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The Solitude Dilemma

The Solitude DilemmaThis week The Atlantic shared a video in its Editor’s Picks series called ‘The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain.’ It followed a young man named Leif Haugen, a Forest Service firefighter in Montana. For three months out of the year, Leif lives alone at the lookout on top of a mountain.

Watching the video, I couldn’t help but feel a rather fervent mix of desire and fear.

Living in solitude like that, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract you but books and chores seems like a dream to me. At the same time, though, it made me wonder if, were I to live like that, I would get lonely.

It seems like it’d be a pretty deep loneliness too.

Having lived with schizophrenia for eight years, one of the major problems I deal with is paranoia concerning other people. There’s something deep inside me that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake. It says to me on a daily basis that anyone I interact with is making fun of me or laughing about me behind my back. It is for this reason why the concept of living in solitude appeals to me. I would have nothing to worry about besides myself and essentially I’d be free from the real or imagined slights of other people.

That said, though, and the reason for my conflict, is that I also feel a need to be around people. At least when I’m out in public there exists the chance that I’ll make a lasting connection with someone.

This is invariably a balancing act between my misanthropy and my desire to be recognized. It has left me thinking that maybe I couldn’t actually make it on my own in deep solitude.

It has been a dream of mine for years to have a house in the mountains where I could escape from society. Now I’m left thinking that maybe there’s a part of me that needs society.

Isolation can be a major problem for people with mental illness. A lack of connection with others can lead to feelings of depression and loneliness, and without people to balance things out, symptoms often become worse. It’s been my experience that many times that’s the truth.

This dilemma has me thinking that maybe my dreams of a house in the mountains are actually just a reaction to the paranoia I feel every day. This paranoia is so deeply ingrained in me, though, that the thought of being part of a community many times has me feeling crazier than I would on my own.

I don’t know if there’s something to be said for introversion, too, or if that is also a reaction to the paranoia. I think the key here, as with pretty much anything else in life, is to find a balance.

I need a place where I can have solitude when I need it, and community when I’m feeling lonely. Maybe I can find a house in the mountains within a 15-minute drive to town if I need to go to a coffee shop or something.

I think anyone who shares the dream of solitude thinks about the same things. After all, there are times when you just need other people whether you like it or not.

There are many benefits to solitude, but solitude and loneliness are two different things.

The Solitude Dilemma

Michael Hedrick

Mike Hedrick is a writer and photographer in Boulder, CO. He has lived with schizophrenia for many years and his work has been published in Salon, Scientific American and The New York Times. His book is available here You can follow his blog on living with schizophrenia here

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APA Reference
Hedrick, M. (2018). The Solitude Dilemma. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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