We all have those times in our lives. Suddenly, things happen and we find ourselves coccooned into our homes with little to no contact "out there." Whether it's for the winter or for a few years, whether it's due to SAD or because the kids or finances make it almost impossible to get out, we tuck ourselves into our homes and barely ever see daylight. Recently, I went through almost a year of that. It's amazing how that year looked. I couldn't even bring myself to get the toddler to the park. Play was just not something high on our priorities. Definitely, exercise and overall health wasn't focussed on at all!
While there is Facebook, Google+, Twitter, MMORPGs and a bazillion and one forums and online contacts, it just isn't the same. You can often tell if someone is isolating themselves. The trend of their posts, chat, etc. is one of surface expression. Rarely do they post about themselves or anything deep or meaningful. They go from chatty, friendly openness to redirecting the conversation on to anything except themselves. Their Facebook or G+ go from their latest adventure to being full of reposted memes and links. Trying to go for coffee with them is met with refusals, excuses, explanations and it's like trying to pull teeth without anesthetic.
For almost a year, we had a big problem. It was a problem that is spreading around North America like crazy. Bedbugs. And our landlord wasn't too keen on spending the money to get rid of it properly. Bedbug infestations are happening more often around our society and social contact is spreading it faster than anyone can get rid of it. With that in mind, our family kept home as much as possible. My older kids were homeschooled, we didn't go to friends and we certainly didn't invite anyone over. Outings are costly in the winter, and being on a tight budget, were not really an option. We got into the habit of not getting out, not socializing, not talking or being with friends and family. It went on for so long, it became a habit.
Parents can feel like this when a new baby comes along. When a person loses a job for any reason and the finances are nil for a while, again, not much one can do without a lot of effort to be out with friends that have incomes. Illness and injury can create this. And it becomes a habit that continues even after the circumstances have alleviated.
With a lot of help from friends, family, charities and politicians, we got out of our bug infested place, cleared what we did take with us of the creepy critters and moved into a great place. It's open, light, clean and healthy! You would have thought with our freedom that we would be back to being sociable again. Nope. It's an effort to remember to invite friends to visit. It's an effort to remind people that we are available for coffee. Their schedules have moved on and the places that you used to be in have filled because nature despises a void. Everyone has to make the effort to make the changes to include you, including yourself.
This is all well and good in the realm of thought and theory. It's a different story when you are in the thick of it. When the finances balance out, when the children are old enough to be with sitters or at playdates without their parents, when the illness or injury have subsided, we regain our freedom externally, but we forget to free ourselves internally. We forget to release those experiences into the past and step out the door. Our habits are of staying in and isolating ourselves. We need to let those go, they served us to make our lives simpler and easier for that time, but now is the time to move on to other behaviours. Behaviours that help us grow and be happy.
Ever since we were mostly settled into our new home and were absolutely certain we hadn't brought the critters with us, I have actively invited friends and family to come visit. I have made others aware that we are available and want to share time with them. It's not as easy since it's not just my behaviours I'm encouraging change for, it's the whole family. Sometimes, if there is an activity or behaviour we want to participate in more regularly, we have to do it consciously and deliberately for a while before it becomes natural-feeling. Some people navigate the social realm with the ease of a dancer, but even a dancer must practice to regain their balance and steps after an injury.
I have felt odd about inviting people over or accepting invitations out, but I know this is exactly what I need if I want to enjoy my friends and family again. It would be easy to make excuses and stay in my habit of staying home and isolated. I have to spend a moment double checking why I want to say no...is it because I truly want to stay home or am I merely giving in to my habits?
I firmly believe we all need to be aware of our friends and family and watch for the signs they are isolating themselves. While their choices need to be respected, keeping some time open to spend with them and never giving up on them is just as important and helps them come out of their shells if life has thrown them a curve ball. We don't need to rescue them, there are usually very good reasons they are keeping close to home. We do need to keep a line out to them to help them pull themselves out of whatever pitfall life has tripped them up with.
I am very grateful to the friends and family that kept those lines open for us. Slowly, we are reconnecting and enjoying some fun. Making it a habit to check in with friends and family we don't hear much from is an awesome way to let them know you care and haven't forgotten about them. It keeps the line open, the line that just might be what they need to pull themselves out.
Thank you. You know who you are.