted to and felt expected to move forward to bigger and better careers in my field that paid bigger and better salaries. My job working in prepress was, at first, seemingly rich with that same aspect of helping others, but, over the years, that shifted right out from under my nose. That was why I'd been so unhappy and why I had desperately needed to quit.
I do have a newer job currently, as a typesetter. This was not an easy decision to make, but I needed something chill, that paid the bills, and that I could be interested enough in for long enough. I'll be honest. I love the people I work with, and I do enjoy the work. But I don't think that this is where I'm ending up long-term. It's the place I need to be right now and for now that is good enough for me.
The question that I still have no solid answer for is, what next? I've put so much thought into what surrounds this question. I know I want to help others. I like sharing how the books and articles I read are helping me on my journey. I would like to use creativity and design along the way. I absolutely love writing this blog. But the actual thing that is next for me? I just don't know, and even as that terrifies me I am uncharacteristically excited for where this takes me. And guess what, I'm taking the time I need to figure this out, not pushing myself to the next thing. That is a huge step for me.
The Situation Currently...
Incidentally, we are currently needing to practice exile for the good of the realm. This is a good time to be practicing being alone...just saying. Sure, your loved ones may be in close proximity, but you may also be left with a lot of free time that was once filled with social gatherings. I know I am. And, you know what, I am realizing that this is exactly what I needed. No, not the virus, but the time. To slow down, relax, and try to realize what is really important in my life.
I now try to plan regular amounts of me time to be self-reflective and alone in my head. But I have also had to accept that, sometimes, it's just as cathartic to binge-watch a whole season of Altered Carbon as to write a blog or sit with my thoughts. It's the intention of being alone, making the decision for yourself that you want, that is important. Get in there and be you; the first 5 minutes are the hardest! Don't worry what others are going to say/think/do.
And yes, I know what I said earlier about being alone without distractions. That is important, too! But I've learned that pushing yourself to such rigid standards like "all of my alone time should be productive" or "all of my alone time should be unproductive" are just too unrealistic. We need both and to exercise our right and need for both in our lives. It's not selfish to take care of yourself so that you can carry on helping others.