Anxiety "specialists" or Depression experts or any other sort of clinical assessment sites often have statements like this, "If you take this antidepressant you will want to go outside more and enjoy your life more." Or "If you understand your anxiety you will no longer be stuck indoors in a life that is not fully lived." This implies that someone who loves being inside is unhealthy. Our culture celebrates extroverts. Some of this stems from religion. Particularly, Evangelical or Mission Orientated Christianity. The revered or considered healthy participants of these populations are those who are in positions of power, can convert many with their witness and "bear the fruits of the Spirit" (which in reality everyone has) but those who are admired for these fruits are often the ones who can show some sort of service the most outwardly. They are often people who secretly thrive on power but instead believe they are offering up a life in service. Although many of them do participate in this with whole heartedness and good intents. Extroverts in our culture are praised, looked up to, and held up as the person hood to aspire to. Busyness is also on the same god like level. When the majority rules, the minority is claimed as a clinical sign of ill health or unstable minds. *
Some of our greatest minds in Literature and Science, heck, even history's better advisory roles, were Hermits of some sort. Some people fare better inside and alone. Since I think I qualify as a moderate Hermit I would like to give my inside perspective, because besides Susan Cain's book, the diversity of perspectives from Introverts and the rare Hermits are sadly lacking.
I LOVE being indoors. I love the outdoors too but only enough to be inspired by them and get ideas to bring them indoors. My yard is large enough to soak up the fresh air and my home is full of plants, greenery and inspiring artwork. I am a Hermit and happy with it. In fact, any personality test I get, whether the day I am born (which is the sign of the Hermit) or my INFJ type, states that I need the maximum time alone in a comfortable environment in order to thrive. Being socialized and being sociable are two completely different principles.
I am often mistaken for an Extrovert. If I feel I am helping someone or contributing to their lives, I will be a prominent fixture initially, until I am either too drained to go on or until (in most cases) I have set them up with people, books or information they need to move forward in life without me. This scares people. Perhaps I trigger abandonment issues? I try to ease out of lives without them even considering that I helped or enhanced. Optimally, I don't want to be missed too much. I find most people gently leave my life because I either mirror something they would prefer not to see so they distance from me or I slowly distance myself by setting them up with their new connections. It is so much easier on them if they feel in control. There have been a few times in my life when I have not been ready for someone to leave, but they have because life was calling them excitedly to new ideas or paths...working on letting go and boundaries helped me see that even if they are not present in my life, I am still allowed to care from the sidelines.
I love the concept of people, even darkness in them or messiness, but BEING with people on a regular or DAILY basis, even with my best intents, can eventually cause hospital trips. I can actually take on their physical or emotional issues. I love to help heal and counsel. I love to see people balanced or whole or embracing their messy humanness. This means I do not want to contribute to a sense of harm nor a feeling that they were not enough. I have no problems giving versions of truthful insight if that is what needed, but even truth is relative and I tell them only to take what feels true to them, and sometimes this is enough for them to leave me. Who wants to face their demons other than Idealists?
Many of my relationships gave me so many new perspectives on life. I find I am best long distance or for short spurts of closeness followed by long months of absence. The friends who have managed to stay in my life have some easy flow of this sort of existence. Sometimes people know what they wanted to see FROM me but never really who I am. People prefer those like them. True colours can be ignored, corrected or misunderstood even if a person is truly giving understanding, compassion and thoughtful advice back. Very few people know who I am in all my forms. I am known for what I was to them or what role I played in their life. Nothing is wrong with relationships that work this way but I DO need time away from this and to hold close the few people in my life who actually KNOW me (my children, husband and best friend are the core. But I also have a small core beyond this intimacy with a few others that work with a little less input but not less value.) My own parents only know facets of me and in childhood it was easy to be misunderstood with Autism, sensory issues, undiagnosed Dyspraxia and my personality. I mirror what is chosen to see. I have found I can induce fear..of life, of life with a lack of conventions and rules, of the way I genuinely live, of who I am deep down...my beliefs, my reasons for choices...most of it scares people. I know simply because I used to make the error of trying to explain or expose and it was always misunderstood because of fear or a boxed mind. Thus, I took a step away from most people in boundaries not because I am anxious or depressed but because I know they probably can not handle who I am or my beliefs (people tend to prefer people who have lots of black and white ethics and belief patterns) and I no longer can handle trying to shield or explain all the time. It's one of my many weaknesses and I just am not a place in my life where I have that energy I did in my twenties to sustain that tenacity.
I know when I am anxious or depressed. I am well trained in all of the signs, as most of my sensory overload my entire life was treated mistakenly as either anxiety or depression. Plus, I have experienced legitimate depression and anxiety, and one who has gone through it KNOWS the difference. Both Depression and Anxiety need to be taken seriously and I do not minimize them. (Please see side labels for different posts on PTSD, PPD, and PMDD or Anxiety) but I do want to challenge the mentality that a happy life is lived outside the home or in social contexts.
I am as Introverted as they come. Reading Susan Cain's book was a validation but nothing was new to me. I KNOW I do better with less people in my life or at least less physical presence of people. I prefer my friends in email, online or with visitation spurts. There are only 5 people in my life I can see constantly and those are my husband, kids and best friend. Even then, I need a break. This is not to say that I devalue people. My INFJ personality loves to heal, to counsel and to bring forth new ideas and inspiration into the world, and especially to friends that I love. I don't love them any less simply because I am fine seeing them once or twice a year with some emails in between.
I am not unhappy or depressed because I stay in my house for much of my life. My home is my haven. It's my canvas, my art, my inspiration, my sanctuary, my garden, my dream, and the place where I become simply by being. I find that when I am around too many other voices I lose sight of my purpose. Some people need others to bring out their purpose...I need myself within my own realizations. I am enlightened, inspired and hope filled within my walls. I find The Source, or God or the Universe or Energy, or whatever name you want to put on it, most tangible when I am creatively living my purpose inside my home. I home school my children because I also believe they need this environment even if a couple of them are light extroverts whom I concede to feed their need for more people by having friends in our home. I prefer most play dates at our house but we do go out also.
None of this is unhealthy. None of these factors mean I give less to the world. None of these factors play into the types of depression I have had in the past. Depression in the past has accompanied these factors: too many people speaking into my life, feeling out of control due to hormonal fluctuations, traumatic experiences or lack of sleep. Disclaimer: I am NOT saying that shutting oneself in a home is not a sign of depression because some extroverts or those who thrive on being alive outdoors will have this as a significant sign of depression. But for myself, I could live almost 100 percent happy in my home forever.
I go outside. I love to visit my parent's, grandparent's and best friend in their cozy havens, and I love trips to nearby cities, but even these have to be spread out in moderation. This is because I get immensely drained by sensory overload, other people's energies and moods, and the world in general. My theory is that if women were considered equal back in the day as the seers, monks, advisers to the court or whatever without being mistaken for a Witch, I would have been respected. Women who were most often the Natural healers with herbs ect, the Douala's or Midwifes, the women who spoke up or were different or had incredible insight were subject to death simply because they were women. If I was a male monk during those moments, I would have never been pushed to go beyond what I do in normal circumstances without a clinical label being slapped on it. In fact, people would have admired my seclusion. I would have been praised for my bravery to be alone. I would have been revered for the capability to be able to have such quiet. This does not mean I do not value the beauty of actively going out into community or being in nature. I take these exercises in humanity seriously enough to give of myself even when it drains me at times, or to be revived in nature when there is a change of pace needed. However, outside is full of sensory drains for an Autistic Introvert. Being with people is full of colourful energies and emotions for an INFP/INFJ/ Scorpio.
I am often told from the more enlightened people who understand depths, that I am a mirror. People who get frustrated with me do not understand whom they are really frustrated with: themselves. I am a mirror who shows what people want or whom they are . I absorb their energies and emotions and while with them, become what they are, while knowing where I begin and where they start. Often this is not seen or this difference is not understood. That does not make them any less. It is completely understandable. My personality type is rare in all it's manifestations (including Autism) and it is not meant to be understood by most.
I never get myself confused with another person nor do I find myself EVER wanting to be someone else. I did however, make this mistake often in my twenties (wanting to be something I wasn't) and that in itself revved up anxiety and depression. I am who I am and am happy with it. Would I love to trade in some Dyspraxic traits? YES! But sometimes we have to come to 70 percent peace with our flaws. The other 30 percent is healthy anger or frustration inspiring what we can change (or blog posts to help those who also struggle!:)
Another difference in this way of Being is my loyalty. I go in and out of people's lives quite fast in most cases, and inevitably after a few years with everyone else, but it does not mean I do not think of them. Once someone takes up either a brief or long residence in my heart, there is a spot reserved for them if ever they need me again or if I need them. A remembrance of their beauty. Just because I see their struggles does not mean I judge them.
There are a few closed doors from people who misused their presence in my life but it takes a lot to get me to the point to ever fully close a door. Understanding happens once individual emotions are worked through. Because I need to find the beauty in myself when most people do not see it, I will find the beauty in them when they cannot see it themselves. This way of life can hurt but it is not meant to be hurtful. It is simply allowing life to take it's course of ebb and flow. I have made the mistake of trying to explain this to ease hurt but have found it only amplifies it. I WILL be there for a smile if we bump into each other and I will eagerly hear about their lives. There is a difference between not being friends and not being present if life demands a presence. If life demands it- I will be there and I will always love.
Sometimes we need to close doors. Not because someone was bad or wrong for us but because life is asking us to take a new journey that needs alone time or a new acquaintance. Sometimes we have simply gone as far as we can go without repetitive or unchanging behaviours which can trigger unhealthy states. We can't stay stagnant without ill health. The trick is allowing this to happen without being wounded to our core. I used to feel wounded when someone moved on either physically or in spirit but now I celebrate it after the initial (and natural) sadness. They have a new journey and I was lucky to be part of theirs for awhile.
I am a happy hermit. I see the frenzy, stress and disease of many who claim to love busyness or tons of people. Some extroverts genuinely do, but the rest? I think it's partially conditioned...especially if they are not content in at least 70 percent of themselves. But for me, I take this a step further because I do not thrive or need the identification of busyness or participation to have value. Nor do I believe I am less compassionate or human by being more isolated. I am balanced except when I am not...and I am okay with that too. I love my home and beautify it regularly. I am inspired, hopeful and part of the world we all create. I am no less because I decide to spend less time outside my home...and if there are any other fellow Hermits and their less isolated cousins, the Introverts, I want you to know that you are fine if you enjoy the content and quality of your life in quiet. You bring beauty.
I look at all the unique souls in my life I have been blessed to have different types of relationships with and my heart swells with gratitude. Relatives or nemesis who challenged me by misunderstanding or being cruel forced me to face myself in these circumstances because I could not change them, and learned how to grow in my own boundaries. I can honestly say that the amount of true wrong relationships in my entire life equals less than two hands. The rest of the people have been a variety of relationship depths that took up permanent residence in my heart. My heart is full of spots that stretch to fill if they enter back in, and comfortably fill in whenever they are not around. I do believe my life is fully lived. I ADORE my existence about 97 percent of each day. Most of it has been formed by hard choices and counter cultural ways of existing which are definitely not easy but for me, they have been rewarding. I do not look at anyone with envy. I have my own set of problems and joys and I regret none of them. Envy is not something I take with me. I do take the pain of others and myself and I take doses of anger and definitely impatience, but gratitude is a gift that keeps my perspective a little more healthy. I do believe this is because of my Hermit existence. I wish I could be a fully realized Hermit but in my circumstances this would not be possible. I have kids to raise and a place in society that DOES demand a bit of extroverted participation, but I like to have a certain amount of isolation because it enables me to realize higher levels of intuition, knowledge, wisdom, and truthful awareness. This also reflects soul searching and truth. The secrets of a Hermit existence or pattern of person hood would take too many posts to unlock. This is just a facet. Being a Hermit is not greater than being an Extrovert, but it is not less either as so much of our cultural authority suggests. It is simply different. A way of Being that benefits from solitude and rest.
May you find your way of Being in the world and follow it avidly without apology and with greater compassion.
*I have written about the concept of unstable minds and perspective in prior posts and it is too complex of a subject to cover here.
** Understanding through and WITH other people in person, books and art forms, and still contribute to society and have society help shape you are still legitimate to a degree and very important in at least one of the forms. Being a true Hermit would be impossible for me and I do not want to be one fully realized but I do have tendencies and I do not think it makes me unhealthy...that is what I was saying in essence but I was very social for the first 30 years of my life to get to this point...