Monday, 3 October 2016

When Solitude Turns to Isolation and What I Do When it Happens

So today, I wanted to write about my experience of what it's like to work on your own, for yourself.  I used to have this rose tinted vision that working for yourself would be this 100% amazing dream job, and don't get me wrong, in many ways it absolutely is but I want to tackle the element of loneliness, when your happy bubble of solitude turns into an isolation that I had never anticipated happening as I swanned about being an artist and it all being fabulous.

And it happens.

We are social creatures, we need to be around other people (well, most of us do, I suppose there are always some folks who don't) and I personally find it nourishing, enriching and supportive to have other people around me at times.  However, for the vast majority of the day, when my daughter is away at school and my partner is out at work I am usually very much on my own, left to my own devices.  And this is often good, and I mostly enjoy it - I get tonnes of work done, and pass the time listening to great tunes on my Ipod or Classic FM, depending on which mood I'm in.  I wind up those days feeling euphoric at what I've completed, a feeling of fullness and satisfaction that I've had a good day and I've produced good work.

And sometimes, I don't feel that way.  Sometimes, the loneliness kicks in and it can feel like my body has turned to lead, it seems that I have forgotten how to create stuff and I don't know what to do with myself.

It usually starts with a small knot of feelings in my gut, a little like anxiety - I feel a need to be with people, coupled with an acute sensation of it just being me by myself that day and that that is not going to be ok.  If I don't act on that subtle sensation that is telling me that I need company, I find myself feeling heavier and more unhappy as the day draws on.

So, my fail safe way of coping with these kinds of days is to get out.  I now forcibly remove myself from the house, I take a sketch book or notepad and a fat pencil case full of writing and drawing supplies, and I get myself over to our local cafe where I treat myself to a large mocha or cappucino, and maybe a delicious treat and I squirrel myself away into a cosy corner with my goodies and I settle in for a good hour.
See, most of my friends work in the day, they don't have the flexibility that I have (working for myself) to do this kind of thing or meet up spontaneously.  So, to get my fix of people I put myself in a busy environment where I am around other bodies and you know what, this really helps.  I feel connected, I can hear conversations and maybe music, there is this very soothing buzz of life happening and it tends to always have the desired effect upon me, bringing me back to a place that feels happy and more grounded.

While I'm there, I will fill my notebook with ideas as they come, maybe journal a little of how I'm feeling and perhaps even work on some new sketches.  I will often have a book and spend a little time reading, it all fills up the well and by the time I get home I'm usually ready to roll again and don't mind being by myself so much.

Another option that I take is to go for a walk.  Or I get out on my bike for half an hour.  Sometimes I just need a change of scenery and to raise the endorphins by taking a bit of spontaneous exercise.  I'm lucky in that I'm close to the Trans Peninne Trail which is a great place for bike riding, and also some gorgeous countryside that offers great local walks to really clear the head.

I have also found that by planning out my week every Sunday evening brings me much more focus.  I know what I'm doing and when I need to do it by, and I've discovered that being disciplined as a self employed artist is pretty much essential!  I find the times that I do feel isolated is usually when I haven't remembered to plan my week ahead, or I have blanks in my planner that don't have any structure.  I didn't used to be this organised, but as I've got older it just feels easier and more manageable to plan things a few days in advance.
As well as work stuff, I also make plans to meet up with friends, and make sure weekends are family orientated.  I take a yoga class once a week and when I can, I try and go swimming at our local pool.  So my planner is my magnetic north, it keeps me on track and headed in a good direction.
Being mindful is also a good way to bring myself back into the present moment, when I'm overrun with feelings of being flat, lonely and unmotivated.  I take a few moments to be really conscious about what I'm doing, be it making a cuppa or simply walking.  I also write a list of gratitudes in my journal every night and find that this practice really brings home how much I have to be thankful for, even when I think I've had the crappiest day of the century.

Working for myself is the best job I could imagine, but I know I wouldn't last two minutes without these self support structures in place.  Why not share ways that you overcome feelings of isolation, just add them to the comments below, it would be great to hear from you.


  1. I have been lucky enough to be able to stop work a few years before I reach retirement age and I am experiencing some the same aching you are talking about in this blog. Although my husband has also retired I still feel isolation at times and this is stopping my creativity. I saw ahead time to enjoy my love of craft and textiles but that is not always happening. My friends are also still working so I amazing to try your tip of going to a cafe and absorb what is going on around me.
    Exercise certainly helps me too and also it seems to free my mind.
    Sorry it is a long comment but I felt I had to reply as it helps to hear of someone feeling the same.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, it is always a comfort to hear that someone feels the way you are feeling isn't it? I think we can easily feel alone with our experiences, that we are the only one it is happening to. Your comment really resonated with me, having felt very much the way you do. I hope that you are able to find some relief from the loneliness when it arrives, a nice coffee with a good book at the cafe is a great place to start. Best wishes,
      Julia xxx

  2. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us. I have a baby and I stay at home with him most days of the week and I sometimes feel lonely and nervous.I also try to go out for coffee or for a walk or read a good novel or magazine.It would be ideal to often go out with friends,talk and laugh and have fun.

  3. Thank you for this honest and helpful post Julia. I'm sure it will be helpful to lots of people and maybe myself in a few years.
    I'm glad you have found ways to cope and avoid getting overwhelmed.
    Getting outdoors nearly always helps for me, but a cosy cafe on a rainy day sounds great too :0)
    Jacquie x

    1. to Tina, if you can knit or crochet, even if it is as a beginner look out for a local knit and natter group. They are a great way of meeting new people of all ages, possible finding babysitters for when your baby is older and a chance to learn new skills.

      Even if you are not religious many churches have mother and baby groups, most see themselves as part of the community and understand the loneliness of a new mother, especially today when mothers are older and have been in the workplace with its social life a long time before starting a family.


  4. You've described the strong sensation that my mother experiences. She recognized herself in your description.

    For me, solitude is a rarity these days. However, every so often I realize I've been absorbed for hours in silence and little movement and no communication with others.

    To feel alive again, if it is my one telework day per week, I may open a window to hear outside noise, take out the trash, or check the mailbox and start a load of laundry. If I need to move about and possibly see signs of life (people), I may walk around the corner and back, turn turn on Home&Garden TV for noise. A snack helps too, and I choose a pretty cup and plate to make me smile. For the emotional feelings of human interaction, I will craft an e-mail to a friend; and the thought process boosts my mood.

    If I am downtown at the very quiet office, it helps to get outside for a a few minutes of air and sun, and I might call my Mom while I walk around the block or while I sit on a park bench a few minutes during lunch.

    I like your ideas too! I enjoy your writings (as well as your painted creations).

    Thank you. Alexine

  5. Gosh, sounds like JK Rowling! she spent a lot of her most creative moments in cafes - I think it's a basic human need to have people around you at least some of the time. How very sensible to plan your week on a Sunday, even those of us who don't work from home could lear from that - so much time is wasted that could be made into something productive or creative or just plain restful if I made a better plan of my time I'm sure.

  6. Hi, this really resonated with me, I make jewellery and once I've dropped my little one off at school I can go the whole day and not speak to another soul, most days I'm fine, but the winter always gets me down and this will be my first winter working without anyone else around..


Hello, and thank you for visiting my Blog today. If you would like to leave a comment, I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...