Solitude has become another commodity to sell (being lonely is still hushed). It became a fad when self-help gurus and pseudo-spiritual teachers started preaching about the benefits of time spent alone: Take this silent retreat, this facemask for your Sunday ‘me time’, practice self-care by purchasing this overpriced bath salt, tea personalized for your blissful quiet evening, get into this playlist that helps you meditate.
But what is to be gained for us in anytime spent without company? Is it just a fad that capitalism can profit out of?
I am, essentially, an introvert. No, not the stereotypical I-am-so-shy-I-cannot-even-talk kind (That is not an introvert. That is someone who is shy. They may be someone who is an introvert also). I am not quiet or weird (the latter one is untrue). I have good social skills (I had a day job that depended on it). I practice small talk fluently (although I am not a fan). And, lastly, I enjoy spending time with people that I love.
What I mean when I say I am an introvert is that social connections are pleasurable and depleting for me. You might come home recharged & refreshed with your evening spent with friends. But I need time alone to do the same. In the company of wonderful people, I enjoy myself. But after a certain time has passed, I find myself getting cranky, tired, exhausted. Ugh, can I go home?
But I wasn’t always like this. I used to be someone who detested any minute spent without company. Introspection was futile, tiring, and painful. Spending any time alone with my own thoughts terrified me. I avoided it at all costs. I made much more friends than I could keep up with, talked to many boys who I did not find interesting, and turned many stones to never run out of company.
All of it changed (it had to) when I moved out of home for college.
I chose to stay with my extended family, who had full-time jobs that they left for in the morning and returned only late at night. My college did not care about attendance. Unsurprisingly, neither did I. I was bound to spend my days alone in a quiet, eerie 2BHK.
This was the time when I realized the horrors of loneliness. This was the time when my loneliness converted to solitude (it always does). This was the time I understood what those great writers have been talking about when they preach about the pleasures of spending time alone. This was the time I truly developed an appetite for literature, poetry, and empathy. This was the time I asked the big questions. This was the time I began pouring my anxieties and amusements into my notebooks.
I filled so many diaries that I have lost count.
I didn’t know at the time, but I was burning through a selfhood crisis in those 3 years. I began wondering, questioning, pondering. But I’ve taken you to the end too soon. It wasn’t all hunky-dory always. It still isn’t. It never is, with anything, not 24*7, anyway.
I swung back and forth like a clock: Solitude, Loneliness, Solitude, Loneliness. Especially the months in the beginning. There were crying lunches because, oh God, who eats alone? Then there were phases when music or TV just wouldn’t shut in my house because the silence (within and without) depressed me. The transformation didn’t happen in one day. The translation of loneliness in my heart’s language took its sweet time to become solitude.
But with this friction, and even despite the lapses in my courage, I made it through in finding the bliss in seclusion. Being alone helped me to process, to decompress, to recharge. I re-evaluated friendships, hobbies, childhood perceptions. I questioned what my thoughts told me. I started protecting my time alone, my time free of society, “my” time with a fierce force.
This was the blissful beginning. After this, I began working. Working towards building a self, a person, a someone. When the door to my room was locked, I worked. I asked myself questions that made me uncomfortable (What do I value? Why? Is it something I value or society?). I realized that lying to myself wouldn’t get me very far (because even if no one knows, I know). I understood that if I am not doing my best, the only person I am duping is me.
In retrospect, that was the time I was becoming – becoming a better friend, a better writer, a better daughter, a better partner, a better self. This work was what made up whatever constitutes my “I” today.
Later, when company became frequent (a privilege I truly cherish), I had the audacity to compassionately shut my door. My inmates cooperated because they knew they would pay in the currency of my irritability otherwise.
Because, all the inner work, dear reader, is done when the door is shut.