The Thing About Solitude

This week The Atlantic shared a video in it’s Editor’s Picks series called ‘The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain’. It followed a young man named Leif Haugen, a forest service fire fighter who manned the Thoma fire lookout in Montana. For three months out of the year, Leif lives alone in solitude at the lookout on top of a mountain.

Watching the video, I couldn’t help but feel a rather fervent mix of desire and fear.

Living in solitude like that, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract you but books and chores seems like a dream to me. At the same time though, it made me wonder if, were I to live like that, I would get lonely.

It seems like it’d be a pretty deep loneliness too.

Having lived with schizophrenia for eight years, one of the major problems I deal with is paranoia concerning other people. There’s something deep inside me that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake. It says to me on a daily basis that anyone I interact with is making fun of me or laughing about me behind my back. It is for this reason why the concept of living in solitude appeals to me. I would have nothing to worry about besides myself and essentially I’d be free from the real or imagined slights of other people.

That said though, and the reason for my confliction, is that I also feel a need to be around people because at least when I’m out in public there exists the chance that I’ll make a lasting connection with someone.

This is invariably a balancing act between my misanthropy and my desire to be recognized. It has left me thinking that maybe I couldn’t actually make it on my own in deep solitude.

It has been a dream of mine for years to have a house in the mountains where I could escape from society but now I’m left thinking that maybe there’s a part of me that needs society.

Isolation can also be a major problem for people with mental illness. A lack of connection with others can lead to feelings of depression and loneliness, and without people to balance things out, symptoms can often become worse. It’s been my experience that many times that’s the truth.

This dilemma has me thinking that maybe my dreams of a house in the mountains are actually just a reaction to the paranoia I feel everyday. This paranoia is so deeply ingrained in me though that the thought of being part of a community many times has me feeling crazier than I would on my own.

I don’t know if there’s something to be said for introversion too or if that is also a reaction to the paranoia. I think the key here, as with pretty much anything else in life, is to find a balance.

I need a place where I can have solitude when I need it, and community when I’m feeling lonely. Maybe I can find a house in the mountains within a fifteen minute drive to town if I need to go to a coffee shop or something.

I think anyone who shares the dream of solitude thinks about the same things, after all, there are times when you just need other people whether you like it or not.

There are many benefits to solitude but solitude and loneliness are two different things.

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