Of late, I’ve been slowly trying to nurture myself to be comfortable with being alone by myself without feeling anxious. My fear of being alone stems from previous panic attacks that had occurred when I was alone, particularly that one time when I started panicking on the canopy walk. There was no one I knew around and I kept on looking at the faces of strangers around me, students like me walking from Monash to Sunway or from Sunway to Monash, books in hand, bags on shoulders, some with earphones in and some without; and I noticed every single detail with my heightened senses, and all I could do was bear holes into other people’s skulls with my stares, silently begging someone to save me from this thing happening to me because I was already too scared to save myself. Since then, I was terrified of going anywhere/doing anything alone because I was afraid in the event of another attack, I wouldn’t be capable of calming myself down. This led to the vicious cycle of “fear of anxiety itself” (as was mentioned in one of Hank Green’s CrashCourse videos which offers very interesting explanations about the whole deal about anxiety), wherein the fear of having a panic attack actually induces a panic attack. Very ironic, I know, but it put me through hell because there was a period of time when even going downstairs to do laundry by myself made me so nervous that I quite literally ran to the laundrette, threw my laundry into the washing machine, and then ran back to the lifts to return to the comforts of my room.

I found out later on that panic attacks weren’t as uncommon as I thought they were, but people never really talked much about it because episodes of panic attacks were solitary for some people. For me, it became a force of habit to avoid anything that might be anxiety-inducing, even if it meant taking a taxi from Sunway Pyramid back to my residence just so I can avoid walking back to my residence alone through the canopy walk. I was still going to be alone, but avoiding the canopy walk made me feel safer (although honestly, I’ve got a pretty twisted opinion of what is and isn’t safe, haven’t I; the irony of it!). Hank also mentioned about this in the video above, calling it avoidance behaviour, where one avoids doing something in fear that doing it might cause anxiety. At that moment, the avoidance might cause some sense of relief, but in the long run, it solidifies the fear of the action, making it more and more difficult to actually do the thing due to the build-up of fear of fear of doing the thing! It’s all just a goddamn cycle! And an exhausting one at that.

Anyway, anxiety 101 aside, tying back to the title and first sentence above, which is that I’ve been going to the Monash library to study alone for a few days now, despite how nervous it first made me feel. I started out in the most secluded corner on the first floor, where I can trick myself into thinking there was no one around and lessen the burden of stress that stares from other people might cause. I sweated a lot and had to take several distraction breaks (in the form of Youtube videos) before I can return to focusing on my revision.

Progressively, I ventured out of the corner and gradually felt more and more comfortable out in the open. And then I started staying back later, walking to Lunchbox to get dinner and then walk back to the library after that. I’m aware how much of a small feat this is going to sound to, well, everyone, but knowing that I did what I wouldn’t have been able to do last week gave me some sort of sense of power and control over my life, as opposed to previously when I relied on the abilities of others to get my shit together.

I made my avoidance behaviour number one on my hitlist, which was why I felt good and sure enough to take the canopy walk alone this afternoon. It wasn’t my first time alone on the canopy walk since that incident, but it was the first time I felt like I wanted to do it. And when I managed to do it I couldn’t help laughing, out of relief more than humour.

That’s not to say I don’t still feel like running away every now and then, but feeling capable of depending on myself and being comfortable about it (and actually growing to like it) has made this week rather alright, despite my initial fear of another episode of spiralling into isolation gloom. It’s always that universal favourite saying of “being alone vs being lonely” and I think I’m gradually coming to understand that.

This week was an unintended milestone and I hope it grows better from here because slinking back into my previous habits sounds very tempting pretty much all the time. But if I can slay this demon then maybe I can slay all the other demons right up to the boss level. Sorry. 1:25AM. Only analogy I can think of.

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Michelle Teoh

26-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

One thought on “Solitude”

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