I've been sick with an upper respiratory infection that kept me home in bed for over a week. The first few days were fine - I just slept, sipped tea, and slept again. But after a few days I had more hours where I still felt horrible physically, but mentally my mind was filled with thoughts. Thoughts that because of my weakened physical state, had no where to go.
I've been told by others in recovery that the most dangerous space of real estate is the six inches between our ears. Alone in my bedroom and isolated from friends and community, I remembered that saying as I started to feel a darkness coming over me - a darkness I felt so often when I was drinking. I knew I was sinking towards depression.
Isolation is the enemy of sobriety and the friend of depression, anxiety and addiction. We humans are social creatures. We thrive on interaction with others. When we are isolated, like I was for a week, we can get caught up in our head and start to think about what we should be doing, why we aren't doing what we "need to do", or wondering why people "aren't calling" or "don't care", etc. Our thoughts can start telling us we're worthless, or that life is hopeless or meaningless and then our emotions start spiraling down the drain as we start feeling lonely, bored, anxious or depressed.
And it can happen pretty quickly as I discovered during my bed "rest". Within a week of isolation I began having negative thoughts because there was too much empty time to think and not enough distractions. Without the distractions of social interaction, work, or other activities, our minds can wander and we can start to feel like our problems are insurmountable, and that we have no one to turn to for help.
That's why community is so important - for everyone in the world (read "Bowling Alone") - but especially for those of us in recovery. Being part of a community provides a sense of belonging and support that can be essential for staying on a good path. In sober communities, you can find others who understand the struggles you may be facing and can offer encouragement and support. People share their experiences and we learn from each other. This sense of connection can be incredibly powerful and can make all the difference in maintaining sobriety.
Today - day nine of illness - is the first day I have any energy and don't have to blow my nose every few seconds or reach for my cough drops or nasal spray every other minute. I know I've been going down mentally, just as my body went down physically. But, unlike my body that started healing on its own (our bodies really are a miracle!), I knew I had to do something to get my mental health back on track. I had to take action!
If you find yourself in a situation like me, where isolation is causing negative thoughts, here are a couple of things I did that might help:
Reach out to friends or family members, even if it's just through a phone call or video chat. I initially kept in touch through texting when I first became sick because I kept coughing and couldn't talk! Then I switched to phone conversations as soon as I could. The big advantage In a phone conversation is hearing the tone, and inflections of emotions that are often lost in text messages. And, talking on the phone can be a more enjoyable and engaging experience than texting. Phoning helps build stronger relationships and better understanding between people, so grab that phone and call someone when you're feeling down!
Engage in activities that you enjoy, such as reading, exercising, or listening to music. I love music and kept the tunes going between naps. I binged "The Gilmore Girls" because I was too weak for much else. But it kept my spirits up. Now that I'm feeling a little better, I'm blogging and reading inspirational books. I'm also working on my 12-Steps and speaking with friends and other sober friends from my meetings. The important thing is to stay engaged and inspired. Being alone isn't always a negative thing when it's used as a time to refresh and energize, and not as a time to escape or brood.
If your negative thoughts persist, please consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you. As a Transformational Coach, I know the importance of working together. Coaches and therapists can help develop coping strategies and tools to manage your emotions.
Working on mental health - or sobriety - isn't easy, but it's SO worth it!