As I scroll through Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr, I always see the same advice directed (primarily) at millennial women: "Learn how to be alone. Don’t be dependent on the company of others to feel happy or fulfilled." To which I, an introvert with social anxiety, respond, “Ha! Already nailed it. I love being alone.”
And it’s true — socializing drains me. I’m awkward and uncomfortable around anyone who’s not in my “inner circle” (parents, sister, boyfriend, one or two close friends). Nothing thrills me more than curling up in bed at night with Pizza Hut and Netflix, and I am more than happy to go sit in a coffee shop for several hours by myself to hang out. That means I get to be around people without the terrifying pressure of making conversation.
Being alone is my natural and preferred state. I know how to “be alone.” At just 21 years old, I have mastered the skill it takes some a lifetime to learn. So, obviously, I’ve got it all figured out, right?
Not quite. I’m beginning to realize there’s a significant difference between being alone and being alone with yourself.
When I’m alone, I busy myself with distractions. I watch TV shows I’m not emotionally invested in. I work. I cook. I clean. I drive around. I find things to do. I start feeling anxious when I have a block of time ahead of me and no plans for how to fill it. I desperately search for a chore or an activity to pass the time and keep my hands busy. I need to go, go, go because I’m afraid that, if I stop, I’ll sink.
At first I thought this desire to constantly be productive and active was a positive thing. I’d smugly think to myself, No one could ever accuse me of being lazy! It felt good to accomplish things — to “have my life together.”
But then my life changed, as life has a tendency to do. I graduated from college and started working full-time. While I was in school, it always felt like I had something hanging over my head, some essay I needed to write or test I needed to study for. There was always something I could be doing school-wise, day or night. Now I go to work, and I come home to a whole evening or weekend ahead of me with nothing I need to be doing. When I was up at 2 a.m. studying for a test, this sounded great. But, in reality, I’m faced with a whole lot of emptiness. And that emptiness terrifies me.
All these things are simply methods of putting off dealing with the dark, confusing mess inside me.
I used to dwell in the darkness of depression and dissociation, comfortably distanced from reality. But throughout college, I worked on pulling myself out of it. I found a job I love, I started dating a guy who makes me incredibly happy — and, for a while, it was easy to focus on the light.
But now my worst fear is falling back into the darkness, into a mindset that’s not quite my own; one that is dangerous and not based in reality. Who knows how long it could take me to crawl out of there again? I worry if I stop, breathe, and turn my attention inward, I’ll be forced to confront the darkness that follows me everywhere I go. It's my constant companion, my safety net for when life gets to be too much to bear.
I know I eventually need to confront him, because he will never leave me alone if I don’t. But, even though he has cloaked my soul in emptiness and a lack of feeling, I am still overcome with fear at the thought of speaking with him face-to-face and telling him goodbye.
So, for now, I’m running. I may look like a model college grad on the surface (working full-time, paying my bills, meal-prepping every Sunday), but all these things are simply methods of putting off dealing with the dark, confusing mess inside me.
But, because life has that annoying habit of changing and tripping us up, I know, sooner or later, I will trip and fall face first into dealing with this. And I actually find it comforting that life doesn’t care about my fears — it will force me to grow, one way or another.
This story was originally published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.