Lonely Madness: The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health

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Biology 202, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip

Lonely Madness: The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health

Carly Frintner


By Carly Frintner
Paper #3 for Neurobiology and Behavior, Spring 2005
Professor Paul Grobstein

I began to research the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners' behavior while thinking about the ways in which we isolate ourselves from others, or are isolated by others in our daily lives. I cherish and am very protective of my own chosen moments of solitude, but I also know that long periods of time alone can send me into a depressive state, or make me feel like I'm going crazy. More specifically, a kind of panic sets in when I realize I'm alone with my thoughts with no one to affirm or deny the validity of what I'm thinking. When I'm by myself for too long, I start to question my own understanding of reality—of who I really am and what the world is really like. I need interactions with other people because they are such a significant part of how I understand and enjoy my life and my reason for living. All people seem to depend on varying amounts and intensities of social interaction to keep them happy, stable, and sane. This is not surprising given that human beings are social animals by nature.

Human beings are also naturally curious. Drastically reducing the amount of "normal social interaction, of reasonable mental stimulus, of exposure to the natural world, of almost everything that makes life human and bearable, is emotionally, physically, and psychologically destructive" (2) because it denies us the ability to ask questions and seek reasons and information to form explanations that allow us to understand ourselves as well as our world and our place and purpose in the world. It is logical that we feel less stable and secure overall when the things that our brain and body rely on to connect to and understand our surroundings are taken away from us.

In class, we have occasionally discussed how we check in with other people to get an understanding of ourselves. In one extreme example, we recalled a final scene of the movie "A Beautiful Mind" in which Professor John Nash asked a student to verify that there was a man standing there talking to him. Because Nash's schizophrenia often caused him to hallucinate, he relied on other people to assure him what he was seeing was not just his own reality, but the reality of the world (including other people). We all do this to a certain degree, though probably to check much less subtle information than whether a person is or is not actually a hallucination.

Out of the more than 20,000 prisoners in the United States, about 2% are currently living in "super maximum security ("supermax") facilities or units. Prisoners in these facilities typically spend their waking and sleeping hours locked in small, sometimes windowless, cells sealed with solid steel doors. A few times a week they are let out for showers and solitary exercise in a small, enclosed space. Supermax prisoners have almost no access to educational or recreational activities or other sources of mental stimulation and are usually handcuffed, shackled and escorted by two or three correctional officers every time they leave their cells. Assignment to supermax housing is usually for an indefinite period that may continue for years." (2)

I have sometimes gone for hours and even days with very minimal human contact. As a result, I experienced anxiety, depression, and a feeling of being disconnected from the world around me, even though I had complete freedom to go wherever I wanted. 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." (2) Studies have also shown that isolation can 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." (1)

Previously healthy prisoners have "develop[ed] clinical symptoms usually associated with psychosis or severe affective disorders" (2) including "all types of psychiatric morbidity." (4) Many have committed suicide.

Individuals do vary in how well they can deal with living in isolation, however. (4) For prisoners with pre-existing mental or emotional disorders, living without normal human interaction, physical and mental activity and stimulation can aggravate their symptoms to levels equivalent to torture. (2), (3) In one complaint filed against the Connecticut Department of Correction in August 2003, social isolation and sensory deprivation drove some prisoners to "lash out by swallowing razors, smashing their heads into walls or cutting their flesh." (3)

It is difficult if not impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons why social isolation and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement situations causes mental and emotional breakdown in prisoners. However, in addition to the stimuli and interactions they are denied, we might also consider how people's minds are affected by others controlling every aspect of their lives, from where they are and how long they will be there to how much food they get and when, to light and noise levels, to what possessions they are allowed to have, to when or if their clothes, bedding and rooms are cleaned, to when and if they get to have fresh air.

How does the absolute denial of freedom, the denial of any kind of personal power or influence over one's life, affect the way he thinks, feels and acts? Certainly the impact is different for each person. But are there patterns across cultures and time in how slaves, prisoners, people living under a dictator, and children grounded by their parents react similarly to the denial of freedom? Are the patterns in reactions solely human, or do they extend to other animals, for instance, animals that are caged or otherwise restricted in pet stores, zoos or circuses? Do all animals, including human beings, feel and understand injustice on some level and therefore react to it similarly? Or are humans reduced to more stereotypically animalistic behavior when they are trapped and controlled? "In some states, the conditions are so extreme-e.g., lack of windows, denial of reading material, a maximum of three hours a week out-of-cell time, lack of outdoor recreation-that they can only be explained as reflecting an unwillingness to acknowledge the inmates' basic humanity." (2) Can people retain their humanity without the constant affirmation of their humanity through positive contact with other human beings? How do human beings' behaviors and thought processes shift when the human beings around them refuse to accept their shared humanity?

I am thinking more about the brain's needs based on my research on this particular topic. The physical, mental and emotional effects of living in solitary confinement seem to be beyond the control of the person experiencing them. It seems that the brain needs a certain quantity, quality, or type of stimuli to help regulate, direct and prioritize thought processes and other brain functions properly. It could mean that without certain (or enough) stimuli, the level of random activity in the nervous system increases—such as brain activity that causes hallucinations.

When inputs are all coming from the same place, parts of the unconscious experience the same inputted information differently because they are all interpreting the information with different randomness. The randomness helps us make connections between sets of inputted information and our own prior knowledge to ultimately create a story that explains our situation and surroundings. This story informs the "I"-function, which allows us to experience and understand the situation/surroundings personally. (5)

In an environment with very minimal stimulation, such as a prison cell, the randomness with which the unconscious explores the environment continues, although it is unclear whether randomization increases when fewer stimuli are reaching the brain. Perhaps the brain attempts to compensate for stimuli it is missing by creating stimuli of its own, that is, by increasing random activity. Either way, when the brain is not receiving much input from the environment, there is little information based in reality that the unconscious can focus on or try to interpret. The story reported back to the "I"-function is more likely informed by more random connections than real facts about reality because reality is not offering enough stimuli to make a coherent story. This helps explain why people often experience mental and emotional breakdowns and psychotic episodes when in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.

 

References

1)F-Type Isolation Prisons in Turkey

2)Supermax Prisons: An Overview

3)Lawsuits Attack Isolated Prison Conditions for Mentally Ill , Mental Health Law Weekly; Prison Health. April 2, 2005.

4)Isolation and Mental Health, NHS National Electronic Library for Health.

5) The Brain's Images: Co-Constructing Reality and Self , Paul Grobstein. May 2002. (And conversation May 2005.)

6) Isolation, Breakdowns and Mysterious Injections. , Vikram Dodd, Richard Norton-Taylor and Rosie Cowan. January 26, 2005. From The Guardian (UK), via Common Dreams News Center.

7) Mental Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement., Craig Haney.

 

 

Comments made prior to 2007

If mankind can be identified as a social animal, it seems absolute that involuntary social isolation from whatever source can be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, whether in a home under a parent, spouse, in a work environment with overly regimented rules that ignore human needs, or in institutional settings where what is seen, heard, felt, etc. is all controlled by someone else. To be sure, it isn't autonomy, and one would expect that adverse physiological and mental effects would be the outcome of that environment. Consider for example, the isolation of girls or boys in trafficking or prostitution where they are not allowed out at all.

 

Much different from self imposed isolation, but perhaps not free from ill effects; consider the Howard Hughes case where fear prevented him from social engagement.

 

In theory, the principle of R&R for the military is to reduce the high intensity concentration of rigid over-regimentation that is required in wars, and therefore, requires some consideration of the human features of physical and mental requirements of humans.

 

Humans are universal in these needs, but humanity sometimes doesn't recognize these basics, and act accordingly, or permit ourselves the humanity to insure that this facility is respected, and acknowledged in order to make that possible.

 

To the best extent of our capability, the concept of being human is rarely discussed, planned for, etc., and quite often, humans are left to their own devices without sufficient liberty insurance to help themselves. What is inhumane or not is not a matter of perspective but what is universally recognized as necessary, as it would be for any other primate, or animal.

 

To suggest that community health is a community affair would not be wrong in that case, and it applies regardless of circumstances. Humans, like all other animals have needs, and perhaps, as much, if not more than other animals ... Pat, 10 May 2007

Comments

Serendip Visitor's picture

Not Animials

Humans are not Animals as you claim. Humans are humans and have totally different needs & understanding of life as compared to animals.

Your entire view of life is inaccurate as a result of believing this deception.

Xavier's picture

Ignorance is No Excuse

Your Ignorance of the Definition of Life is Offensive.

Also Your Assumption To Apparently Read Into The "Mind" Of Other Creatures and or Plants.

I Believe Scientifically That Plants Are Even Considered To Be Living Creatures Due To Their Ability To Perform

The Basic Functions Of "Life" ---1 Response To Outside Stimuli "Sunlight / Music/ Defense Against Insects etc."
2 Acquirement Of Food Stuffs IE Water / Minerals. 3. Reproduction / Propagation

So Open The Mind

lisa's picture

Read a book. We aŕe animals!

Read a book. We aŕe animals! And other animsls have many of are same needs.

Serendip Visitor's picture

The Effects of Isolation and Lonliness on Humans

I know animals and people need the company of others. I feel like I am going crazy. My isolation due to the daily pain I live in is torture to my mind. I am gregarious by nature. Other animals like elephants and dolphins to name only two display head bashing and rage when left alone and get bored. We are animals. Keeping people in maximum security for weeks at a time is so cruel. I can go anywhere I want but the depression is there all the same. I am going outside for a couple of hours alone. Come home and sit and think, I'm alone again. I used to have a life. How can people be so ignorant to treat animals and other people with this kind of cruelty. I think of humans, Homo Sapiens as just conceited apes. I am living in physical pain but the mental pain is overwhelming. Karma is a bitch.

Rocky's picture

Affect of long term incarceration on the perception ideal beauty

My wife and I have I recently been talking about how long term incarceation would affect a person's Ideal of beauty as a perceptual reference in judging the physical attractiveness of people during intra-social interaction. Would long term loss of referants; social, physical, perceptual, sexual, and cultural strip away pre-existing internalized ideals of what the norm of beauty is, leaving behind a kind of 'blank slate' upon which an entirely new ideal of beauty would be built up? Is there any 'study' literature on this subject?

Serendip Visitor's picture

Feeling alone again.

I'm a 20 year old female. I've posted here before about my solitary confinement and how I was betrayed by my friends and lovers. But I recovered and found somebody who my soul loves... A 22 year old male, he is in the US Navy, so I'm in AZ and he's in VA. It did t become hard untill recently... I stopped seeing people and I push away the people that care about me because I feel like all I need is him and when we get married ill have what I want. But it's hurting me. I have no friends. The only person I spend time with is my mother and she is very worried about me for being social. I recently bought a new car and at the dealership me and my salesman connected and are still in contact and he makes me feel good. I haven't hung out with him because I don't know if I should or if its wrong. But I think the reason he makes me feel good is because he fills the void that my sailor can't fill because he is not here. I don't know what to do about it. I'm so confused in everything that I do. I'm constantly lost in life. I don't have anyone to turn to for help. I want friends so bad but I'm scared to have friends. Someone give me words of advice/encouragement. Thanks.

C.j's picture

Same here

I am exactly the same. I shut out new people, because I feel like they won't like me or I won't know what to say to them. Being alone for so long has made me afraid of people, or getting close to anyone.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Don't be alone.

Write me, I am lonely too.

Nathan's picture

Drifting Away

This was a good article. I was curious as to the furthest extremes isolation could take you. Obviously it won't go that far with the freedoms we do have but I do still wonder how far it actually will drive us as people. I've always been an isolated person, the outcast so to speak, I might of had a friend or two here and there growing up but then as a teenager I totally cut everyone off, discovered text based role playing online and have done it for nearly ten years. I stopped this year and have gone nearly a year without it and it's been hell for me. For one I was diagnosed with AvPD (Avoidant Personality Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, toss in severe depression and bipolar and you got a pretty nice mix of mental disorders already set in and as a result make it pretty impossible to socialize as it is and to top that off as I've discovered over this past year is that aside from the agonizing loneliness that will hurt me into numbness a majority of the time I feel like I'm going through an identity crisis just because of my past because I never formed an identity because I did the text role play so obsessively that I spent more time making characters than discovering my own self and doing different things to define me and so I utterly feel like a blank canvas. I don't know what to do but to be isolated, I don't know what to do with myself otherwise.

Serendip Visitor's picture

No point. Last hour's input gone. N2 gas cylinder needed.

Previous input totally absent despite correctly "proving" I'm human not computer.

Serendip Visitor's picture

isolation

As a child I learned that isolation seemed to protect me from my mother. Then as a teenager I used drug which gave me the same feeling of isolation while being around people. When I was 18 I was sent to jail for the first time. The first 2 weeks I was isolated, later I found out that was to get me to talk with out a lawyer. However,I felt comfortable in isolation for the 2 weeks. At the age of 19 I was incarcerated for 4.5 years. During the 4.5 years I was in isolation for a total of about 6 months. Something had changed about being isolated I began to feel many of the thing the paper talked about. I have spent much of my life (I am now 54) in various forms of isolation mostly self imposed or because of my circumstances. For a number of years my job and caring for my son left me feeling isolated. I was restricted to work, travel to and from work and caring for my son. Don't get me wrong it was my choice to care for him and I would do it again, however I see the effects this has had on me and his life also. My main coping skill seems to be isolation, which lead to more difficulties dealing with others and life in general. I work at not being isolated, but as I said it is my way of coping. Today I have been general isolated for 9 months because of an auto accident that has left me unable to walk. I am concerned about my over all health but do not know what to do to get more social interactions. I mean I can not even go out due to the pain. I don't have an answer, I had hoped I would think of something by writing this out. But it appears the need to have someone physical present, talking is an important part of problem solving for me.

Also my son, who was an only child seem to have the same tendencies. He lives alone and does not talk to me or any of his uncles or aunts. It would be easy to say it's inherited which in part I would agree with. However, I think the tendency is trained because of my relationship to isolation and how I lived in general isolation while raising him.
If the post/blog/paper interested you at all you might want to look up early american prison or Quaker prisons. They completely failed because of the effect on the mind/body/spirit isolation has.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Physically disabled, living alone > 14 years

50 year old male, living alone in ~ 220 sq. foot bedroom w 3/4 bath. On SSDI & other LTD benefits, which were recently terminated due to apparently not utililzing cane sufficently enough for ambulation. The $633 per month benefit that enabled me to meet financial obligations is gone due to 4 days of insurance carrier surveillance that coincided with Functional Capacity Evaluation ordered by same. 150 seconds of observation over 96 hours revealed I was able to negotiate two steps from front stoop & enter vehicle to travel 4 miles to FCE location. Have been on very high dose opioid analgesics for entire time. Recent "pain mgmt paradigm change" has reduced regimen 53.3% since July 10, cursor will not work with my phone for this appCrave painless termination of life functions Phone won't even let me communicate via this method. Nitrogen asphyxiation Partially responsible for nearly successful suicide attempt of woman quite fond of, though she lives > 300 miles away. Guilt unbearable. Noting recent insomnia/hypersomnia, short & long term cognitive memory deficits, anorexia, inappropriate emotional affect relative to TV stimuli. Feel like computer with crashing harddrive This isn't working All input out of order due to Nitrogen asphyxiation best option. Have lost 9 lbs in last week. Guilt, guilt Teerminating further input as it's taken me > 1 hour to enter this scrambled text. No point in continuing to have my sentences entered out of orderNo point. No point. Terminate input. If this forum won't work with 4G Androids, should state that before I wasted all this time. Realize post makes no sense if cursor keeps randomly jumping to different locations while inputting with stylus.
. Now pain back with vengenance & no longer find isolation tolerable. Emotionally .labile & am constantly thinking of nitrogen asphyxiation
2012 - 20% in last week. Have amassed 1500+ volume reference library that enabled enaboccupied my time - 99.8% non-fiction. Also have frequent kidney stone renal colic. It took 2 M.D.s 7 years to find pharmaceutical combo/dosing that enabled

Wanting to be alone's picture

Maybe I'm normal, Maybe I'm not

I'm a female, 17, with Autism. Going to graduate HS in May. Used to be social since I was a child. I've been isolating myself in my room since I was 14. I've been doing this for three (it'll be four in a few months or so) years. Parents have shown concern, wanting me to get out of my room, be social, spend time with time, etc. yet I am content with being in my room and not speaking to a single person. Parents show concern, telling me that not socializing will affect me, cause me to become less social, etc. However, I can't think of one person BESIDES my family who wants to socialize with me.

Other than that, I've been considering isolation since I was 16. People tell me I'm being selfish for wanting to isolate myself from society and the world, but look at them: they pressure everyone to get married, have kids, and so on. So who's being the selfish one here? That's what I thought. I'd rather lock myself up and be in my OWN little world where I don't have to deal with ANYONE than deal with everyone's BS. Alone is where the heart is IMO.

Also, I call BS on the whole "isolation can make one crazy". I barely socialize and I'm perfectly sane. Like it'll ever affect me.

Colin's picture

I get the isolation...but the system is very strong

You there, 17 y/o...glad to see you can see the system so early. I didn't see it for what it was until my late twenties.
You need to fight against it tho, not hide away. The rest of us need your help to to say "fuck you, this is not my ideal world, and i'm not going to buy what you think you need to slam down my throat!".
The thing is, is that you have to connect to people to make them understand...we're all born into it.
Your not going to help the rest of us or yourself, by remaining in your room.

Take care either way tho,

Colin

Serendip Visitor's picture

considering doing this...

I'm considering isolating myself from the people who love me and need me. I'm only 17, about to graduate HS in May, and I've had it up to here with everyone's drama. I would do anything to get away from them and be in social isolation. Besides, I'm more content being alone than being with people.

Neri's picture

Talking?

I'm 18.I'm in college and living in isolation too, today(nov.22.12) my longest conversation with somebody was just a minute or two. I think I'm going crazy sometimes. and I'm afraid if this isolation would result to regression 'cause I have suicidal tendencies. I've just overcome masochism last year and I just don't know what to do. I'm religious now but that's not enough, I know I need a real person to talk to and not just reading the bible everyday. Im human too and I know that.

Serendip Visitor's picture

taiking

i dont know how to say this but someone once told me that when your sad, or when you have negative thoughts, just put this idea on your head, there is somebody out there to whom your presence brings joy and hapiness in their life, and also making a flowing converstion with people is quite hard at times, i remember i too had that problem sometimes back, but lets say taking it step by step helped, speaking to guys and friends we share the same intrests especially school stuff, music and the latest films ( coz they are general topics of discussion) helped me out alot, try it out, i came to learn that there is always someone intrested in talking to me but him/ her also has the same fears as i did, so try it out, even if its for a minute today, let tomorrow be two and before you know it you might be talking with ease even before strangers ok

Serendip Visitor's picture

Great Article

I found your study to be very interesting and definitely makes a lot of sense. Seems as though we should maybe focus on helping people in prison to be rehabilitated rather than ultimately making them a less stable human being. The side effects of isolation you mentioned definitely ring true to me - I've noticed if I ever spend long periods of time traveling by myself (driving, in a hotel room, etc) it takes a while for me to get back to feeling "myself" once I go back out into the public again. I've been searching around online to better understand all of this and also found that this other article gave me some clarity as well, take a look:

76691's picture

The hole

First long term hole time-584 days; three showers a week; no outside; no sun; lights in 23 hours a day; 8' x 4.5 feet; screaming and high intensity race justification.
Second long term time in the hole-24 months, three weeks, one day; all the same conditions except I beat the hell out of a piece of garbage black cook screaming "white boy" and "punk ass" at me. In the joint you must respond swiftly and violently or you will be a punk, seen as week, and victimized. I was strapped to a lowered black plastic chair, shot up with halidol and thorazine cocktails over and over for that hole time because I would lose my mind, be aggressive with staff, have SORT members rush me, pepper me, beat me (although I got at least one most of the time).
I did seven day stints here and there, a few thirty day stints, and 72-hour investigation stints.
I am permanently screwed up, rage inside, trust no one, emotionally punish any one who loves me, loss of sleep, wear ear plugs to block out the world, lost 11 jobs (have one now), and suffer every day of my life from the seven years, ten months I spent in Leavenworth.
This is just a small truth to the effects of prison, solitary confinement, and social status post-confinement. I was convicted of assault and maiming as a Marine; combat decorated, and thrown away with out rehab, vocational training, or any help at all. God Bless the Department of Defense. Beware when signing that dotted line.

Serendip Visitor, Jackie's picture

Isolation....

Hi guys.....

I am widowed, I'm 43......

My doctor said I haven't developed properly and he's right, I come from a very academic family, who, through no fault of their own, are unable to provide emotional support, warmth or love.

For years I wanted their love and approval, especially after traumatic events, subconsciously I started to try and get my unmet needs met in other places. Usually men, I didn't know how to form close, healthy friendships without losing myself or getting too attached.

Pure heart, non-ego love is the answer. Self compassion, giving, diet has a huge efffect on mood. I bought every natural supplement available. But, as humans, I feel we need closeness to others, to feel connection, now more than ever....we can have an impact on every person we meet, set examples, you know how you feel when someone is so nice to you?

If I could personally visit each and every one of you with healthy food, a smile, an ear to listen, a hug, to give you some hope, to help you let go of your past, whatever it takes, I would. Every thought you have, everything you write, it all creates your reality....support each other to make this world a better place.

This is not meant to sound patronising, far from it......I've had breakdowns, suicide attempts, lots of instability, I understand, not everything, I can't feel exactly what you're feeling, but.....I have so much love to give and I want to help the world be a better place.

Much love to you all, Jackie x

Serendip Visitor's picture

Agony plz let go..

41, female, social butterfly, life of the party, always laughing...now my wings have been clipped, there is no party and all I do is cry.. Ive moved with my husband to an AFB in Shaw, SC and have a 17 yr old son who is ready to finish high school and move back to AZ our home town (were ALL our family is) I have gone to having a FT job, a best friend, a full sch of things to do... to living in a town with nothing, NO job and no friends. I don't care to make friends with any of the "girls" on this base as they all have lots of "babies" I don't really care for kids, i don't want to sit around their house and listen to them bitch about their kids and how hard their life is (why did you have so many damn kids then) I also don't care to get to know them as they tend to talk about each other and at 41 i don't have the time for that. I don't drink so I don't go to to clubs and the few times I have it has lead to the women I have went with acting "less then Married" I don't cheat on my husband and will not hang out with people who do, so that scratch those girls..I don't want to go out and volunteer for anything because to be very honest as I am not hear to lie... people piss me off, and I would most likely tell someone off.. I don't want to go out there and work for free, yet the places in this town want to pay 10hr for a job i was doing in AZ at 18hr.. I am at a lost for words and find myself sitting at home mad that I have left a job, my bestfriend, my family. to come out here to a town full of nothing, willing to pay nothing. OH and the husband... deployed.. and if he is home he is playing video games....

daisylonglegs's picture

Living on a mountain....YUK!

I moved from central London to a cottage on a mountain 18 yrs ago. Had bought it for holidays etc and decided to try it full time. Realised my mistake within a month but could not get back to the city. Could not find work and husband was out all day working, daughter at school...eventually, I had a bad breakdown. My already shattered nerves could not cope when my lifeline ( my mother) died suddenly...however, she knew that I had become unwell and urged me to come back to London but I was unable to make decisions as I was so depressed and had gotten used to my cage, just as animals do. Eventually it seems a 'safe' place.
I Had stayed in the house too much and could not drive or pass my licence...It just rained and rained and rained
My nerves deteriorated so much that within 4 months, I could barely make sense of my world. The breakdown lasted around 4 months and then I came out of it. Still could not find work though.
Eventually, we opened a business together and the isolation vanished as I was seeing new people every day....now,,,
the business has gone bust, daughter is grown up and moved on and husband is back working and I find myself alone from morning to night and cannot find work around here. Feeling depressed and have had a couple of panic attacks with tetana...husband not supportive..he just wants to go out to work and then go running..............
I can drive however but just driving around aimlessly is boring.
Isolation is dangerous. I am going to give myself until the autumn to have found work and if not, I am OFF!
Am going to volunteer for something to do but find myself spending far too much time online, drifting around the net and playing online scrabble. I trained as a counsellor during my years up here and am going to give myself a good talking to!

Serendip Visitor's picture

reply to living on a mountain

Hi. I'm sad for you. I remember when I was a Northern Catholic city girl living in Southern Baptist rural Alabama. Our little girl had been hit by a car and killed. I went on to have a third little boy, but my marriage was a mess. Everything was a mess! Then on day a man on television asked us to say a prayer and I did and I was born again. That was the beginning of the healing of my marriage and myself (my husband never bonded with his father and had "issues" because of it). The one suggestion I would make is to try to run, too. Exercise is the only way to diffuse stress. I know you won't do very well at first, but just do your best each day and you will get better at it. God does care and I do, too. Love, Midg

Jenifer's picture

Volunteer!

If you have the spare time find a place to volunteer. I work with an animal rescue group and the animals are always in need of help, being walked, etc...if you can find the time then please find a group/shelter/etc to go to daily. There are people around and you can help animals in need at the same time. I live in the states and we board dogs at a doggy daycare. We always need people to walk the rescued dogs and just give them some cuddle time. It is a business so there are people all around. Anything is better than sitting in isolation. If you aren't into animals...perhaps there is a senior center that you can volunteer at?

Falcon's picture

For those alone

I think perhaps we should all speak to one another.
If we are all alone, we know how each other feel, correct?
We understand each other, and we wish for people who understand each other as well.
Perhaps you were just making your voice heard to be able to feel like someone is listening and someone may respond. This is my response to all of you who wish for others to speak with and be with.

BraveHeart's picture

Involuntary Isolation

I agree on talking to one another. That's part of the problem, no one to really speak with. I cherish my private think time, but I also need a balance of meaningful, consistent, social interaction - emotional intimacy.
Some days the major contact is the clerk at the store. Superficial contact is better than none, but I also want someone with whom we can be emotionally intimate. No one to say, "how about a cup of coffee?" Flitting around to "Meet-up" groups, or wine bars is painful, but I try that too. Hopefully, I will find a fit. I have too many years left to live in forced isolation. No family, no friends, no job makes new connections extremely difficult. Most people think "older" women (I am a young and vibrant 64) should be comfortable with memories. I have always been active physically, socially, mentally - until now. As written earlier, I am left with only my own thoughts - no one to share with.
I had a marriage on paper for over a decade before I "gave up". We had no children. I retired early (a bad decision in hindsight) from a successful career, divorced, moved to a new state for economical reasons (i.e. loss of home, loss of the few acquiantences I had, loss of a way of life, loss of an economic lifestyle, loss of cultural activities, loss of accessible mountains and ocean, loss of weather...). The year of my divorce, I lost my mother too. In 3 years, I was settled and felt the desire for a companion. I met an old love but after 8 months, he disappeared, leaving me with a renewed desire for connection. I liked the attention, affection. I had no idea of the prejudice that exists regarding "older" women in the current dating world. Men my age want women 10-15 years younger, or more (Viagra?). Believe it! I moved to a state that is far too conservative and "down home". Born in NYC and having lived 23 yrs in LA, I am not a "Southern Belle" and that's been pointed out (I've been told I don't understand the "southern way" and will never fit in!) I've had several 1st dates - been "tested" by what I can only assume are fearful, hurt men. I tried Church, but I am not a housewife, apart of a family unit, or have grandchildren. Nor does my life evolve around church or crafts. Trying to find someone to play tennis with, or going to a museum, or car ride is like pulling teeth. I volunteered for 3 yrs as an advocate for foster children - that is an isolated job with minimal contact with the families, social workers, therapists, and court proceedings. Art classes are individual performers with some socialization. Local (volunteer) theater ended up with me arriving 1/2 before everyone for set-up and 1/2 hour later for teardown - with little interaction in between. Not the comraderie I hoped for. The gym is filled with individuals. Bunco is silly, but I try that - again, I don't fit with the moms and grandmothers. I spend tremendous wasted time on online dating sites, and looking for activities to socialize in. I am so uncomfortable with all these exercises - but I don't want to be isolated. Running around, I am losing who I am. I am getting very tired of doing things by myself. I've gone into a major depression and struggle daily with the near total isolation. Suggestions? I have considered moving, but I think the age stigma will follow. Stuck, isolated and losing my mind.

Skye's picture

Reply

Hi Braveheart,

Your current situation of "Involuntary isolation" sounds like a hell on earth. I understand how it feels to be isolated and not by choice either, although we both do have free will and there is always a solution or a series of actions that we may need to take to make a change. If i were in your situation i would relocate, go somewhere i have always loved if thats the ocean or a village in the mountains. Its hard, i need to move although i am unemployed and have no family or friends really. Everyday i am alone. I force myself to stay on task, to continue applying for work, looking for courses to do and classes to take, although it becomes so draining and i soon find myself also lapsing into a state of depression. I can't write here anymore, i am unsure if anyone will even read it. I hope everything works out for you. In terms of your concern about the age stigma following you, it will and you know what the men who reject you based on your age are not worthy of your beauty and depth of character for they do not understand or see beneath the social expectations and perceptions of "beauty". I am not the best person to be giving advice or inspiration tonight i am a neurotic mess and was reading this page as a form of self-help therapy. Stay strong and true to yourself, life will get better.

mr salesman's picture

professional isolation

I have an interesting take on this.

I am a social butterfly by nature but I currently run a small retail store. I work 11 hour shifts alone, and I can go days without seeing customers. making matters worse, the store is all white.

I have noticed that while I used to love having time to myself, I now dread it. I can start to blow things out of proportion in my head, and imagine problems where there are none while at work. I am also constantly checking email, facebook, and other forum for human interaction.

I never imagined this would be such a problem but after a year I can feel it's affected me. I've learned a lot about myself but I'm also afraid the borderline paranoia will start to leak out when I'm not at work.

Rohanna's picture

Paranoia and lonliness?

I am beginning to wonder if loneliness causes paranoia. The more time I spend by myself in my house, the more afraid of random happenings I become. At night I carry around a large object in case of anything that may try to harm me, as ridiculous as it seems to me in the morning when I wake up and remember it. I fear people and public places and will keep to the edges away from other humans as best as I can, even though I want to talk to people and be social at the same time. I wish I weren't so scared of everything, but I cannot help myself and I take things that are no big deal and make them into huge matters in my head. In the other direction, things that I should deem important seem of little or no consequence, even when I know they're important- they just don't seem to matter. How do I fix this? This is affecting my life in serious ways, and I am beginning to make mistakes that I cannot fix because of it.
Thank you.

Soundmanadam1's picture

same here

mr salesman,

I can relate. Before my office job of 2 years, I was a very sociable person, and I seemed to enjoy life a lot more. Sitting in a chair on the computer, not talking to anyone all day, has had an extraordinarily negative effect on my psyche.

As you mentioned, I too have found out a lot about myself. However, it has come at a price. Paranoia has crept into my skull, and it seems like some sort of demon beats my self esteem down because of my over thinking all of the time. My hairline is receding tremendously now, and I am losing my hair due to stress related to the confinement of my job.

It's horrible and I hate it, but I need to pay bills. I am working very hard to get out of the position. I recommend you do the same.

Also, my suggestion is to listen to positive music as much as possible. Negative music tends to worsen the situation.

Sincerely,

Michael Bolton

Serendip Visitor's picture

Not scientific...

Gee, let me think, if I was getting dropped into a super-max and given my choice, I would PREFER solitary confinement for 30 years than one second in the general population, considering who that population defines. I found this article via Google search.

I would like to see a study that is focuses purely with social isolation, NOT clouded by sensory deprivation or loss of freedom. If subjects were dropped off on separate paradise islands, with plenty of square miles of room, complete with infinite supply of food and comfortable housing, and plenty of stimulating solo activities to partake in. The only thing missing would be human interaction. ....and for argument sake, no animals available to act as surrogates. What consequences, if any, would there be? Taking into account the diversity of subjects, one might exclude those at the socially-needy end of the spectrum as the experiment may not only be cruel but the outcome predictable. However what about those in the middle or at the other end of the spectrum? If subjects, by their very nature seek a solitary lifestyle, will their psychological health really be negatively impacted if they're effectively given that which they pine for most in life? Would it lead to madness or total bliss? Let's find out. Sign me up. 8-)

Serendip Visitor's picture

An elaboration of this

An elaboration of this experiment. Two groups on two sets of paradise islands. The first group -- call it the brain-in-the-vat group -- lives as you describe: in a theme park with "plenty of stimulating activities to partake in". Catered meals airdropped three times a day and all the rest. With this restriction: no human stimulation. No news of the outside world, no sound of human voices, no visual images of humans permitted. The second group -- call it the Robinson Crusoe group -- lives a subsistence existence, some basic materials for food production and shelter construction being provided. And because we want be generous, each person in this second group would be given his or her choice of a book...without pictures...in an indecipherable language.

Needless to say, no third-party medical care for either group. Individuals in the first group are told that they will never be retrieved. Individuals in the second group are told that they might someday be retrieved if certain unspecified conditions are met. After ten years researchers visit the islands to assess the psychological health of the individuals in each group.

Unrelated to the island experiment. A way to quantify the attractiveness of solitary confinement in prison. Select a group of recently convicted felons sentenced to identical terms. Say to them: There are x of you and x-y solitary confinement cells. You may bid for these cells. The bidding currency is years added to your sentences.

Jenifer's picture

What is to keep them going?

I wonder what reason would there be for the first group to stay alive? No hope for release, being totally isolated...why would they continue to live? There would have to still be that sliver of hope that they can find a way off or that they will be saved.

carol's picture

TV friends. Do you relate?

here's an interesting thing that's happened to me since my disturbing descent into social isolation. I've started forming strong emotional connections with tv characters, & I prefer watching series that focus on friendships & relationships (such as Friends, How I met your mother, Grey's Anatomy, The OC; rather than say CSI or Dexter). I fall in love with some tv characters, & feel emotionally close to others. Like the characters on 'Friends' often feel like my real friends. I get so excited when interesting things happen to them, as if they're real people. The doctors on Grey's Anatomy feel like my boyfriends (I fantasise about them, imagine going out with them or having conversations with them). Pathetically enough, I feel closer & more emotionally connected to my tv pals than people I know in real life. It's just that it's so hard to get close to people in real lives. I can never cross the threshold from acquaintances to real friendships. It's sad & creepy. This must be an adult version of imaginary friends. Does anyone here relate?

BraveHeart's picture

Living Vicariously Through TV

Absolutely. I know what you are talking about. I used to listen to more music. Now, I have the hated TV on because there is a voice talking "to me". I sat there the other day thinking, I am living vicariously through the unknown writers of TV scripts.

Anonymous Girl's picture

Yes!

I do the SAME thing. You know how when you read a book, you become A character in that story. But I turn on a movie and I have all of the emotions of the leading character and feel the emotions of the countless others they interact with, and I become attached emotionally to fictional characters and situations, especially of a romantic nature. I tried to do Internet chat rooms to form connections with others, but I kept seeing people's genitals pop up on the videos and it was highly disturbing because I was not there for the same purpose they have. They just want me to throw my clothes off on camera so they can masturbate and that would just make me feel even more wretched if I were to follow through with such skankness. No, I just want love. I want the fairy tale. I turn on a movie to keep myself from feeling suicidal. I can be someone else for a while but then I am left wanting even more because I get so attached to a character who is actually a real person somewhere that is probably nothing like the character they portray, or, even if they are similar, they wouldn't have me even by a far stretch of the imagination. Root this all in the fact that I was always bullied growing up and overweight (and still am very overweight, because I sit around eating chocolate to try and get the same chemical reaction as falling in love, on a subconscious level), and you have one introverted, crazed person starved for attention from someone who will just throw me down, kiss me, love me all night as I need to be.

Blankname's picture

You should look up Surrogacy

You should look up Surrogacy Hypothesis i went through something similar where i would just get home every day after school put on my favorite dvd and pretend i was hanging out with the characters on the show

carol's picture

unnerving experience

I'm 23 yrs old. I'm in a new city for studies, renting a small place. I'm naturally an introvert. classes are stretched out as 5 day intensives, then we have 3 weeks off. during those 3 weeks, I'm usually alone, unless I'm able to find people to hang out with. people in my class are reluctant to hang out because they all have family commitments eg kids to look after. I was surprised to find that there's no one my age group in class. Occasionally, I might have lunch w them on the weekend, which breaks up what would otherwise be 3 whole weeks w/o social interaction. Boy oh boy, is this an unnerving experience! Sometimes I fall into a routine, & become too apathetic, disillusioned & lazy to both seeking others out, which increases my isolation. Then when I return to class, it takes me a while to get back into being able to socially interact. Like when I saw my classmates after break, I was stuttering & not properly stringing sentences together. Then after 2 days, I get back into the normal groove of interacting. The problem though, is that because I've been isolated, I haven't done anything worthwhile, so have little to say to them, which creates a vicious cycle of feeling disconnected from people.

When isolated, I get depressed, blow problems out of proportion, feel oppressed by my constant thoughts, get jealous seeing other peoples' social lives on facebook, feel anxious, keyed-up, unable to sleep, paranoid, I get stressful dreams or longing dreams (by longing dreams I mean dreams where I'm hanging out with old friends I used to know, & I wake up missing them). In fact, I've just woken up from a nightmare. I think I really need to buy an early air ticket home, see my parents for a time, cos I'm kinda losing it.
Wow. I did not expect my time abroad to be so painfully lonely. I'm very disappointed in myself. I wish I were a social butterfly who could just "own" any new place I move to.

Serendip Visitor i's picture

It seems like you have the

It seems like you have the right idea, insofar as seeing your parents or making real contact with "old" friends if possible. Sometimes, as a matter of survival, it is necessary to take risks, find support, make new friends. The world is not such an unkind place-I am sure you will find these new adventures rewarding. Step out. Go for it.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Aloneness

It makes me feel better when I read these stories. I realise there are many people out there who suffer in the same way from lonliness and its effects which can be severe on one's mental functioning. Often I feel I am the only one when I look around me and see families and groups of friends. I am 43 this year and would say that I have been alone on off throughout my life. In my 20s and early 30s I travelled and prided myself on my appearence and the attention it received but still flitted from one relationship to another never sustaining anything, my own fault I know. At 33, I moved to a small town for work on the opposite side of the country to where I am originally from and have been completely alone ever since. I have no real friends here, no family and spend all my time outside of work alone, progressively more so since turning 40. I spend each evening alone, my weekends alone and my holidays alone. The thing is, the isolation itself seems to have affected my thoughts and behaviour in such a way that I subsonsciously isolate myself even more. I feel miserable all the time so I look miserable which isn't inviting to others. I don't feel young and attractive anymore, I feel old and odd. My thoughts have become more jumbled and paranoid over the years. My speech and body language has become uncertain. The more I am alone, the older I get and the longer it all goes on for the more worthless I feel and the lower my self esteem plummets then the more people avoid me. It's a vicious circle. People essentially have their own lives and don't want to know. I had two very good childhood friends that I could talk to but both of them died young unfortunately. It's just the way some things go.

I simply can't think of how to get out of this situation while at the same time being aware that I am completely responsible for my own life. I don't know where to go or what to do. My job is all I have and I am €100000 in negative equity with my house. I am exhausted from joining things and volunteering. I am too tired to do it any more. Because there is absolutely no one to chat to or confide in for such a long time, I feel I have lost a sense of my place in the world and my connection to it. I don't know what or who I am anymore. I am loosing my mind talking to myself. I don't know why I am here and I don't know what I can do. I feel I am getting more confused by the year. I have visited counsellors and psychiatrists and honestly feel they have made me worse. I try to tell myself I can bare it all for another 40 years and then it will all be over but honestly I don't know if I can. I would prefer to be dead but just don't have the courage to kill myself. My parents are still alive but don't bother with me really. They don't ring or visit. They are quite closed uncommunicative people and cannot deal with my depression or anger. I believed once that God would help me but now I know it just doesn't work that way. You only have yourself and your life is purely your responsibility although some people get dealt a better hand than others. You can only help yourself. I just can't see the grass for the trees.

Hopeful in September's picture

Mutual feelings

If you are still tunning in, I know and I am feeling exactly the same way you are feeling. Yes, I do am feeling better now that I have read your message and those of others. I have been feeling so blue and it's seems to be an ongoing dreadful feeling I long to find a way out. What a waste of my life's happiness. I have had hopes of finding some meeting group or associations on the web but haven't had any real luck yet. There just has to be a way out for us. Let us keep encouraging one another through mail messages and hopefully one day we will find a gleaming bright light of hope that will reach far beyond the grass and trees that seems to be keeping us from living and finding the happiness we deserve. Thank you all so much!

Falcon's picture

Aloneness

I am different from these stories in the fact that everyone says I am not old enough to know much about the world, which is possibly true. My parents are very restrictive and do not let me see my friends. I am not allowed to go to social activities or meet new people. I try to entertain myself with things in my own house but nothing is working and I am sad and depressed all the time. I have a kind of paranoia and I assume that everything I do is either going to make people want to hurt me or directly cause someone to be hurt. Most of the things that I like have been forbidden by them and almost all of the internet is blocked at my house- it is a miracle in itself that I can access facebook. When I am allowed to have the computer I am constantly checking facebook because I feel that I am starved for social activity. I will sometimes have conversations with my mother that will hurt her and I won't know why, or why i said what i did, why I felt so irritated at the time. I am also worried that because of my overactive imagination I will become unable to properly understand exactly what is real and what is not, and I fear that it may already be affecting me too much. I feel like I am looking at someone else's life sometimes, and that I can play with it and not have to face the consequences. I do not know what to make of this and I am worried. There are many things I do not know because nobody told them to me- simple things like what certain often-said phrases mean, what people mean when they say certain things, and what I am supposed to do in many situations. Even now I am demonstrating my lack of knowledge about the current society because I do not watch television and I never have, nor do I interact with other people my own age unless I am at school, but even then it is rare that I am in the same class as them, and I do not get to talk. My form of reactions is archaic at best, as most of my proper reactions I picked up from books that I read about the middle ages. For example, when meeting a new person, I do not know what to do. I am not sure whether to shake their hand, or bow, or kneel, or dip my head, but whatever I do, the recipient and the person doing the introducing both usually cast me a strange look because I have not done the right thing.
I am confused.

Anonymous Girl's picture

Me too!

Your story really struck a chord with me. I am in a similar situation except I have two children to care for all day, including homeschooling, preparing meals and lots of house cleaning, every day. The father of one child was abusive and I left him. The other I live with but he is living at the other end of the house and rarely has anything to do with me. We are almost never intimate and hardly even speak to or touch one another. My predicament is almost worse in a sense because I felt much more free and capable as a single woman with no children. I have become a mere maid. My age is showing, my hair has fallen out a lot near the scalp and hair line. I used to be very pretty and, like you, I had many suitors and went from one relationship to another. I try to find happiness in running up credit cards with stuff that comes through the mail, then I have no job so I have to try and pay these debts by making crafts and repainting dolls just so I can pay my bills.
It's worse when you are trapped by someone who does not love you. I am only 36 and I feel 86. It feels like I could just snap and do something totally out of character and then spend an eternity suffering for it. Know that there are others feeling the way you do inside. It's like a slow and painful death, and oftentimes, that is just what this is because all of these crazed thoughts and unfulfilled desires and hurt emotions extend to the physical and even hinder the spiritual to the point of extreme sickness. In my case, I have gotten a bad case of candida and allergies to many types of food and an extreme fear of driving.
Isn't that rediculous? I want to leave but it scares me to just drive a few minutes to town or something. This loneliness is a devastatingly horrid disease.

Cheryl's picture

I grew up fairly isolated and

I grew up fairly isolated and have always been comfortable in my own company but I have bonded with a few other people over the years. I think my relationship to God and my church has been central to my connection with other humans and I really feel being part of a church family could help anyone with feelings of isolation. The only caveat is that you have to find a warm, welcoming church that knows how to express the love of God. God is still there with you even if you feel like He isn't. I sincerely hope you find a connection and contentment.

Serendip Visitor's picture

aloneness

I can identify with just about everything you have said in your piece , heartbreaking and i must admit the same thing is happening to me , the slow spiral down words to nothingness with no laughing and no one listening even a good conversation would be a revelation .
Why some people end up like this i just dont know , for me it started with my breakup of my marriage after 25 years and 4 years on things just seem to be getting worse no better , like you i have bounced from one relationship to the other and have moved to another town for a fresh start , just for the same thing to start happening again only now i dont bother with the relationship ,so all i have is work too .
The world seems made for two at least and im becoming more self concious of this and notice this when going into town , intitially i didnt mind even just having a coffee and reading a paper on my own and people watching and trying to strike up the odd conversation, i cant even do this anymore .

mano's picture

I can't even compare my

I can't even compare my situation to all of yours. I feel humble at how miraculous it is to still see people so isolated yet still be able to write of their situation in words that make sense.

I moved to a big, dark city a year ago to attend university. I have a small apartment, parents financially supporting me and classes to attend. Initially it was alright, I had moved over with friends from another country with whom I was comfortable and could spend days and nights with. They eventually got fed up with the city and left. Once that happened I realised I didn't know anybody in that city well enough to become good friends, since they all lived very far away (emphasis on the "BIG city") and have their own circles of friends and busy lives.

I've always been mildly socially anxious, resulting in me being at best an extroverted eccentric person, yet by nature a silent and introverted guy, still likeable though as I've come to understand throughout my life, through the multitude of friends and good memories I have made for myself.

But I've got the feeling that the immense amounts of time I've spent not speaking to people, staying home and doing music or watching movies (and this can go up to a few days of speaking to absolutely no one) has made me more into the introverted person I essentially am, so I've become very shy, being scared of saying something going against someone's liking.

The worst is that sometimes I get the chance to go out for beers with some people I've recently met and for a while at the start I feel confident enough to be sincerely extroverted and interested in other people, only to later remember the time I've spent alone before and the ensuing mental state of passivity, and so I start speaking with a very confused choice of words, not being able to finish or make coherent sentences, or I become sarcastic, very cynical and want to leave quickly.

What is this? I feel like loneliness is a dangerous presence that tries to succumb me either to hostility towards myself (depression and anxiety) or against others (hurtful comments, anger). I've been fighting it moderately succesfully this whole year, by exercising a lot (works wonders) and pushing myself to see people. But eventually the silence of solitude creeps up to me and I feel that it is taking away the person I have always been; healthily confident in my slight awkwardness that I have always used to great humour,fearless of other people's judgement, and most of all, loving of other people's company.

I know the solution: being around the same people on a daily basis, so as to build intimacy. I believe there is a way out, I hope you all do, because there is. I've just been eaten away by this for a long time, but now more than ever I know the self grows back eventually.

Have faith in yourself no matter what, and concentrate on the big things, not the small.

land subdivision's picture

I feel isolation is not a

I feel isolation is not a solution for prisoners, it just lead to Mental and Emotional Health problems. I Most cases people get disturbed and distorted. http://hinchinbrookhabitats.com.au/

Btrayd's picture

Army can be truamatic without being attacked

I was embedded on an Afghan post with 22 other Americans. we had our own building but there could be anywhere from 150-450 Afghans. I was the ONLY person on the night shift. My replacement greeting was "what are you still doing here" and when I came in at night I got "good! see ya" . If I tried to stay around and be with people during the day I got "why aren't you in bed?" Never mind that they would scream and yell all day long with no consideration that they were right outside my door. I was sleep deprived and just sat in my room with a blanket over the window to keep the afghans from looking in (I am female) I was injured 4 month into the deployment and was left injured and vulnerable for 8 months so that no one would be inconvenienced. There was also no nutritional food. If I wasn't injured it may have been OK but as it was- I think this was a major problem. I was also the one who read all the reports that came thru and saw all the carnage associated with the reports. The basic pertinent facts were passed on the rest was not.

So, I was isolated, sleep deprived, injured, in pain, helpless and had no control over my situation. Now, I am back in the states and do not fit into any psych boxes so I do not get any help.

Serendip Visitor's picture

do not fit in any psych boxes

They don't get to define whether you have a "problem" for which you want help. It is your life and you get to define where you are now and where you want to be emotionally, and then work toward your goals, step by step. I notice you wrote about a year ago. I hope things are better for you now.

Rolfen's picture

Most people are better off

Most people are better off without psychologists and most of all psychiatrists. Psychologists will offer some time and support and listen to you, but its nothing a good friend can't do, I believe. I'm sorry you went through all that, I hope you have a nice environment in the states to compensate.
Get well soon. I hope my opinion is helpful.

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