The Hermit’s Lamp: Tips on Coping With Social Isolation from a Bonafide Shut-In!

It occurred to me (actually it occurred to my therapist, who I actually listen to) that I know a lot about being ISOLATED and maybe some of my experience therein could be useful for some people…who are maybe doing this sort of thing for the first time, and maybe don’t like it very much, and are a bit confused and uncomfortable. With the major caveat that this is only my experiences and I’m just a human, tentatively (apparently?), a human…

So, begin with my hermit credentials: First I have the Hermit’s Lamp tattooed on my wrist, and y’all can’t say that’s not dedication. Second I spent four years of my tweens/teens leaving the house only once every few months. In these four years I had no contact with anyone but my immediate family and some councillors and teachers. A sad state of affairs indeed, but don’t worry, you can read some of the fruits of that particular gnarled tree here! Third, I moved to Texas three years ago and since then I’ve worked from home and been moderately socially isolated. I have a few beloved friends here, but have also spent about a year in therapy and that’s put me in emotional places where I prefer the ‘safety’ of isolation and home. 

Ironically over the last month I have had my fear to leave the house totally evaporate! (it wasn’t as miraculous as it sounds, a year of hard work led up to that.) So here we are, I want to be at the pub as much as you do! I’m actually less isolated now than I was pre-COVID19 because my lover is working from home now. I am quite befuddled about this, in fact I am fully ambivalent about it. Ignoring that clusterfuck, here are some…

TOP TIPS for SOCIAL ISOLATION from a GENUINE, BONAFIDE HERMIT!

– Ignore the motherfuckers telling you ‘routine is key!’ It’s fucking not, there are no absolutes, everyone is going to do this differently if they’re doing it right. It might be key for some people but not others, and it might be key sometimes but not other times. Your experience is, like always, meant to be different to other people’s. You can take tips and ideas but you don’t need to look or feel like other people.

– Initially just do whatever the fuck you want. Live it up, bitch. Especially rest as much as you want to. You’ve possibly got a sleep debt from the job you just got kicked out of, or you’re exhausted emotionally from the news cycle, from the changes, from the stress and the fear and perhaps from caring for loved ones and strangers. Rest. Fuck ‘routine.’ Part of the joy of this is that you can rest when and as much as you need to. Productivity and busyness as a badge of honour are capitalistic BULLSHIT used to drain your energy and extract all of your worth as money for some bastard sitting on billions of $$$ already. Resist any AND ALL activity for the sake of activity (which isn’t the same as activity to burn off nervous energy which has a really vital purpose to it!). Be aware of when you’re doing things just to allay guilt and shame about ‘being lazy.’ Laziness doesn’t exist, it’s another capitalistic lie, and thus must be resisted!

– The thing about being alone is suddenly there’s no one to tell you what to do anymore. No place to be so a man (it’s probably a man) will pay you, no chores to do, no ‘I should really go to the gym’s.’ This might sound nice but after not too long it can have you in a muddle. Being alone means you need to learn what you want, what you need, in real time and moment to moment. Without a specified lunch break you need to know when you’re hungry, when you’re not, and what you’re hungry for. Do you want to rest right now, or would getting up and doing That Thing make you feel happier in the slightly longer-run? When it’s all up to you, with no or very little outside input, what do you choose? It’s massive and stressful and muddle-making, especially if solitude isn’t something you’ve a lot of practise with. I suggest feeling into it as much as you can when you can, and if you need to take a break and switch off listening to yourself do that however you do that. And be gentle with yourself, it’s hard work. We’re never encouraged to just be with ourselves. Au contraire, even in ‘spiritual’ work we’re given tricks and activities and various sparkly things to learn and to do (& to buy) that fill our time and our minds. Very rarely are we shown the real power, and terror, and joy, that are wrapped up in pure solitude, pure silence. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate this.

– Something I’ve noticed a lot in the last few years is that I go through cycles of ‘input’ and ‘output’ – do I want ‘input’, for me that’s reading, watching things, taking lessons, exploring, whatever, it’s taking in new shit. ‘Output’ is when I have much less patience for outside information, for reading books or learning lessons, I just want to create, I want to speak, I want to explore what comes out of my pen when I write, what comes out of my mouth when I speak. I think generally noticing which mode you’re in every day can really help you decide ‘what to do’. It’s working with your own internal flow, which is a really vital treasure solitude can offer you.

– You don’t have to get dressed. Just be comfortable for fucks sake! Why wear uncomfy clothes, like, unless there’s someone to look at how good you look in them or there’s some motherfucker forcing you into a uniform? I’d suggest, though, and it’s only a suggestion, that you try to wear clean clothes as much as possible. The only reason for this is that they feel soft and lovely instead of greasy and heavy on your skin. Same goes for sheets etc, and it’s a good idea to shower to feel just a bit nicer in your body. This is purely to keep you feeling snuggly and soft and happy. Don’t underestimate little bits of physical comfort!

– BUT YOU CAN GET DRESSED AT ANY TIME. Any time at all!! Yes, makeup too, if you like! And you totally get +1,0000000000 points from me if you then take selfies, do a whole photoshoot, post them on the internet, send them to your friends, or just keep them to yourself so you can occasionally look back at them to remind yourself FUCK I’M HOT AS SHIT. One million percent permission to be ‘feeling yourself’ at any time of the day or night, friends. Do that shit. Post those selfies. You’re hot as shit, fuck, it’s distracting even! How am I meant to finish this stupid essay? C’mon now.

 – If you’re isolating with someone (lol) figure out and probably communicate how much alone and together time you feel like you need. The needs will change daily, hourly, whatever. But, like I said I’m actually LESS isolated than usual at the moment, and really feeling the drop in my alone time! What I mean is that you don’t want to overcrowd or, alternately, to over-isolate your isolation buddy. Become aware of, and then talk about, your needs! Remember everyone is experiencing a strange new thing right now.

 – Any way you’re isolating do TALK TO PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET. You have so many friends and beloveds and allies out there. Again, communicate your needs. If you have energy to do so check on people liberally and often. If you feel any sort of feel that makes you wanna talk to anyone, just fucking do it! Every day I have to remind myself to ‘communicate with people whenever I want to’, because I get stuck in thinking no one wants to hear from me. Fucking join me in ignoring that voice, because it’s a liar, and send your mates a message or a song or a video or a meme. Reach out every time you feel like you want to. Everyone is having feelings at the moment. There’s no reason to be more alone than you already are. Send someone a message. If you live with someone, ask for that hug or a snuggle on the couch. You’ll realise these things are important in a whole new way.

– If you’re into it and missing the gym I recommend the FITBOD app. It is an expensive app though! If you don’t want to pay for it you can still design workouts and view exercise instructions for free as long as you don’t use up your three free workouts. This means you can’t log anything, though, so the app won’t be able to design harder workouts as you go or rest the right muscles etc. NIKE has a free training app, too, and you can use Youtube for billions of workouts as well. If you’re on a budget resistance bands are a good option for weights. I’m an actual hermit and I lift three times a week because it makes me feel stronger, burns off some emotional fizz and helps this airhead feel their body. IMPORTANT: If it doesn’t make you feel better, don’t do it. We’re not trading in fatphobia, nor are we pushing anti-rest. A change of routine can and will likely change your body. That’s okay!!! It’s okay to put on weight in this period of change. The only things that resist change…are dead. And if you’re not dead it’s no good to try to be. I’ve worked with a decades long eating disorder and if you’re freaking out over social distancing, a change of routine, possible shortages of safefoods, and stress binge eating I am right there with you freaking out, angel. Reach out to someone safe. Love you ❤

 – Brushing your teeth will blow away some lethargy. You might be ignoring this at the beginning but give it a little while you’ll see how important it is to not skip brushing your teeth. Twice a day bitches. And floss!

– DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP FOR YOUR COPING MECHANISMS. This, again, a monumental piece of wisdom from my therapist. Whether you’re coping with substances or behaviours, know those things are happening as stress responses and they’re to mitigate overwhelming feelings. Okay, some coping mechanisms aren’t super good for you, and that can be everything from obvious stuff like booze to something like deferring to someone else to make decisions for you. If you’re working on making healthier choices to cope with stress, consider that right now might not be the time to be super militant with yourself about that, unless your health really is at risk. You make your own decisions on this one, I can only help so much. But remember that beating yourself up for your ways of coping through immensely stressful times is a really shitty thing to do to yourself, and we’re being friends with ourselves now, right? It’s 2020.

But if you really need to not be doing an unhealthy coping mechanism and you’re struggling with that you need to reach out for support!

 – With all my anti-routine talk I have two caveats –
CAVEAT ONE– It’s worth trying to keep ‘sociable hours’, if only because this staves off loneliness. It feels nice to get messages throughout the day. If you’re asleep every day for many weeks until 4pm you’re gonna miss a lot of the social contact you need. And it’s fine to sleep until 4pm for many weeks if that’s the rest you need and/or it’s how you’re processing shit, but it will make it harder to keep in touch with folk, and that could exacerbate your bad feels. That said, you might have friends overseas (hi!!) who are in a vastly different timezone! You may discover you have insomniac friends who might be pleased for your company! You might be able to ask a mate to stay up one night and watch a movie with you (REMOTELY. REMAIN INDOORS). There is no one way to be, and all ways can be worked with!

CAVEAT TWO – It can eventually feel good to have a modicum of a routine, especially if you tend towards workaholism, anxiety or just Netflix-sim and you find yourself needing ‘a reason’ to go to bed. Sleep is the backbone of my mental health. You know why? Cos I’m fucked up when I’m tired. I cannot keep out of my trauma, mental illness, ugly thought patterns etc when I’m tired. Give me a nap and BAM! suddenly the brain can function (at least a bit) like a grown up again. So if the lack of routine has you on Animal Crossing to the detriment of proper sleep perhaps it’s a good time to instate yourself a bedtime. 

– BEDTIME leads onto other shit I have to say about living spaces anyway – 

– MAKE YOUR BED NICE! Otherwise it will never be as appealing as Animal Crossing is. If you have the power, and I pray you do because this made such a difference for me, get some nice soft sheets and duvet covers. Fuck that expensive Egyptian cotton shit (unless you can afford it in which case I take PayPal motherfucker), just anything soft and very importantly CLEAN. Because when sheets ain’t clean, they ain’t soft and soft is WHAT I WANT all of the time. Get a pillow to your taste, and blankies that keep you at your desired temperature. I got duvet covers in YELLOW because it makes me HAPPY, but my dream duvet covers are the Lion King ones from the 90s (I still take PayPal!) Whatever you can possibly do to improve your sleep I’d recommend doing at this time when we’re not sleeping as well from stress and we’re stuck indoors a lot. 
Also SLEEP MASKS, darkness will make you sleep so much better. If you don’t got one they’re easy to sew with either elastic or just ties at the back of your head, or they’re cheap to get off Amazon. You can also get blackout blinds and the like, but masks are easier in a pinch. If you live somewhere noisy (Corona has certainly quieted Houston down…) earplugs are a godsend. For sleep I recommend Happy Ears earplugs, they’ve saved me from many an over-stimulated meltdown 🙂
Seriously focus on your fucking sleep. It will do wonders for your mental health. And if you fancy talking about dreams and dreamwork I have a sideline in that! So HMU let’s talk dreams 🙂

 – In general if you’re gonna be in a spot for a long time, with no playtime outdoors, you need to like that spot or you’ll get antsy and sad. Your space might be a whole house or just a single room. In my teens I only had my bedroom, and nowhere else ever felt safe enough to be in for longer than a scurry out to get food. But with just that one room you can create a SANCTUARY, a PALACE, a BROTHEL (but you only have sex with yourself you contagious bastard), whatever you want. The problem with this is it’s fucking work, and everyone hates work. Try to approach it as a creative endeavour. I also approach it knowing that shit like the pile of laundry juuuust in my peripheral vision will stress me the fuck out. This shit doesn’t stress everyone the fuck out, so if it doesn’t don’t worry! Y’all are good. If it does then just deal with it. Doing the laundry stresses me out way less than having to see that pile on the floor. This is just how I operate. But once you get whatever boring bullshit you want done you can finally get creative! You could paint walls, put up shelves, show off your collection of sticks on said shelves, put up art, build altars, draw on the walls, whatever. In my teens I did all of these things. If I didn’t have posters of the correct anime character (…) I printed them off the internet. I hung pretty fabric up on nails. I had fairy lights everywhere so I could go from bright daytime drawing light to soft gentle gonna-cry-myself-to-sleep-light. OR, maybe if you’re less depressive, soft gentle gonna-have-sex-with-myself-like-that-post-suggested light. You do you. Point is if you’re stuck somewhere that you find ugly, or stressful, or offensive, you’re not gonna be able to go the distance. I cannot stress enough how important making the space something you find pleasing is. Please relish in your chance to create a beautiful, personalised space. It really is a creative project, and it could be quite joyful. And, when all of this is over and you go back to “THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR”, you’ll have a place that soothes and enlivens your soul to return to. Yay!

Okay so I’m going somewhere magical now, fair warning if you want to stop reading. I had to go into witchy shit eventually. I’m sorry. If you don’t want to be my friend anymore after reading this: fine, I don’t fucking care, look at me! I’m a fucking hermit!! Ha!

Magical, energetic ways of making your space more kind to you – 

Cleaning up, organising, chucking out old shit and moulding your space into something that pleases you are all super great ways of starting to sort your space out energetically. Clutter holds stagnant energy (you don’t have to be spiritual or a witch to know that), and stagnant can turn negative with time. So chuck out your clutter and clean up where you can. I know this isn’t always possible; I’ve been depressed, I’ve hoarded and I’ve helped hoarders clear stuff out. There is still shit you can do to help the energy in your space, but preferably cleaning and clearing your space physically would happen first, it makes such a monumental difference. You’ve gotta clean out the old before you can really nurture something new.

Energetically speaking, you don’t gotta ‘smudge’ or go grabbing all the white sage to cleanse your spot. It’s culturally appropriative and TBH, y’all, it’s lazy and uncreative to just nick something from another culture when we have so many other options. I highly recommend a book called ‘Spiritual Protection’ by Sophie Reichter (given to me by, you fucking you got it, MY THERAPIST), for stuff related to protecting and cleansing. I especially use the section on thinking elementally about cleansing spaces. Smoke cleansing is related to Air, but sound is also related to Air and can be used to cleanse. You can use singing bowls, drums, rattles, or playing mantras or songs on Youtube…whatever feels like it’s cleaning the space to you. Make sure to take it around every room focusing strongly on your intention to clear the space. For water you can use salt water, or make water with an infusion of cleansing herbs. I like Rosemary because I’ve got some growing and it’s my fave. Leaving cups of red vinegar or water in rooms (then replacing that liquid every day) is another common one. A cup near the front door, or next to your bed, are both doozies. You can also scatter salt about (Earth), charging it with the job of collecting and clearing the space of negative energies. The salt ‘sucks up’ energy then can be swept out of the house. I know some folk leave crystals about to soak up yukky energy then cleanse them, but crystals aren’t my bag so I can’t help. Google it, you fuck. Carrying a candle around, charged with consuming and burning up all negative energy in the space, is super easy and super effective. As with all magic, energy work and life, your intention and clarity of will are key. And crack a window, if you’re trying to rid the place of something and the windows and doors are all closed it’ll just do parkour around your furniture and never actually leave.

Personal, magical and hippy bullshit that has helped me immensely to just be calmer and less of a fucking mess all the time!! – 

Meditation – I don’t always have the energy for this. When I do, I do Vipassana, which is essentially body scanning and involves no breath control but does involve sitting very still for a period of time. Youtube some bullshit or send me a message, there’s a type of meditation out there for everyone. It should really help you calm the fuck down, so don’t make it add to your stress by making this another ‘I Should…’ to your list. Be gentle with yourself, especially now.

Centering and grounding – I am by definition a space-case, so centering and grounding regularly has been amazing for me. If you’re already well grounded maybe it’ll not be quite so big, but if you’re stressed out, as you may be, these things will help anyone.

Real basic centering – Is easy: stop doing shit. No more shit. Just sit still, or stand still, whatever. No music, turn off the podcast. Close your eyes and breathe a little slower and deeper for a while. Relax. Check in with your body a little, how’s everything feeling? Then I focus on my literal center, and because I’ve worked on and off with the chakra system in energy work I tend to see my literal center as a yellow disc of light. I mentally bring all my scattered energies, all my little bits, into that yellow center, which sort of swirls and sucks them all up like a whirlpool. You stop when you feel less scattered, and more centered.

Real basic grounding – has really helped me to reaffirm that I am, indeed, on a planet, held down by gravity, no matter how far away my mind, energetic or astral bodies usually are. I use one of two ways – one is where I send the energy I just swooshed up into my yellow disc (solar plexus chakra) and send it down through my feet or my arse or my lower back (depending on how I’m positioned) riiiight the way down into the magma center of the earth. Down there it all gets burnt up, WOOSH, so any of the excess energy that’s making me antsy is burnt away, along with any negative energy too. Then from this magma center I bring a line of shiny golden energy wooshing back up towards me, parallel to the one I sent down, and this feeds me energy from the center of the earth. I circle this energy around my body, you can use the chakras or just generally move it about, and generally feel nice and snuggly.

The other grounding I use (because I am so antsy I like a more ‘mobile’ grounding) is a little more intuitive so you can change it depending on what you need. You might need a good visual reference of what ‘air roots’ look like on a plant for this one, you can google it if you’re unsure. It’s when a plant starts growing roots out of parts of itself that aren’t the bottom, that aren’t in the ground. Imagine you’re growing air roots out of any and all the parts of you that need and want it. The crotch of your elbows (that’s the real name for it!), your knees, your chest, your fingers, whatever, wherever. They grow roots that go down into the earth, deep into the magma center. You can send excess and negative energy down to be burnt away, and pull fresh good energy up to yourself, same as the last one. I also really like the image of the Ents from LOTR, the roots of an Ent are mobile, they can lift them up and walk with them, but the Ent is still rooted in the ground. Remembering Ents helps me ground while I’m travelling especially, or in a plane (it is totally possible to ground in a plane), and helped a lot when I was just starting to settle into the USA.

Breathing – I have my therapist to thank, again, for this one. A change in breathing will change the way your system is working. You want it to be hippy shit, but this is genuinely body science – you breathe slower, the body calms down. I breathe to this bell track, inhale on one bell, exhale on the next, whenever I’m stressed, and I make a practise of it every day even when I’m not stressed. You cannot fuck this practise up. If it’s too hard, go easy. If you can’t breathe that slow don’t force it, just do what you can. It can take some time for your body to get used to it, that’s why it’s a practise. If grounding and centering is too weird or hard for you, try this kind of breathing, it’s been the most effective single practise I’ve ever been given. 

I also make a list of ‘Pleasures I Will Take Today’ most mornings in my journal, especially often when I’m stressed or low. This practise is cribbed (gratefully) from adrienne maree brown’s incredible ‘Pleasure Activism.’ The idea of pleasure as a practise, as a muscle to be exercised, really spoke to me, and thusly I focus on practising pleasure. Doing this kind of list, and making sure to assess what you think you want as pleasure often, is a good way of not only focusing more on the juicy, lovely bits of life, but also of getting to know yourself more. More often than not, these days, my list includes ‘rest when I want to’, and ‘speak when I want to, with no shameful thoughts about my own needs’ amongst others. Enjoy exploring your pleasures!

In general, solitude is an opportunity for you to make a home within yourself, and to get really fucking comfy there. Part of this is learning more about yourself, and part of this is learning to be gentle with yourself too, both the bits you like and the bits you don’t like. I’ve no idea what the next months, years have in store, but I know for a fact that having that stable home within yourself will help you weather the storms raging outside. It’s the only way I’ve survived a lot of shit, armed with the lessons the deserts of total isolation taught me about living bare-boned and living intimately with myself. I hope you have the chance to learn these lessons now, too.

Anyway, I think part of being isolated means I’m never sure how other people are, so if you think I’ve missed something let me know. I’d love feedback, comments, etc…

And please be gentle with yourself. You’re very precious, and things are so trying at the moment. We need you, so please care for yourself. I love you! You make being me worthwhile.

 

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Me, for being so fucking cocksure that I wrote an essay informed by childhood trauma and terror of the outside world and hoped (expected??) it to be of use to an actual, living human, and 8th Wonder, the Houston brewery who so kindly fueled this trite piece of bullshit. LOVE Y’ALL

5 thoughts on “The Hermit’s Lamp: Tips on Coping With Social Isolation from a Bonafide Shut-In!

  1. THIS is terrific Cathy! I feel enlightened and inspired to do the Pleasures tomorrow. Many things I’ve needed reminding about! ☺💞😘

  2. This was a very enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing it! I’m also a bit of a hermit (only going out maybe once a week at most) and currently living in China. Truth be told, the quarantine situation had nearly zero impact on me. On the other hand, there are a lot of extroverted people out there who are suddenly faced with this lifestyle, and it’s inspiring to see how many of them are handling it with a good attitude. This is perhaps the greatest opportunity for everyone to examine their lives, and make bold plans for the future.

  3. Cathy, thanks for sharing all of this incredible insight in one place. I am going to have to read this at least 5 or 6 times for some of it to get in here, but gladly will do so as it is so entertaining and inspiring!! Kudos to you. glad to be on the journey with such a wonderful wise human willing to share.

  4. Cathy, I’m so glad I found this. I was about to show a student your old work from the lush days (like your custard creams and stuff), then I started reading this on my break instead.

    It’s so lovely to hear how awesome you are. Soma breathing meditation is something I found the other day, it was a bit off kilter for me at first, but I settled into it, and saw pinks and greens and oranges and yellows, and white. YouTube it, I felt exactly how I did back in my practice in India. It’s good, cause when I preach breathing in my yoga classes, I sometimes forget to do it myself in my practice, or just generally lazy breathing. Oooh, I also dig Mind Valley, Anodea Judith, who is wonderful to listen to/read about chakras and ting.

    Also wanted to say your etsy is looking banging, and I love you to bits. Cant wait till we’re next all in Cornwall together again, whenever it is. I just want the chats.

    I’ve got to admit, I’ve actually been secretly enjoying isolation for working on myself, we work so much we forget to enjoy ourselves. I’m reading mire, hula hooping again, exercising (but only doing the ones I enjoy), baking all sorts (because mmm sugar high), walking lots in the country and by the water, pressing flowers under books (flower skeletons), and sitting with myself a lot when I want to. It’s been magical to notice the things I’ve neglected internally and externally in my life. I’ve noted the two books and I’m going to send links of them to all my spiritually-inclined work friends at art college. And, obviously, I’m ‘a buy them drectly.

    Anyway, lots of love. Speak to you soon, get my number from Boo if you ever wanna video call or whatnot.


    Letty

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