About a year ago now I discovered the writer May Sarton and read her most famous piece of work titled ‘Journal of A Solitude’. It is a collection of her journal entries during her time spent alone in a small town in New Hampshire. Sarton was surrounded by nature and the tranquillity that her isolation has provided her, but there also came inner challenges as they do in whatever situation we humans find ourselves in.
It could not have been a better time for me to have discovered that book, I was at the point in my life where I have fully come to terms with the conditions in which I can grow and blossom. By finding the comfort and peace hidden in the crevices of solitude, it felt like Sarton was dedicating the journal to me, or rather in lesser vain, to people like me. It was a burst of quiet energy- solidifying my love and appreciation for solitude.
I hate the word “introvert.” I never liked words or terms that act as a fence to keep in who I am or what I’m made of so that others can understand me easily. I always spill over; the barrier fails to keep me in every time and the corners come near bursting with the parts of me struggling to relate, trying to push their way out. I liked being alone ever since I was little and spent so much time doing everything on my own. Now I spend a lot of time listening to people trying to convince me that I am an introvert, to which I try to tell them I am not- nor am I an “extrovert.” Oh, I must be an “ambivert” then. No, I am not that either. I am me, look at me and stop throwing all these words just so I can be classified into your categories. Take me off the spectrum and see me for what I enjoy doing and what I prefer. I am human after all, in all my complexity.
But if you really insist on it, then yes, I do exhibit characteristics of an “introvert,” mainly spending time on my own. It’s such a simple phrase to understand, isn’t it? A person who loves spending time on their own is, to put it simply, those who are alone most of the time and are alright with that. There’s no nuance to it. I tell that to people, anyone who asks me what I’ll be doing on the weekends and who I’m out with every time I post an image of being outside. I’ll tell them that I’m on my own and before I can even get the chance to explain why– there it is- my pity party. I can let them know anytime I need someone to go out with, just shoot them a message. The sad emojis, the confusion, the back-handed praises of my bravery and confidence to go out on my own.
It was always all that. I wish I could tell them how much peace I find in being in my own company, but it’s a long story trying to get the point across. It’d be much easier for them to see my solitude as isolation, and I agree. I spent a bigger part of my younger years in “isolation” rather than “solitude.” It’s crazy how the words change according to how you see yourself.
Isolation is a forced, sallow word. You’re on your own, and you’re truly alone. It feels like the world is rushing past you and you’re stuck in time somewhere watching everything go by. Solitude, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. You are on your own, completely in and a part of the world. You see everything, you feel everything just the same. You are in a state of being for you and only you. You are holding the watering can to yourself and you watch yourself grow towards the sun, and the sun has never felt better than it does then.
I never felt that when I was younger. Although I was alone most of the time- finding empty rooms in houses I went- to find the easy and silent calm like a cat finding a patch of sunlight to lay into, I was not content. I did not know how to use my own company to find happiness, the kind that you can only find in yourself. Especially when I had so much pressure to be in groups, to make lots of friends, to gather them like little pieces of stone to keep in a pouch so that I could look at and play with just for my amusement, however entertaining that is.
I was pulled towards solitude, I genuinely liked being on my own. I was exhausted trying to make others understand me which was what led me to choose to be alone. But once again, it did not nourish me. With what the people were telling me, that I’m isolating myself, I believed I was in isolation myself. I was convinced that I needed to get out of it, that it was doing me no good- especially to those around me who were watching. Watching me at the movies alone, dining in on my own, sitting around at school on my own.
I tried to push myself towards bigger groups of people, to cling to them so that this disease-like isolation would let go of me. How sickening it felt almost. But it suddenly felt like I was drifting away from myself when I was around others for so much of the time. It was like I lost myself along the way by trying to fit into these groups of people, sacrificing who I truly was just for the gratification that came with being seen with people around me. It felt like everyone was pushing and pulling at my skin, shaping me and moulding me to fit in, putting their jargon in my mouth, their personalities. I looked disfigured in that new persona. It felt worse but I stuck with it until the end of high school.
Right after I graduated, I got rid of the contacts of everyone I knew in high school, save for only the few I am close with till today, ones I was truly comfortable sharing my time with every once in a while. It was cathartic, a starting over to rediscover who I am, and what perfect timing it was that the pandemic started.
Time was something I had plenty of during that period. I wasn’t committed to anything, high school was done and college still felt like years away. Which meant I spent all my time doing whatever I enjoyed doing in my home all on my own; reading so much that I felt like vomiting out whatever I consumed every month, watching all the films that I could, and most importantly, finding myself and what I loved to do most again.
I felt comfortable being on my own once more. I knew what I wanted, and that was solitude. It was important to me and I valued it greatly. There is so much to be said about me choosing solitude, it’s something nuanced and mine. But words fail me, it’s what I feel on the inside that’s hard to describe. Every time I come home from spending a day outside, even something as small as going to grab a simple lunch on my own or spending time in bed reading, thinking, and writing, there’s this indescribable buzz that I feel, a good type of buzz. I love that buzz and can feel it emanating from within and reaching out to the outside world. It makes me appreciate everything and everyone around me more.
They say that those who are able to be in their own company without trouble will appreciate the relationships they have even more since it’s not just the presence of another person that they seek, but pure connection and love. Whoever said that understood what it was, the forging of meaningful relationships in those who seek solitude as their main company.
Now, me talking about how much time I spend on my own does not mean that I never socialize with others at all. That’s really not it. I do have people around me that I’m close with, and those who are just outside of my circle that I enjoy talking to when I can. There’s a whole new beauty to my relationships, one that I never noticed prior to me finding happiness in my own solitude. I do like meeting new people, I do like sharing whatever it is, whatever I see, whatever I watch, whatever I read to people. I do search for meaningful connections and I enjoy conversing with others who want to find the same connection as I do. But I will always prioritise my time and myself first over everything else.
So much of my personal strengths come from my solitude. I can say a lot of all the good things that exist in me come from there. I treat people around me with all the kindness I can give because I know how to treat myself with that same generosity. I understand others deeply because I understand myself through me being on my own. I find joy in all things small and big because solitude has taught me to look closer and observe, to feel and to love and to be. Just to be is more than enough.
Reading May Sarton last year was like a soft blanket being laid on top of me. She reminded me in her writings that solitude is okay. Solitude is great, actually. It gives you that clarity, you see the world differently than you once did. You are one with yourself, giving yourself all the love and attention you need from none other than yourself. In turn, your body and your mind give you peace and happiness, it gives you meaning to life. At any point in your life that you feel out of tune with yourself, you can always turn to solitude and reach down into your body to find who you truly are once again.
At the time of writing this, I’m currently sitting somewhere in the university building. It is my favourite spot that I discovered not too long ago. It’s quiet here, away from sight but not too hidden that I cannot see the outside. There are still people here but only a few, and they come and go. I spend my time here on my own all the time; in between classes, eating lunch, or just to find my little patch of sunlight of calm and peace before I head home. Just a little catch of breath.
I wish I could tell my younger self all this. I wish she had discovered May Sarton’s journal back then, although it amuses me to think of how she would struggle with how boring it was to read a collection of journal entries that dated back to 1973. How I wanted her to have the courage to embrace solitude, not isolation like what she was told it was and to find nothing but herself and pure contentment in it.
I still am lucky to have found it now, and I hope that if you’re looking for it as well, then consider this a sign that it has found you instead- you just have to fall into it. Solitude will be there with its arms wide open.
Written by: Natasha