Depression is a profoundly isolating illness, as many mental illnesses can be. As my own illness progresses, in many ways I find myself going through a sort of hermitification process.
I have always been an introvert, but I used to really value time spent with close friends. And then depression hit, and everything changed. When I am depressed, I hate being around people. Depending on my particular set of symptoms at the time, being around others can be exhausting, irritating, overstimulating, anxiety-provoking, or mood-lowering.
I used to try to push through this, thinking that I “should” socialize even if it made me feel worse. After all, that’s one of the things you’re “supposed to” do to get better. But that now feels like a dead horse that’s been beaten long enough. Over the last year and a half of this current episode of depression, I’ve cut almost everyone out of my life. I don’t have the internal strength or resources to have a mature adult conversation with anyone about this, so I’ve taken the path of least resistance and just ghosted, no longer responding to calls/texts/emails.
I don’t like being this person that depression has made me. My family and friends (now former friends) certainly deserved better. I feel like they must hate me for my ghosting behaviour. Yet that hasn’t been enough to stop me from this pattern of behaviour, because it’s not about them as much as it’s been about retreating as a perceived path to self-preservation.
Looking forward into the future, it’s hard to imagine how I would ever rebuild a social life, knowing that I will get depressed again, and I will hide out as a hermit in my figurative cave again. Why would I let people in knowing that I’d most likely end up slamming the door shut in their face? Guilt plays into this too; if I’m such a terrible daughter/sister/friend, why should I even deserve to have people in my life?
As much as I might wish to hide out in my fortress of solitude 24/7, it’s just not feasible. Yet even when I venture out into the world, it feels like there is a self-imposed barrier that isolates me. I either am not able or don’t remember how to have a genuine connection with another human being. So I put on the mask to try to hide the darkness inside of me, and struggle with those superficial social interactions that normally wouldn’t merit a second thought. It makes for a very lonely existence, one that is entirely of my own making.
Strangely enough, the only setting in which I feel comfortable emerging from my cave is with my patients (I’m a nurse). Somehow that part of me is still able to function interpersonally, and I’m not sure why that is. I think it might have to do with spontaneity. I’ve been a nurse for 13 years, and I no longer even have to think about what my response will be; I just know, and I do it. At least it gives me reassurance that I haven’t fully transitioned to hermit mode. Not yet, anyway.