Let’s Talk: On solitude and loneliness
Is solitude a repackaging of loneliness, or does it remain a choice that is constantly made?
Thank you for accepting me into your fold. It’s been a month since I moved here, and I feel at home already. I couldn’t imagine parting ways from your fast paced, dusty, dry, devilish atmosphere. You never sleep, you’re a constant, diligent lover; offering me something for every hour of the day. I just wish that was enough.
Last week I woke up at 3 AM, and I felt an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. The walls of my 2BHK, which I inhabit alone, started to close in on me. The open, empty spaces started to shrink, and my bedroom, my oasis of comfort in an otherwise unfurnished expanse of dust, started to feel like it was just too small. Dilli, you are a huge city, and you surround me with your light and love. You offer me so much possibility, so many options on how to live my life. But last night, all that potential began to smother me.
I realised that I had become accustomed to trailing through the same path from my main door to my mattress on the floor of my bedroom, at the end of every work day. I’d stare at a screen all day at work, stare at a screen throughout the journey back home, collapse into heap on my makeshift bed, and stare a screen in the palm of my hand until I fell asleep. This was my daily routine. It was exhausting, but more than that - it was incredibly lonely.
My sense of loneliness has never been compensated by the presence of people. You could attribute it to me being an introvert - but I’ve always felt the most alone in a crowd. No one who has seen me interact on social media would ever call me an introvert, and so my screens, my virtual universes became a space where I could be comfortable amongst the masses, where I could be the centre of attention, and not be called out for my awkwardness. My online persona is loud, vivacious, obnoxious at times, but always, always happy.
So back to that terrifying late night panic attack - I had to come to terms with the fact that the emptiness surrounding me was suffocating me. A month since I moved to you, Delhi, a month into my own independent life, and I realised - I hadn’t even bought a chair. I wanted to drag myself out of my nest in my bed, but what could I do in my empty apartment but pace, and overthink? I couldn’t even sit down with a cup of tea to calm me down.
Dilli, let me tell you a story about me, about who I am. When I turned eighteen, many many moons ago, I went on my first solo journey. I plastered social media with all the lurid details of my trip - everything was #wanderlust, #travel, #tripmodeON, and most of all, HashtagSolo! Solitude was always my first choice, always the better option, always my comfort zone. When I was alone, I didn’t have to keep up the pretence of being that outgoing, cheery, happy girl everyone sees online. I could let my soul rest. But my solo trips were never truly alone - I was carrying the baggage of my online self with me throughout that trip, throughout every trip I’ve ever called Solo.
So this time, this first experience of life by myself has been my first experience being alone. Moving out of my mother’s home, and into my own has been daunting and exciting, exhilarating because this is the ultimate #SoloTrip. But I’m afraid that too much solitude over the past month has congealed into loneliness, thick and viscous, leaving a greasy imprint on me that I simply cannot seem to scrub off. I have been refusing to meet people I’m usually comfortable with, I have been finding solace in online shopping, online food delivery, and online television. I have gained a layer of fat over my self that tells the story of 30 days of comfort food, a layer of dust over my books that tells the story of a mind too distracted to read. I have been worrying that I am deteriorating, that solitude is just another word for loneliness, that this isn’t a choice anymore, but the rest of my life.
I worry, and I worry, and I worry some more.
And so today, I decided to stop.
I went out and bought a chair.