When Self Reliance Leads to Solitude

by Jack Bragen

My support system includes a mental health agency and my family, yet mostly I am in charge of meeting my essential needs. I’m proud of this independence—but at the same time, I find it frightening and lonely. .

My level of independence is unusual for mental health consumers with a serious condition, as people who have disabilities like mine are not known for doing what I do. Most adults who have chronic psychiatric issues need a lot of help. Some don’t live to my age—I’m 59 as of this writing—or even make it past 50. Others develop dementia or other long-term impairments. 

Having the ambition to attempt a return to the workforce at my age has to be unusual. Still, I recognize the challenges I face living alone and with a disability.

To avoid homelessness, I must budget my pittance of an income, pay my bills, and make sure that I don’t get overdrawn. This is challenging, but I’ve learned some strategies, and as long as you’re above board with your government benefits, you’ll be OK.

As I manage my finances, I think of some of the unhoused people I have seen alone and deteriorating. It scares me to think, “What if that happens to me?” . 

In the movies, people are often shown living alone. It looks very glamorous onscreen.  I presume that living alone works better when you have a lot of money. I would feel better if I had a lot of money,and I wouldn’t dislike that kind of glamor, if it actually exists. 

Loneliness can make you very sick. It increases vulnerability to numerous diseases, and it can negatively affect mental and physical health. But there are a few bits of silver lining to the dark clouds of being alone. Whether or not these make it worthwhile is a good question, and it can only be answered by an individual considering how they feel, and whether they would be happier with more contact with people. 

When you are alone, you have to be good enough company. I’ve spent a lot of time alone. Sometimes it really sucks eggs. But other times, it is just the right thing. Every person needs times of solitude. If you can’t get any of that with people always in your face, you are prevented from the essential activity of being able to reflect. If you are inundated with other people’s needs, their issues, or their harassment, it blocks you from being able to process well enough. 

I thought I wanted to be alone when I left my wife last year after 27 years of marriage. It may have been one of my classic mistakes—one that will affect me for the rest of my life. Being with people can be very good. 

I believed it was my last chance to get out, and that I should jump on it. If your significant other is excessively unkind, then maybe solitude is better. 

Now I am in a situation where, to an extent, I am struggling to survive, hoping that I can climb the economic ladder, improve my conditions and not always be so damned afraid. 

I’ve done some of my best or most productive work while alone. I’ve accomplished this with physical labor in my youth, as well as with my writing.  I believe that if I’m unable to feel the pain of loneliness—and I should feel it—something is likely wrong. 

In the place where I now live, people have formed a vibrant community. We are all jammed together in the same building, yet each one of us has their own little room. 

By nature, people need to form bonds, but they  need themselves, too. When your housing is contingent on pleasing or getting along with others, compromise is necessary. 

The word “dysfunctional” might be trendy, but at least you have less opportunity to be “dysfunctional” when alone. Maybe, that word should not be applied when you’re with other people. 

Life and all of the things in life are temporary. Sometimes we must all look in the mirror and get to know the person we are looking at. We don’t necessarily need to be defined by someone else—or at least not when we judge ourselves.

Jack Bragen lives and writes in Martinez, California. His work has appeared in many publications, and he sells indie books on Amazon.