Isolation is an interesting concept. Humans are such innately social creatures, it’s hard to imagine living a life in isolation. Prisons use isolation as a punishment. Schools are admonished for using isolation as a discipline method, as it’s thought to be too damaging to students’ mental health. All through history we’ve formed social groups and bonds, and those who live solitary lives are often considered ‘odd’ and ‘other’.
However, isolation has its own positives which might initially fly under the radar. Being alone is a valuable learning experience. Being comfortable with your own company is a talent that needs to be nurtured and developed, just like any other good relationship. When was the last time you just hung out by yourself and did something fun? I have a friend who likes to ‘date’ herself. Once a month she’ll take herself to an exhibition, or a theatre performance, or simply out to dinner. Her solo-dates are fiercely protected quality time, and perhaps as a result she has a noticeably positive attitude about her sense of self, and belief in her abilities.
Being isolated isn’t a perpetual excuse to treat yourself though. We can use isolation to focus on doing unpleasant things we might not otherwise do - finally facing up to that paperwork perhaps. Or actually committing to the online language class. After writing this post, I think I’ll tackle organising my shoe shelves, a 5-minute task that I’ve been promising myself for a year that I’ll do soon.
Isolation can be associated with loneliness, being disconnected. It can lead to apathy and loss of direction, and can take a toll on our mental health. But when properly managed, isolation can breed positives. It can make us more appreciative of our communities. It can make us more considerate and aware of others’ needs, and it fosters a connection with those who have no other option but to be in isolation.
I know someone who due to a host of medical issues, lives much of her life in isolation. I had never really thought about the mental toll on her lifestyle - having to be so careful when out in public. Constantly washing hands, keeping a distance from strangers. She has been posting tips and tricks online that she has learnt over the years for those of us just starting our isolation journeys. She has learnt to love her own company and knows exactly what her mind and body need to keep them occupied and happy.
Luckily for us in the 21st Century, isolation doesn’t actually mean being constantly alone. We have the luxury of connecting with friends and family around the world whenever we choose. But perhaps by being alone for a while, our society will emerge kinder. More aware of the struggles faced by others, and more comfortable in our own company. By thinking of isolation as an unprecedented opportunity for self-reflection and doing good deeds, we can come through the next few months as far better versions of ourselves.