Isolation is one of the words of the moment and – for me at least – it’s undergoing some requalification and redefinition right now.
I love my own company, and I have some distinctly antisocial tendencies that are deepening as I get older. I live alone, by choice, and I’m generally not unhappy to wave goodbye to visitors. My work often doesn’t require interaction with others, and my interests are also somewhat solitary; I’m a writer, a gamer, a devourer of stories. Even when I’m a walker, I generally only have my dog along for company. Oftentimes an obligation to leave the house, for whatever reason, can make me sigh and sulk. Certainly I would never describe myself as lonely or isolated, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve realised that this is because I’m choosing to be mostly solitary. When it’s being imposed upon me by outside forces, I don’t like it at all.
I heartily support any measures necessary to ensure we control the spread of Corona virus as much as possible. So I’m abiding by the guidelines we’ve been given and avoiding any non-essential expeditions. But realising I’m no longer at liberty to go for a long ramble in the countryside, pop out for a coffee, nip to see one of my family or friends, has made me realise I’m not as antisocial as I thought. I do feel isolated now because I’m no longer the one choosing to stay at home to do solitary things.
I think this is a very important difference between solitariness and isolation. It’s certainly one I hadn’t taken on board before. I’ve always been confused by people who say they are lonely, people who feel isolated; I now understand that their sense of loneliness or isolation is coming from outside. They haven’t chosen to be solitary; it’s being imposed upon them by circumstances beyond their control. It’s the lack of control that’s significant because the lack of control makes the isolation real. It’s not something that can be easily put right. ‘Join a club!’ ‘Make friends!’; these are simple to say but far more difficult to put into practice. Because that precious connection you have with a friend or family member isn’t something readily manufactured.
I am discovering a new appreciation for simple social pleasures I very much took for granted before. And I’m learning also to express that appreciation to the people who provide said pleasures, from my best friend – who understands that sometimes I’m grumpy and don’t want to chat – to my little granddaughter – who always beams with pleasure when she sees me – and – last but not least – my dog Poppy. Poppy, you are making this enforced separateness somewhat more bearable.
I hope all of you – my family and friends and everyone who reads my words – look after yourselves and stay well. I hope we can all come together afterwards and celebrate our connection with each other. I will never feel inclined to take that connection for granted again.