Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?

I’ve always loved my alone time.

As an introvert (who can, if pressed pretend not to be!) my energy is restored when I interact with one or two folks or no one at all.  A dream afternoon is writing while listening to nothing louder than the wind chimes outside my door.

I treasure solitude.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I find I need even more alone time than before.

That quiet place is where I do my most effective grief work, undisturbed by interruptions and distractions.

But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. 

I have to remind my heart that spending time with others keeps me from falling so deeply down the well of despair that all I see is darkness.

I need human interaction to keep me connected to a world that, quite frankly, I might sometimes just as soon leave behind.

So how can I tell the difference between solitude and isolation?

Here are a few questions that help me figure that out:

  • Do I feel lonely, neglected or abandoned? If my alone time feels less like a gift and more like an unwelcome burden then it may be isolation rather than solitude.
  • Where are my thoughts taking me? Being alone is often the only way to “hear” my own thoughts without having to block out the noise and activity of other people. If I am sitting with myself, processing hard things or even beautiful things, resolving internal conflict, conjuring new ways to deal with difficult relationships or situations then solitude is doing its work. If, instead, I find my mind tangled up in fearful knots, filled with negative self-talk or unable to break a downward spiral into despair then I probably need to find someone to talk to.
  • Am I getting stronger or being drained? After the holidays or other hectic seasons I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Often it is almost a day-for-day exchange. I can feel tension melting away and strength returning. My mind begins to clear and life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Solitude grants space for my body, mind and soul to be refreshed. When it slides into isolation I can feel the shift. Instead of waking refreshed and eager to greet a free day, I wake to dreading another long one alone. Instead of energy rising in my spirit, I can feel it draining away. Instead of thinking kindly of friends and family who choose to leave me be, I’m resentful no one has checked up on me.
  • Is there a helpful rhythm to my days alone or am I counting the hours until sundown? When I’m enjoying solitude, the hours feel like a welcome opportunity to do things (or not do things!) at my own pace and according to my own preferences. I sit with pen in hand and jot down a list knowing that if I complete it or if I don’t the only person I have to answer to is myself. No pressing appointments and no worrisome commitments. When I’m isolating, the hours feel like a long march through deep mud-every step tedious, treacherous and exhausting. I’m alone but I’m not getting any benefit from it. If I’m enduring instead of enjoying then I’m isolating.
  • Do I have an endpoint in mind? When I look ahead at a week on my calendar, I try to balance alone time with social commitments. A day or two alone (or with limited human interaction) is solitude. A week holed up in the house is isolation. If I find myself pushing off needed outings (to the grocery store, to run errands) then I ask myself, “why?”. Often it’s because I’ve drifted from solitude (helpful alone time) to isolation (unhelpful hiding).

I can shift myself out of isolation by choosing just one small social interaction.

I might text or message a friend, go to the grocery store and make a point of speaking to the clerk, call someone or show up at a church or community event even if I sit in the back and slip out early.

I’m never going to be that person who is up for every outing. That’s just not how I’m made and child loss has intensified my need for solitude.

But I don’t want to be alone and lonely, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making.

Some days it’s harder than others.

But I keep trying.

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

6 thoughts on “Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?”

  1. “But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. ”

    This really resonated with me. Since Rachel’s death, solitude and quiet have become necessary for survival. At twenty months, I’ve noticed the days where it’s not a solace, but rather uncomfortable. Thanks for your great insights. It comes at a high cost. God is using you and your story to help others. I’m not thankful for your grief journey, but I’m thankful that you are steadfastly sharing in the midst.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for those kind words. I think it was close to the two year mark for me too that what once felt like a protective cocoon began to feel like abandonment. I pray that the Lord will lead you in baby steps back out in the world and that He will position encouragers along the way. ❤

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  2. Thank you for these reminders. Like you, my need for solitude has increased since losing my son, Graham, but I’m trying to be very aware that I’m not leaning towards isolation.
    I’ve been getting so much from your writings since 11/20/19…thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry for your pain and loss. Solitude is an important and necessary part of doing the work grief requires. I pray that the Lord meets you each day with the courage, strength and grace needed to endure and to hold onto hope. ❤

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  3. I can so relate to this! Family illness and holidays have worn me down. The day for day concept was insightful. And even saying hello to the gal in the deli gives us a restart.
    Thank you, Melanie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love being with my family but I do have to sort of “recover” after an extended time of visiting/out of my usual routine. Add holiday extras and it’s a recipe for exhaustion. I didn’t realize what was going on the first couple of years until talking to other bereaved parents and found it was a common theme. Praying that the Lord gives you rest and encourages your heart every day. ❤

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