from a distance
If I were a recluse, I would not go off into the mountains somewhere to live away from society. I would live in a quiet community with plenty of life around me and I would smile and wave but I’d stay to myself.
I would spend most of my days content with my own activities and adventures. No fear of missing out, I would have a phone but I’d keep it on silent most of the time. My social life would consist of quality time spent bonding with the people I love, creating with people I admire, and being at peace with the rest of the world — from a distance.
Reclusive means avoiding the company of other people; solitary. I have to admit that sounds lovely. There is no question that I avoid the company of other people often, but I reject the idea that solitude is selfish.
Does that make me antisocial?
One definition of antisocial is to be averse to the society of others. Another is to be unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way. I used to throw labels like reclusive and antisocial around without knowing what they actually meant. I viewed them negatively and they are terms I tried to distance myself from. But lately I’ve been wrapping a question mark around the social patterns I thought I had to fit into.
My mother — who is now a card-carrying recluse — did not shut the world out overnight. She was once a socially-active working mom and wife who volunteered at school, read beauty and fashion magazines and turned the radio up loud while driving around in her little blue hatchback. She immersed herself in church and volunteered at school, talked on the phone and hosted parties. Her nails were painted bright red and her long legs stretched bare and brown in the summer, leading me through my hand-holding years as I looked on in awe of her.
I like to remember that version of her, before she began to withdraw, like a butterfly morphing backwards, retreating back into its cocoon.
The ways of the world disillusioned her. She spoke of threatening voices in her head, voices that became louder than ours and impossible to ignore. She was increasingly nervous and uncomfortable around people, even family and friends. She stopped offering herself up and participating in family events. She stayed in her bathrobe and isolated herself for days then weeks at a time, refusing to answer the phone or the door. Televisions and radios were silenced.
When the sound of my father and I walking on eggshells disturbed her, she’d say things like:
Who put you up to this? Why won’t they let me have any peace?
The people were always watching. The people were always against her. She became antisocial by definition — averse to the society of others. The transformation was gradual, but it seemed to happen abruptly, like the sun going down at dusk.
Back then I told myself I would never stop engaging with the world and that I’d never isolate myself the way she did; but the older I get and the more of this world I consume, I find myself avoiding contact with people and unknown energies and new environments. I'm sensitive to all of it, just like she was.
She and I share the heavy blessing of being highly sensitive — feeling so much, so easily, so deeply. I’m moody and like to be left alone most of the time, yet I crave connection — a contradiction that has often put me at odds with myself.
This excerpt appears in the new edition of my book, Wallflower, a collection of personal stories and insights for quiet women who want to be heard. The book will be published on August 9, 2018. Preorders are now open for signed copies.