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The Empty Chamber

now life is sweet
and what it brings
I try to take
but loneliness
it wears me out
it lies in wait
— R.E.M., “Leaving New York”

I haven’t been getting out much lately. And by “lately,” I mean for at least the past year. I’ve had good reasons to stay home…well, I’ve had reasons. I’m tired. I don’t have the time. I don’t want to spend the money for gas. I won’t know enough people there. There’s a movie I want to watch…on Netflix…which I can watch any time.

The fun thing about being an extrovert with social anxiety is you need to be around people and interact with them, but you’re also afraid to be around people and interact with them. I’ve been letting my anxiety–and my seasonal depression this summer–overrule my extrovert nature. And while I’ve felt bad about not accepting invitations from friends to social gatherings, I’ve been fine staying at home with my cat.

At least, I thought I was fine.

PLOT TWIST: I haven’t been fine.

A week ago, I had a pretty packed weekend, full of more socializing than I’ve had in…I can’t remember how long. A college friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years came through town on Friday night and crashed at my place. We stayed up late talking, got up early the next day and talked some more before he got back on the road. He was the first guest I’ve had in a year. Saturday night, I went to a sort of “nerd prom” at a dive karaoke bar with my sister-in-law and a friend. While I got too shy to talk much with other people, I did get dressed up and out of the house (and even sang a song!). One of my best friends was in town that weekend, and on Sunday morning we met for coffee and catching up.

Now we jump ahead to this past weekend. Besides a tabletop game event my library did on Saturday (which was a lot of fun, but I was on the clock, so I don’t count it as socializing), I…watched a lot of Supergirl on Netflix and hung out at my favorite coffee shop. Alone. On Sunday afternoon I got hit with a revelation like a sledgehammer to the chest: I’m lonely. Powerfully lonely. And it’s mostly because I’ve spent over a year isolating myself from all but a few sporadic in-person interactions.

I’ve let my anxiety and depression convince me that I don’t need to spend much time with other people. “You need to have conversations and think out loud? Hey, that’s what the internet is for! You don’t have to leave the house for that! You need physical contact? You’ve got a cat curled up in your lap! What more could you possibly want?” But I do want more. I need more. I need to be in the presence of other people. I need face-to-face conversations. I need touch. I haven’t been getting enough of any of that for a long time and it’s catching up to me, draining me, wearing me down.

I’ve seen a number of creatives give advice along the lines of “If you want to be a writer/painter/musician/whatever, you need to be selfish with your time. Don’t make social engagements. Don’t go to parties. Tell your friends and family you can’t hang out with them. Make time for yourself to be creative.” Which is great advice…unless you’re talking about extroverts. Well, this extrovert, anyway. I’ve written before about how a problem I have with writing is that it’s so often a solitary endeavor, and I’m not a solo operator. I need my band, my time-traveling companions, my S.T.A.R. Labs friends, my Justice League teammates. (Hashtag squadgoals.) Even if I’m writing on my own, avoiding people to have lots of alone time won’t make me more productive, it will just make me more depressed.

I have to stop listening to the lies depression and anxiety tell me. I have to stop letting them use my creative urges as a weapon against me. I have to work on my social connections, and build new ones as well, because I have fights to fight and dances to dance and dreams to dream, and I absolutely cannot do it alone.