“If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.” ~ Paulo Coelho
We all need our downtime.
I have always prided myself on being capable of being alone—wearing it as a badge of honor.
I am a loner; the quiet one. I’m passionate about my alone time and if I don’t get it, watch out. Alone time recharges us. It renews—helps us regain our sense of self and make better sense of our world. It’s like a long, deep sigh.
Who doesn’t enjoy a long, deep sigh?
As a young child I have a vivid memory of sitting quietly in a closet at my grandparents’ house. Sitting contently, listening to my relatives. The closet smelled of moth balls and not much else. I had done this more than once. I was a closet sitter. I felt cozy, safe and nestled listening to the voices of others. Knowing others were around gave me a sense of security, yet taking an emotional break from the crowd has always been important to me as well.
I was a young girl back then. Now my closet sitting, or downtime is done elsewhere: on the couch, lying in bed, running, hiking—but nonetheless, always solo. It’s relief from the outside world—relief from interaction. It’s needed for people like us—the loners and misfits of the world. Not many people speak of it enough. I tell others I need a lot of downtime and most nod their understanding—others give a strong “me too.” I’ve been known to overuse my downtime to the detriment of myself—using days away from others to isolate, instead of rejuvenate.
I’ve realized that my passion for downtime was not that at all, but a way of secretly keeping my heart safe and hidden.
It meant safe time—no tears (that others would see fall), no heart wrenching feelings (that others would have to witness), just smooth sailing. No vulnerability, no connection with others—emotionally, on any level. Alone time meant I could be myself. This made me numb to others and disconnected.
I have always yearned and searched for connection and am now, finally, coming to terms with this desire. It’s becoming a constant, almost daily craving—having observed myself challenging, little by little, old behaviors with new.
I’ve always been someone who smiles a lot—that has been my saving grace; yet, I never went further than that. Now, I whisper a f*ck it to my old ways and willingly partake in the connection—the exchange, these mutual interactions. It heals something inside me. My numbness is now more like a tingle.
I am discovering that joining someone for a few minutes of conversation at the local coffee shop, for example, adds a layer to my soul that wasn’t there before.
One particular morning, I briefly spoke with a woman I sometimes see. I mentioned my job frustration and my excitement about a writing apprenticeship that I was accepted into. She shared that she had experienced the same type of frustrations with her job and moving onto other things. She told me that she could see the excitement for this new venture in my eyes; they lit up. That moment was the highlight of my day. Opening up has never been my strong suit, but her words melted my heart. Honestly, that seemingly small connection brought me to tears.
Being witnessed by another is beyond measure.
Just recently, I was able to witness a stranger whom I had just met. She shared her story of heart break with me. We connected. To be witnessed in even the smallest way heals both sides. Those brief exchanges have inspired me to take part more often with others. Instead of a simple smile, I go for more now. When we search for more than just the smile, it heals—it connects.
I’m learning not to hide behind our shield of alone time when truly, we desperately crave these connections. We are here to catch one another, share our stories, to witness one another. We can start small—with a smile and a hello, like I’ve done at the coffee shop. Allowing these engagements with others to be our guide—away from solitude, which we thought was helping us (and it still does)—urges us to grow.
Realizing that the desire for connection is safer than we might have once imagined, teaches us to embrace both: connection with others and time spent alone.
Apprentice Editor: Thayne Ulschmid; Editor: Catherine Monkman