Isolation is a sign and symptom of two particularly difficult struggles in my life, food addiction and depression, and sure, they feed each other (feed! get it?!), but they manifest themselves in very different ways. And while the isolation that results from addicted behavior is always unhelpful to me, the isolation from depression can either be dangerous or productive.
When food addiction isolation takes hold, I basically just want to shut myself up in a space and eat. I do this in my office many days – that afternoon snack that I don’t want anyone to see me eating (“Do you really need that, fat girl?” says the imaginary-surrogate-authority-figures-whose-approval-I-crave-as-much-as-salty-fat). So, I close the door, inhale the food, and then open it up again when I’ve cleaned up all the evidence of my wrongdoing. Or I might stay up long past everyone else in the house, stand alone in the kitchen, and graze by the light of the refrigerator. There is nothing helpful or healthy about this behavior. Nothing.
Depression isolation looks a little different. There’s more sleeping and less shoveling involved. It’s a slow-paced isolation, without the racing heart and shame.
Today’s isolation was the unhelpful kind. Last night, I was awake until four am…first watching a very dark, but compelling television show and then obsessing over updates about the Malaysia Airlines flight that has gone missing, particularly drawn into the horror of imagining being on a flight with my own child as it dropped into the sea. Staying up late and sleeping late is one way to ensure I face people the least amount of time, because I can only come up with so many half-truths to explain how I feel or am doing on any given day, and it’s exhausting.
I had every intention today of locking myself away to catch up on some of the school writing that I’ve let slide for weeks (this is a reasonable and healthy kind of isolation to which we will turn in a few moments). In fact, I ditched a training and the opportunity to have my friend Beth kick my ass at the gym in order to be productive. I was going to isolate FOR A GOOD CAUSE! I didn’t, really, though. Today was mostly an obsessive internet surfing, excuse-making kind of day.
There are some days, when you open your eyes and know you’ve already failed. That’s the kind of day this was.
Last fall, I spent several very productive and restorative weekends at a spiritual retreat center about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I went to read and to write, and I mostly felt really good about the time there. I’d call Giehl to check in here and there, and on Saturday if I had been very good, I’d buy dinner at Whole Foods and speak to the cashier there, but other than those short interactions, those weekends at the hermitage were just me, my wifi-less laptop, and God. I even managed to keep distractions to a minimum. I will read anything with words, from tween dystopian drama to bird watching guides…anything to avoid hearing my own thoughts. On these trips, I brought the books I needed for research, a Bible, and nothing more. I wrote and wrote and wrote and prayed and listened and wrote some more.
But the last couple of times I went, I cut my time there short. I started to feel alone and afraid in the woods. I craved the warm light of my own living room, the soft fur of my dogs cuddled beside me. I felt something like a sense of panic before I frantically packed up the laundry and locked the keys inside the cabin on my way back to the city. The silence was too much. I felt the kind of vulnerable that comes just before I plunge off a cliff into the darker depths of depression. Instead of face the fear with Jesus in the woods, I left.
So now, I’m trying to figure out how to find a disciplined, monastic space in the midst of my daily life. Trying to discern if I should risk going back to the woods. Trying to figure out where I’m going to write the rest of this damn book that I’m supposed to finish in two months.
Just as soon as I’m caught up on my Hulu queue.