It all started 10 long years ago. I was a normal person with a job and friends. It only took one day to change that. That day I sat with my friends, hanging out having fun, sharing some drinks. Everything was normal until the police turned up. Two uniformed officers emerged from the car as well as a familiar face. It was someone from our friend group. Well, that’s odd I thought. It turns out that the police were looking for my friend. He was not a criminal, he had not broken any laws. His brother, part of our friend group, had taken his own life. The police were there to notify the next of kin. It was devastating to say the least. As they took my friend away to go through the legal process, we all just sat and cried together.
Not long after that day my life took a dramatic turn. It destroyed the foundations that I had built in my mind. Foundations that gave me a (false) sense of security. You hear about bad things happening but they wouldn’t happen to me, surely. Bad things are things that happen on the news and to other people. With my foundations destroyed, I did not know which way was up anymore. It took time but I slowly started to retreat inside myself. Slowly started to retreat from the world. Before I knew it I was what the Japanese call a Hikikomori (hi-kic-ka-mori).
Hikikomori: someone who has remained isolated at home for at least six consecutive months without going to school or work, and rarely interacts with people from outside their own immediate family.
In the first year of my social isolation I turned to the drink. I drank, every day. I abused alcohol as a way to cope with the anxiety and depression. Even though I lived with my family I spent so much time alone and barely spoke a word. I would spend all day locked in my room, then walk the 2 minutes up the road to buy alcohol, come home and drink until I fell asleep. For a year and some change, this is how it continued until I was seen by a local social worker. The social worker connected me to a psychologist and psychiatrist and I was placed on medication and given therapy to try to help me with my anxiety issues.
In the first few years of being socially isolated my personality changed. It was not a 180, more a 90-degree change. Spending so much time in your own head does something to you. Something you can’t get without experience. I became very introspective. I examined myself deeply, I pondered life like a monk does when he takes a vow of silence. Looking back it started to make me a better person. They say the first step to making a change is admitting you have a problem. The silence allowed me to see the problems. I was judgemental, short with people, gossipy and a bit of a douchebag at times (+ more). I began to face the things I didn’t like about myself, my bad qualities and worked on making a change. But don’t let that fool you. It was far from roses and puppies. At the same time I was looking within, the isolation fueled my anxiety, my fear of the outside world, my self-hatred. It eroded what little confidence I had left.
After finishing with therapy, I decided to go off the medication. I was not going out much but I was doing better than I had been. I reconnected with an old friend and they (without knowing that they did) taught me to have fun without alcohol. Started to drink less and less until I eventually stopped. It was replaced by my friends visits. They would come to my house and we would talk for hours. We would go to a cafe sometimes for a few hours, but that was the extent of my presence in the world.
For the next 5 or so years, I attended an online university. It allowed me to exercise my brain and fill my days with something productive. But it also allowed me to stay stuck inside. At this point we are about 5-8 years into being socially isolated and I needed a way to deal with the torturous thoughts, the anxiety, and fear, as well as the loneliness. The coursework helped somewhat but it was not enough. Humans are social creatures and isolation is considered a form of torture. As I continued to look inside myself and actually make some good progress in change for the better, I also became very good at fantasy to deal with the lack of interaction. The loneliness. It wasn’t me sitting alone in my room with nothing going in my life. I was a loved figure at the top of my game in sports. I was a successful business owner that travelled the world making friends on every continent. I had a family, we would go on outings and we were very happy. I got so good at this type of fantasy that it fulfilled what little stimulation I had come to need. It took over hours of my day.
Maladaptive daydreaming: condition causes intense daydreaming that distracts a person from their real life.
I recognized this as a problem. If I would catch myself doing it I would snap myself out of it but it had become such a big part of my life that I would slip into an episode for a time without even realizing it. As my university career was coming to an end I knew I could no longer justify my lifestyle. My parents were proud of me for accomplishing a big goal but now I was expected to get a job. I had been alone for so long that the thought of leaving the house every day for 8+ hours terrified me. As the days passed and the graduation neared my anxiety grew into a beast that I had not experienced before. I had zero confidence and the stress of facing the real world left me sleepless. My anxiety was now 24 hours a day without sleep. This continued for a few months before coming to the most dramatic head so far but what would also lead to the most progress I have made in 10 years.
My mum became worried that I had been obsessing with a little red dot on my arm (honestly it was nothing), but to me, at the time, it was everything. This dot ruled my life. I would check it every few minutes. I also started to believe that aliens had taken over the bodies of people on TV, among many other strange thoughts (delusions). It was very abnormal behaviour. The stress and lack of sleep over the months had pushed me over the edge and my brain had slowly become psychotic. My mum had convinced me to see a doctor about the red dot on my arm but while we were there she told the doctor that I was not ok mentally at all. I was seen for a second time by a psychologist and psychiatrist and put on anti-psychotic medication. After 3 years of trial and error, I believe I have found the right medication.
Now we are at about the 10-year mark of the social isolation. My change had become a 180. I have become much more patient, empathetic and much less judgemental. I actually like myself more than I did 10 years ago (even though I am still not confident). And since being put on a really good medication it has silenced my delusions and reduced my anxiety. I am going out more than I have been in years.
Silence and isolation can change you in positive ways as you become introspective but without a balance, it quickly shatters your confidence and can literally drive you insane. If you feel your anxiety is leading you down this path please don’t wait 10 years to get help.
Thank you for reading,
originally published on medium.com