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Now that we’ve all sung the praises of self-reliance and frolicked hand-in-hand around the Maypole of quiet contemplation, there’s only one thing left to do. Beg the question.

is solitude really all it’s cracked up to be?

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don’t mean to be perverse (it just happens) but I believe there is such a thing as too much solitude. There’s a reason they put the extra-bad prisoners in solitary confinement, after all. Too much alone time is punishment. Bad punishment. Worse than regular prison even. It might be slightly more punishing for your average, extraverted con-next-door, whose disinterest in prolonged thinking probably landed him in the hoosegow in the first place. But I’m betting it’s no walk in the park even for loner-turned-mass-murderer introverts. That thing we “i’s” love most – our own company – can actually turn around and bite us on the butt.

Picture that scene from Papillon where, crazed by isolation and hunger, Steve McQueen chases a cockroach around the prison cell and eats it alive. Andrew Zimmern notwithstanding, that is a man gone buggy with solitude.

The descent from solitude into loneliness and other nasty places (we’ll get to those in a moment) is a particularly slippery slope for introverts because it’s unfamiliar territory. We’re not used to feeling lonely when we’re alone and we’re not well-equipped to handle it. It isn’t as if we have a stable of party-animal acquaintances to call up for an impromptu night of roof-raising and cow-tipping. Most of us prefer to keep a small circle of close friends who are likely to be as antisocial as we are. We’re lucky if they pick up the phone at all. (I trust I’m not the only one this is happening to.) So when Sunday night rolls around after a nice peaceful weekend alone and the recharged introvert gets an itch to call up a friend for dinner & a movie, he may be out of luck. Suddenly a mournful wind begins to howl, the shutters start to flap and tumbleweeds blow heedlessly across the endless desert plain. Now is the solitude of our discontent.

nce it gets to this point, some kind of social interaction needs to take place or things really start to go downhill. In her paper Lonely Madness: The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health, Carly Frintner states, “Prisoners who are isolated for prolonged periods of time have been known to experience ‘depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and/or an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or remember.'” It can even cause “impaired vision and hearing… tinnitus [(ringing in the ears)], weakening of the immune system, amenorrhea [(absence of menstrual periods in women)], premature menopause… and aggressive behavior in prisoners, volunteers and animals.” Holy cow.

somebody better pick up that phone.

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Don’t get me wrong: I love solitude. And one night of movies-for-1 probably won’t turn anyone into a serial killer (provided it’s not Gigli again.) Such extreme reactions to isolation take months or even years to develop. The point is, even the most stalwart introverts need some human contact. Even you. Even me. Like it or not, we are all social animals. Some more animal than others.


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