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  • Writer's pictureMadeylyn Balitz

Solitude vs. Loneliness

Good day, readers, and thanks once again for stopping by! In this time of social distancing, quarantining or isolating, I continue to connect via technology and I hope you also are staying virtually in touch with friends and family.

As I have been working from home, phoning and connecting with the family members of my hospice patients, I was struck by the comments some have made. These caused me to think about this idea of “loneliness” some are experiencing by not being able to see their loved ones in a nursing home. They have been so receptive and appreciative of our hospice calls, assuring them that their loved ones were getting good care, and we offer them the opportunity to share their sadness and fears.

As always, empathizing with people who have a loved one in hospice care tapped into my own feelings as I still walk through my grief process since my own husband transcended from this earth, almost two years ago.

Living alone as a widow, I have certainly felt lonely at times to the point of despair. But my grieving journey has been rich with experiences and lessons I could not have predicted. My book I had worked on with my husband’s support got published (All is Well: understanding the end of life, caregiving, and hospice care) and has been well-received and reviewed. I’ve made some new friends, taken up new hobbies, and tried my best to find gratitude and meaning in every day.

What I have learned about “loneliness” is that there is something that I now find much more helpful and empowering—“solitude.” The lesson is that while both mean you are alone, you can find a lot of good in solitude as it is much more productive and strengthening. I find that during a time of lone grief or in today’s current situation of staying isolated in order to halt the spread of Covid-19, there is an obvious gift if one will just be open to it: uninterrupted, unhurried time with yourself can lead to extraordinary creativity, awareness, and peace.

Solitude is defined as a state of being alone without being lonely. It can in fact improve one’s psychological well-being. It can help one become mentally stronger.

There have been studies showing that people who set aside time to be alone tend to be happier and less depressed and have lower stress levels. It is somewhat like mindfulness/meditation exercise for our brain and psyche. You know people pay a lot of money to go on a “retreat” and what I realized is that you can frame your alone time as a personal retreat and gain much from the solitude.

When I was first widowed and was not at all used to ever being alone, I had some autophobia or isolophobia, which is the fear of being alone. My dearest of friends and my adult children and siblings knew this all too well about me and admitted they were worried. They would “tag-team” by spending time with me either overnight or in the early days of my grief journey so I didn’t feel I had to walk it alone. I could see the sadness and worry brought to these wonderful people in my life which made me sadder yet. So, one morning when I was alone, I sat down and had a good long talk with myself and my beloved deceased husband.

I vowed to give it my best shot to learn ways to be with myself, alone, yet know that he was near and still very dear to me. I used this time in the early months and first year to write more about my journey through grief. What I found was that by embracing solitude, it enhanced my creativity and freed me from the world distractions of life and allowed me to focus on my own healing.

My own mind started thinking outside the box of possibilities for my new life as a widow. Strangely, after awhile, I gained some strength, much clearer insight, and in time, started trying on my new life. I am still in flux, still have moments of deep loss and sadness and can’t imagine ever not missing my husband that left this world too soon. However, I am moving forward with purpose and meaning and starting to find some energy in being alone. Unlike an introvert who I understand can feel recharged and refreshed by being alone, I am an extrovert and finding a gift in solitude was not automatic.

But what’s the alternative? Loneliness, despair, nightly pity parties? Not for me! In my alone time now, I am starting to find time for self-discovery and growth. Embracing solitude has been a life-saver, and gives me a much better outlook on my future, where the only guarantee is that I will be living with myself the rest of my life!

So this discovery brought me to the times we are in now of social distancing. Some may still find this disheartening and scary. So what I would like to suggest is to look at this time of possible solitude as a time to enhance your creativity, and be glad it allows you to focus on you and your family or whomever you are being isolated and quarantined with at this time.

You could journal about your feelings about this strange experience and what you are learning. Use this time for something productive instead of doom and gloom and fill your fears with hope. Ironic that my husband (close to the end of his life) gave a speech at Unity of Sarasota (our spiritual center) with that exact title: “Filling your Fears with Hope.”

His message was to help you find yourself, and to find yourself in a place of peace and hopefulness, whatever your situation is. His speech, beliefs and support to me were instrumental in this grief journey that I am still on all by myself. His final gift to me was to help me to see one of the many ways to show love to others and to yourself by taking the initiative to use solitude as a time to find yourself in those moments of despair and find your joy and peace that are there just waiting for you to grab and embrace.

Peace and joy and enlightenment to you in this time we are all facing in this world of social distancing.

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