Craving post-holiday solitude

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

The holiday season seems to be a good time to revisit the importance of solitude.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve truly been enjoying the lights and music of the season, family traditions (oh, those homemade perogies at our Christmas Eve feast!), the joy of watching 4-year old Everly Rose embrace in equal measure the arrival of Santa and the Baby Jesus story, out-of-town visitors, and the seasonal open-heartedness one encounters even from passing strangers in the Village.

But I’m physically craving some delicious solitude right about now.         .     

Dr. Ester Buchholz, author of The Call of Solitude, describes solitude as “meaningful alone-time” – a powerful need and a necessary tonic in today’s rapid-fire world. Indeed, she maintains that solitude “actually allows us to connect to others in a far richer way”.

She likely didn’t write that as specific advice for those of us living with heart disease, but it struck me when I read her words that, although they are probably true for all women, they seem especially applicable to those living with a chronic illness.

Indeed, maybe our heart health would actually improve if we were more determined to carve out more precious “me-time” during the average day. We’re not talking about social isolation, but about carefully balancing busy time and quiet alone time.

I clearly remember a distressing stage long ago when I was the young Mum of both a preschooler and an infant (and was often a single parent due to my husband’s demanding travel schedule at the time) – a time when “me-time” was essentially impossible. I recall, for example, trying to block out a 15-minute period of quiet time during each day for my mindfulness meditation exercise, and realizing to my profound dismay that I simply could not do it without a crying infant or her busy big brother breaking up my plan.

How is it possible, I wailed internally, that I can’t find 15 uninterrupted minutes in my day for MYSELF?

Years later, the art of enjoying my own company was fostered during business travel on my own when I worked in corporate PR, which then seamlessly morphed into happily solo leisure travel, too (France, Spain, Hawaii, Belgium, among other holiday destinations over the years). The siren call of being able to get away from the persistent demands of everyday work/family/social stressors – and even just small talk – seemed irresistible even back then.

Laurie Erdman at Chronic Wellness Coaching is a woman who lives with a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis;  she reminds us that, historically, the way we have handled being alone has changed dramatically:

“The word ‘alone’ did not always mean an absence of others. The word was coined in medieval times, and originally signified a completeness in one’s singular being. In religious terminology, ‘solitude’ typically meant the experience of oneness with God.

“Yet all current meanings of ‘alone’ imply a lack of something.

“Invariably, solitude meets with social questioning, if not censure. Perhaps most striking, solitude conjures up pangs of loneliness. The very idea of solitude may evoke deep childhood fears of abandonment and neglect, and cause some people to rush toward connectedness.

“Surprisingly, it can also tell us that we are not taking time to be in contact with our inner selves – to be alone.”

Laurie suggests that learning how to enjoy time alone can bring the “ultimate in peaceful moments”. Solitude, she explains, is when you can shut out all the responsibilities, obligations, duties and chaos of life and create a small sanctuary of healing calm:

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“Psychology is only just beginning to distinguish aloneness from loneliness.

“People inside a tight-knit nuclear family can be just as unknown and lonely as those living on their own. Attachments are not automatically fulfilling relationships. In some cases, attachments are maintained only at the cost of extreme personal compromise: people speak of being shackled and held hostage in a relationship. Certainly there are well-made marriages, but if we are primarily social animals, why would bonding prove so arduous?

“Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest.

“Alone-time is fuel for life.”

As Laurie says, distinguishing (good) “aloneness” from (bad) “loneliness” can be a tall order.

Even while writing this article, I had a hard time finding an appropriate image to illustrate it. Searching online for pictures representing “woman+solitude” inevitably resulted in photo after photo of grim grey faces staring through rain-flecked windows looking like they’d just lost their best friend.

Dana Jennings is a New York Times journalist who in 2008 began writing columns about life as a cancer patient. Here’s a look at the solitude that Dana called his “agreeable pal”:

“More than ever these days, I want to shrink the world to the couple of rooms in my house where I’m most comfortable. I’ve been declining requests for my time, and the social whirl is less compelling than it ever was. To me, a perfect evening often means stretching out in the den and vanishing into a good novel. It’s part of the healing process, of coming to grips with my new vulnerability.

“I want to nest. I’m doing well physically, but my spirit is still convalescing. I take pleasure in the most gentle rhythms of daily life: walking the dog, meeting a friend for breakfast, getting a haircut.

“I’m still reinterpreting myself in the face of illness, and that takes time and quiet. It can’t be rushed, and I can’t do it successfully if I’m caught up in our huckster culture’s unrelenting ruckus.”

Like Dana, I too want to nest. My own days living with ongoing cardiac symptoms caused by coronary microvascular disease are now categorized as what I call “one-outing days” or “two-outing days” or (rarely) “three-outing days”, with lots of quiet downtime in between each outing to repair and recuperate.

It’s not that I don’t love spending time with family and friends, but I’ve discovered that this time needs to be carefully balanced with quiet. When a busy morning can be followed by a lovely afternoon enjoying a book or a solo walk along the ocean, for example, I get to appreciate my own company while recharging my batteries – and without having to think at all about communicating.

For many heart patients, it seems that even keeping up our end of a lively conversation can feel exhausting.

And as author Dr. Ester Buchholz reminded us in her book:

“Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Q: What’s your favourite form of creating moments of solitude?

.

See also:

I need a nap!

Six personality coping patterns that influence how you handle heart disease

Drawing a picture of your diagnosis

Is being nice’ hurting women?

Got a minute? Try this mini-relaxation exercise for your heart health

25 thoughts on “Craving post-holiday solitude

  1. Another well timed post for me! I had just shared a tweet (first in two years) to the same effect. Wonderful Christmas with my hubby, grown kids, spouses and one little grand out of state, but so needful of being home with no social responsibilities. ❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate, Barb! No matter how wonderful the family/holiday time is, it generally just means MORE of everything and everybody, and far LESS of our own small needs being met…. Today I attended two lovely holiday events (a symphony concert – Viennese New Year’s – followed immediately by dropping in on a friend’s annual New Year’s Day Open House. Both were really terrific, but back-to-back events (the latter requiring lots of small talk) were pretty exhausting. Jammies by 6:30 pm. Happy 2020 to you…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    I love this post. As an introvert, I’ve always been quite content to spend time alone. In fact, I love my alone time. If truth be told, I very often prefer it. Of course, I also love spending time with my family. But alone time, man, there’s just nothing like it. Alone time by choice, I think that’s an important aspect of this discussion.

    In this day of social media frenzy and tendency to overbook ourselves, alone time can be hard to carve out. And yet, it’s a necessity. I no longer apologize for bowing out of invitations, doing “nothing” or having no set to-do list in front of me every single day. It’s so freeing when you no longer feel you must explain everything you do or do not do.

    I am going have to get my hands on the book that Andrea mentioned in her comment. Sounds like a must read for this introvert! Comments from your readers are one more thing I always appreciate about your posts, Carolyn!

    As usual, your post is so timely. Heading into the New Year, it gives us things to ponder. Thank you. May 2020 be kind to you, Carolyn. May it be kind to us all. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Nancy!

      I love writing my Heart Sisters posts, but – like you – I really do enjoy my readers' comments!

      And as I mentioned in the post (but I think it warrants repeating): honouring our need for solitude does NOT mean enforced isolation (too much of which is not good for us, either), but it's a way to ensure BALANCE amid the frenzy of overbooked calendars while carefully maintaining our health.

      Happy New Year to you, too… ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this blog, it’s so relatable. I love busyness but I love and need solitude too. I find solitude in different ways but with my fatigue I have to pace myself. Some days it’s all I can do to be.
    X

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Julia. I’m glad you mentioned your last statement: “Some days it’s all I can do to BE.” I wish more healthcare professionals could appreciate that reality for many of us when they are attempting to motivate behaviour change, or when we are feeling like we’re somehow not doing it right if we don’t feel better…

      I wrote more on this topic in my post called “Please! No More Bragging About Mountain Climbing!” – You might be able to relate to it, too.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I really loved this post Carolyn and couldn’t agree more. It is so important to balance our need to connect with others and with ourselves. For me, getting to curl up with a good book or movie helps me to chill and recharge.

    When I tried to post this on your blog, it was blocked for some reason.

    Wasn’t Christmas wonderful with our wee grandies? I loved seeing how excited they got with little and/or big things. For me, going out to Butchart Gardens with my whole family including Risha and Mateo was the height of the season. It was truly magical with a full moon to top it off!

    Kit 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kit! YES! Chill and recharge – important goals!

      Christmas was indeed wonderful – our Everly Rose is just the right age for Christmas. She had only two ‘wishes’ in her letter to Santa: “A Polly Pocket and a Toronto Raptors hat for Daddy” – adorable! Of course, Santa ended up bringing a few extras… We’re heading out to see the lights at Butchart’s today – perfect weather for it!

      BTW, I don’t think your comment was blocked – just “moderated”, which means when you click “POST”, it goes to the moderation queue where I have to read it first before it’s published.

      So glad you wrote! Happy New Year!!

      Like

  5. I cherish my alone time. It’s not just for recharging, it’s for survival, perhaps especially during the holidays. I guard my solitude assiduously by declining [very politely] invitations. If it’s a “way ahead” invitation I plead a prior commitment. For immediate I-don’-wanna-go-but-I-have-to’s, people around me know I have microvascular disease, so I can easily leave early by pleading feeling unwell — and then go home and curl up with a book or a good movie on TV or other such delight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you, Sandra! Over the years since my own two cardiac diagnoses, I have learned (often the hard way!) to try to structure each day to best support my ability to function – instead of what’s on other people’s calendars! And never feel bad about needing to leave early…

      I often think back to the number of Big Important (Evening) Events, pre-diagnosis, that I did NOT want to go to, but somehow felt I HAD TO attend over the years – the kind where, even as I’m driving there, I’m asking myself: “Why did I ever say YES to this?!?!!” My own personal goal now is to do more of what I love doing, and almost NONE of what I don’t love…

      Like

  6. Once upon a time I heard a quote that I use often with my clients “You can never be lonely unless you don’t like the person you’re alone with.”

    In other words your SELF. Once we begin to truly know our SELF, our Soul or Spiritual Self, we crave more and more time to just BE with that Self… We become our own best friend.

    For decades we define ourselves by our “roles” on earth, mother, daughter, nurse, teacher, wife, plumber, housekeeper, writer, neighbor…..We get lost in our “roles” and forget who we truly are.

    A shocking physical illness catches our attention… we are forced to mull the limits of our physical existence asking more questions about what is eternal? what is beyond this mortality? How do we fit into this Universe and the other 7.7 billion souls on this planet?

    I choose a venture into Silence and contemplation every morning and I am still working on accepting the “no outing” day as okay, LOL.
    Another look at the word “Alone” might be “All One.”

    We are, deep down in our souls…All One.
    New Years Blessings to All!❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The timing on this post is amazing!

    Last January, I had another life-threatening illness (not heart this time) that required six months of hospitalization, and the last five months have been an intense period of rehabilitation & therapy to regain my strength and stamina.

    My youngest daughter has been home from college for the last two weeks, and I have wanted to keep up with the “normal” traditions and rituals I established years ago in the run-up to Christmas. I’ve pushed my way through fatigue and limited energy to be on my A-game.

    In the last few days, though, I’ve been privately wishing this “vacation” would just end so I can go back to my normal routine and be by myself all day. I really appreciate the quote, “Invariably, solitude meets with social questioning, if not censure.” Even while I ruminate about how much I crave my solitude, I hear the voice of “social questioning” and “censure” as I chastise myself for wishing away this opportunity to spend time with my daughter and husband- who are around ALL THE TIME.

    This article helps soothe the conflict in my head. My intuition (and body) are telling me that it’s okay to need my alone time. And maybe if I carve some out on a daily basis, I’ll appreciate the other hours of the day more as our family spends time together. Thanks so much for sharing this. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Charlotte – oh boy, you have hit upon a familiar dilemma: although we may be managing self-care pretty well during “normal routine”, when our kids are home, we DO want to plan and accomplish every traditional element of a holiday homecoming! Part of that adjustment (for both parties) is to have The Conversation about what will work best for YOU and your current capacity to participate – not as your former “A-game” self, but as a different kind of person who has specific and important self-care needs now. Pushing through that fatigue is almost irresistible when our kids are concerned – but that’s because they likely don’t realized how debilitating it can feel to continue on as if everything is fine, just fine. They don’t realize – because often we don’t tell them! Please do not chastise yourself for wishing they’d go home!

      I have an older friend who recently spent a week in the hospital, luckily discharged in time to go home for Christmas. All of her holiday plans changed instantly (she was now very weak, using a walker and still recuperating). Her daughter spent the holidays with her, but their entire “tradition” went out the window – including all their usual Christmas dinner plans. Instead, her East Indian friends told her they were delivering a beautiful chicken Tandoori for their Christmas dinner. Both of them ended up eating in bed while binge-watching their favourite BBC drama series! They enjoyed it so much that she says this might end up being their NEW Christmas dinner tradition from now on.

      Happy New Year to you, too – and remember to pay attention to that intuition of yours!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve always spent more time alone than was considered “normal” and felt like a freak. I’ve never married and remain childfree and this was the right decision for me.

    In 2013, when Susan Cain published her groundbreaking book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” it was life changing. I realized I was not a freak, merely high up on the introversion scale, which is not the same as shy.

    I enjoy public speaking, advocating and raising awareness about the stigma of mental illness by talking about my own psychiatric history and recovery. I just need time alone to recharge. Seven months ago I rescued a four year old dog from a kill shelter. Shelby is a great comfort and companion. I’m not sure who rescued who!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent points, Andrea – I know so many people who had a similar response to Susan’s book! I remember one friend telling me at the time she was reading it how we live in a world that rewards extroverts, and how some extroverted parents send their introverted children to psychiatrists to have their introversion “treated” out of them”. Seeking “time alone to recharge” as you have found is a solid self-help tool! And we know that pet ownership has many positive effects on both physical and emotional health – sounds like your Shelby has become the ideal introvert’s companion!

      Like

  9. Oh, Carolyn, you have nailed it with this post. I’m putting together my ‘3 words’ for 2020 and I keep trying to find one word that sums up carving out solitude/sanctuary/me time. It’s been a battle this holiday vacation to find the me time I so desperately crave.

    Liked by 3 people

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