Illustration of frog playing a violin by Jennifer Martinez-Flood

Enjoy the Silence by Jamie L. Rotante

Nov 22, 2022

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

I’m sitting alone in an empty house, only hearing the gentle licking sound of the dog I’m watching. The anxious lapping of the dry skin on his paws provides the soundtrack of my solitude. I’ve finally found someone more of a nervous mess than I am. It’s nighttime, and the promise of battering wind and rain has given a sullen, dark loom over the evening sky. I’m not quite in the hurricane’s path, but I’m closer to it than I would be up north. The front door doesn’t close all the way. I’m five hundred miles from home.

But I’m fine.

To get here I traveled by plane on my own (for the first time in my life solo, and the second time I’ve ever been on a plane, period). I was fine.

This is the longest I’ve ever been on my own, without family or my husband. I’m still doing fine.

This was necessary.

It’s like a vacation from reality, despite reality still very much being a part of it. It’s a retreat from the distractions of home.

I know it seems odd to put myself in a state of isolation willingly after we’ve had so many consecutive lockdowns (of varying degrees of severity and personal responsibility, based on who and where you were). Still, there’s something different about choosing to be isolated. And sure, I’m working throughout and chatting with my husband, mom, and friends frequently, but every day I still only have choices to make for just me and the dog I’m watching. It’s like a vacation from reality, despite reality still very much being a part of it. It’s a retreat from the distractions of home.

Over the past two months, I’ve been making many changes in my life. Initially, this trip was when I was going to start some of those changes, but I found no sense in waiting to improve my life and well-being and kickstarted Jamie 2.0 at the beginning of August. Nothing incredibly earth-shattering, mind you, just decreasing my alcohol intake, focusing on blossoming friendships and being safely social, continuing to exercise and spend time outside, and working on my confidence. And all in all, it’s been going great.

But none of that magically solves all the problems of life. The same things that have been plaguing me for years are still there—inability to make sufficient time for myself, hindering my creative output, and feeling like my time is consumed by others’ demands instead of my own. How do I begin the process of alleviating these woes, if removing some of the more harmful aspects of my life is barely chipping away at them?

Remove not just the problems, but myself entirely.

I offered to dog- and housesit while my uncle and aunt are on a cruise with some close friends so I could get a chance to visit them after not seeing them for the past three years, and so I could spend time with their beloved family dog. But also, so I could give myself a break from everything that tempts me, everything that pulls me away from my day to day goals.

Without feeling obligated to others—furry friend not included—I can center all my obligations on myself. I have only myself to worry about every day, and as such, I can take the time to decompress, to write, to take online classes I’ve signed up for but never sat down and attended, to tie up loose creative ends and breathe new life into dormant ones, maybe even create a new one or two.

So how has it been going so far?

Fine, I guess.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Ten days to myself (of which I’m only a week into thus far), while still working normal full-time hours hardly constitutes a retreat. Sure, I’m not as tempted to clean my apartment, to start meal prepping dinners, lunches, and breakfasts for myself and my husband, to sneak out momentarily to run errands. Still, I’m not so sure removing those temptations has dramatically improved my productivity. I’ve lacked on my personal fitness goals (how could I not treat myself to fried chicken when down south?) and the chilly mornings have depleted my drive to get in some laps around the pool before work. I’ve made substantial progress on several personal writing endeavors, this one included, and managed to get ahead on some work. I’ve made slight progress in online courses, finished two audio books, and made a nice dent in the book I’m reading. I entered two writing contests. I’ve watched all three John Wick movies.

And yet I don’t feel fulfilled.

Maybe it’s because I set the bar too high for myself, set too many goals with not enough time to complete them all. How much did I really expect to get done in ten days, six of which I’m still working full-time? I ticked off a lot of boxes despite my lengthy list of personal goals. I’d consider that an effective use of a self-imposed retreat. But I can’t help feeling like there’s more I could do and, even more worryingly, if this is just a one-time thing and I’ll devolve back into my unhealthy habits once I’m home.

I haven’t been short on the existential dread, either.

With every goal I accomplish, I wonder if it’s worth celebrating. Will anyone ever even want to read my newsletter? Will I have the drive to update it regularly enough to keep the few readers I do have? Is my writing even interesting enough to captivate an audience? Will I ever get a solid command of fiction? Am I happy in both my professional and creative pursuits? Will that impending sense of doom ever really go away? Is this all just a byproduct of PMS?

I guess there is a downside to being alone—it means I also have to be alone with just my thoughts.

Now that I’ve made it this far into this trip, conquered a number of feats that seem significant, if only to me, and accomplished quite a few personal goals, it’s time to start shifting my focus. No longer should I think about how much more I can get done in my time of solitude, but instead how I can make these lasting changes when I’m back in my usual routine. How I can make mini “retreats” for myself when I’m at home? I can plot out a new to-do list, but one that’s less task-oriented and more focused on where and when I want to expend my brain energy and creative output. What is it I genuinely want to work on for fun? What’s important to learn for my professional life? How much is too much to demand of myself with self-imposed looming deadlines?

That needs to be my ultimate goal in my last few days here—not just checking off tasks, but putting myself in the right headspace and mindset to move forward.

That needs to be my ultimate goal in my last few days here—not just checking off tasks, but putting myself in the right headspace and mindset to move forward. I need to acknowledge all I’ve done—both in terms of tasks and creative endeavors—and in my fortitude from learning to be on my own, travelling without a net. And being a suitable step-pawrent (at least I’d like to think so!).

That, and I’ve gotten all my inboxes pretty much down to zero. If nothing else, and even if only temporarily, that feels like a huge accomplishment.

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