Self-Isolation & Self-Reliance

Much of the world is deep into self-isolation right now. Personally, I’m on day twenty-three (not that I’m counting every minute or anything). 

When my shelter-in-place started, I was anxious about it but couldn’t really articulate why. I already spend a lot of time on my own (work from home, live alone), so self-isolation wouldn’t be that far off from my normal routine. Plus, I’ve always been a huge introvert. I figured I’d hole up, read a lot, write a lot, and be super productive. 

And here I am, on day twenty-three. We don’t know when things are going to go back to normal.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t handled this well. I’ve been feeling unmotivated to do much of anything except lay on the couch and worry. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what’s going on in my head and why my thought patterns are so automatically negative. I don’t have a ton of answers. But I have come to one particular realization: 

I don’t know how to rely on myself.

The “why” of that statement is really important to anyone but me. And really, the truth is that the “why” doesn’t matter in moving forward either. The things I’ve encountered and experienced that led me to this state are in the past and unchangeable now (a hard pill to swallow, don’t get me wrong). 

Instead, I’m focusing on “how” my lack of self-reliance shows itself, and “what” I can do to build it up. Because right now, for me and many others who are sheltering alone, there is no one else. And going forward, we shouldn’t NEED anyone else anyway.

How

I’m a fiercely independent individual in a lot of ways. Being able to support myself in any situation has always been my top priority. I struggle to ask for help (and accept it when offered). I’ve been working hard at becoming more comfortable doing those things. 

That independent streak had made it a lot harder to see where my own self-reliance was lacking. 

While I was so focused on financially supporting myself, I was outsourcing most of the emotional and esteem support onto others. 

Some of that was blatant – going to my closest friends with every anxious thought or feeling, as if just talking about it non-stop would make it go away. Pro-tip if you’re doing this: talking about irrational anxieties as if they’re real and valid doesn’t make them go away. It reinforces them. It takes them from a passing wisp of a thought into a full-blown emergency. Your thoughts aren’t automatically real and you don’t have to entertain every single one.

Some of it was harder to spot. It turns out a lot of my self-esteem and confidence was coming from being/feeling useful to other people. It’s a whole lot harder to get that feedback when you’re alone in your apartment all day. I was using my real-life clients, friends, family to let me know that I was “good.” I never bothered trying to find any inherent sense of worth.

So now here I am: a grown-ass woman who’s entire sense of self-esteem is based around other people’s responses.

Not a great way to live, made painfully apparent by a global pandemic.

What

So what am I going to do about it? Build some trust in myself.

I have found myself constantly questioning my thoughts, feelings, and emotions now that I’m left alone with them 24/7. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I outsource that questioning to loved ones (see above), a habit I’m forcing myself to stop. And no, that doesn’t mean I won’t talk to anyone about my feelings. Emotional intimacy is an important part of every good relationship and something I intend to keep. There is, however, a difference between emotional intimacy and emotional dumping. You know it when you do it.

Instead of trying to process the feelings of anxiety and overwhelm on my own, I was turning to someone that I knew I could trust: to be there for me, to let me feel heard, to accept me unconditionally. I couldn’t (wouldn’t) do ANY OF THAT for myself. When I’d try to work things out in my own head, I’d meet myself with a lot of hatred and anger for not being good enough/smart enough/disciplined enough. No love there.

And no trust there. Trust is something that needs to be earned and proven over and over again in all types of relationships. The relationship with ourselves is no different. I’d lost my ability to trust myself during my self-isolation. I’d make promises to myself and then break them: instead of cleaning my bathroom I’d lay on the couch watching Netflix and chalk it up to “quarantine sads.” The only person who’d benefit from a cleaner environment was me, so who cares?

Again, I could analyze this behavior all day, or I can choose to change it. That’s what I’m doing.

The only person around to impress right now is myself, and the only way I can do that is by making and keeping ONE promise to myself each day.

Just ONE. Starting simply. I haven’t earned anything more than that yet.

Right now it’s usually exercise-based. I don’t love home workouts, but all movement improves my mood, so I’m sticking to it. Some days it’s 10,000 steps. Some days it’s 45 minutes of bands.

Today, it was writing an entire blog post. So here’s proof that I’m working.

What promise will you make to yourself today? How will you build on that tomorrow?

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