Isolation – my story

by lackofsolidity on October 12, 2010

Isolation. There is little doubt that this is a significant factor in the development and maintenance of mental illness. “You keep patients from isolating, because isolation is what has made them sick and, if allowed to continue, isolating will make problems more difficult.” (pg. 138 of Divided Minds: Twin Sisters And Their Journey Through Schizophrenia by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro, M.D.) However, when most of us think of isolation, we think of a lack of any social contact, as though alone, with no friends.

I argue that one can be isolated while being popular and seemingly the social butterfly. I believe this because this is what I feel happened with me.

Not connecting with the rest of the world doesn’t mean you don’t have connections, or the ability to network and socialize. But real connection requires a more vulnerable, sacrificial level of communication. Two guys I dated this year described our short times together as, “not feeling right”. One of the chick lit memoirs I read recently describes a superficial, surface kind of connection with one of the guys the author dated and dumped. I’ve also read in Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good For You and Avoid Ones That Aren’t by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, that it is a warning sign if someone is not willing to share their own weaknesses or problems with you. This can, supposedly, often hide deep-seated, unresolved issues. Although I think this is an extreme view, I do think there is something to what they are saying. To really connect with another person, you have to be willing to open up in ways that put you in riskier positions. We have to be willing to ask for help, advice, and condolences; to let others know what we need. Without this, we are losing the one thing in our lives that keeps us human: other humans.

In Wasted: A Memoir by Mark Johnson, a long-timer at one of the author’s addiction/recovery support groups tells him, “I mean you’ve got to tell your secrets. Real secrets. All the small embarrassing things you’ve never told anyone, the sneaky things, the spiteful things, the grassing-up-your-mates keep-it-to-yourself kind of things that you swore you’d never tell a soul. […] Talking about your weaknesses gives you back your power.” (pg. 287) I probably don’t have to tell you that addiction is also considered a disease, or that this individual was talking about the power over one’s own life and mentality.

I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Prior to this, I had newly introduced myself to the party scene, and developed new “friendships” everywhere. I was good at being others’ consolers. I would listen, and yeah, I did care. But I wasn’t willing to put my own self out there the way others did. I wanted to have fun, and only fun. I’m told I have a mixed type of social anxiety, but creating all these “superficial” friendships as opposed to real, close connections only made me worse. Perhaps I began to forget how to do otherwise; I’m not really sure. I used to have a lot of pen pals, so I could share my more open self in a safer way. I kind of stopped that. Anyway, the point is, I was isolating myself in a much less obvious way, and I believe it was incredibly detrimental to my sanity.

After being diagnosed and beginning to read up more on others’ experiences with mental illness, I began to see my own follies. And I’m making a much more concerted effort to open up to others in ways I haven’t attempted to do in a long time. I do believe this is helping.

However, one could argue the chicken-and-the-egg theory. Maybe my mental illness began developing before these social issues, and my own knowledge of this made me want to further hide my ‘true self’. I do recall my most prominent fear being that I would “go crazy” while being under the influence of alcohol or drugs – especially when I would black out, as this would occur with me in greater frequency than most people I know. The loss of control was horrifying. I recall a guy taking a picture of his genitals with my digital camera during the time he claims he had blacked out. Another girl told me she had “shat” herself while she was incredibly sloshed. I would be mortified if I ever pulled anything on those levels, and I knew I was fully capable of doing so, and worse. But mostly I had been told that during my memory lapses I would either be balls of fun or cry non-stop. How bipolar of me.

So yeah, these are my own analyses, possible theories. Just thought I’d share.

Tags: personal, relationships, diagnosis, secrets