Cameron pulled back the drape to look out into the empty street. No cars were moving, but an endless row of them lined each side of the street. A recent rain left the pavement dark and glistening. He let the curtain drop and walked into the kitchen for some herbal tea. The house was dark. Quiet. He had to admit to himself, it was lonely, too. Ok there. He said it. He felt lonely…as in alone. The effects of isolation depression were getting to him.
Cam woke up each day wondering what his purpose in life could possibly be. There was no point in this endless endurance. He didn’t have the energy or motivation to do much at all. He’d been to the doctor a few times, only to take medicine that didn’t change anything except make him gain weight.
The more he thought about it the more he wanted to die. His mind focused on how he could help that happen.
He’d been fighting off this wretched despair for weeks … trying as hard as he could to rise above the gloomy, empty feeling that had been trying to drown him. Even though he’d tried cooking, he got bored with that pretty quickly. He’d tried reading. But the constant silence stifled his outlook.
They’d been told on the news to stay home. Some sort of pandemic. But Cam didn’t care …he never went out much anyway.
He kept the blinds closed, the drapes pulled, and the door locked. The idea of seeing someone, or anyone, peering into his apartment made his heart race and the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
To pay his bills, he offered accounting work for people online. You might say a virtual assistant, of sorts. He could work on his own timetable…when he could function. Office hours never had worked for him.
Then, he saw a post on social media. Something about how to reduce your own anxiety and depression.
That caught his attention.
It said to find a way to help someone. Offer to do a favor for a friend or a stranger. That by doing that, it could help lift your own mood.
Cam thought about it a moment. Hmm. The idea seemed far-fetched, even ludicrous. (Like, really ludicrous.) People who feel crummy, who have no energy, and who are miserable around others…have got to be the worst possible candidates for acts of kindness and helpfulness. People with energy should do those things.
After digging around in the fridge, he came up with some frozen potato fries and put a generous pile of them on a baking sheet in the oven. He checked for ketchup, confirmed there was half a bottle, and returned to his desk.
While he worked on a customer account, that message about generosity and kindness ran laps around his mind.
Finally, he turned around in his chair and stretched.
Could it be? Is it possible that a melancholy loner could actually do anything that would benefit someone else?
Thoughtfully, he laced his fingers behind his head.
Good grief, he thought. We’re not supposed to leave our homes. How on earth could someone like him do anyone any sort of favor?
Aaaacccckkk! Forget about it. It’s a crazy thought and it’s not happening.
He reluctantly turned back to his work, then the timer sounded.
After serving the hot, steamy potatoes up on a plate, he decided they smelled sort of good. He poured himself a glass of iced tea, and munched away. It was unusual for him to have an appetite at all.
He studied the fried potato in his hand…rolling it to examine it top and bottom distractedly.
Finally, he dipped it in ketchup, put it in his mouth, and then it hit him.
Numbers! That’s something I have to give, he thought. Something I understand. And all the kids are schooling at home. I wonder if they need math tutoring!
Maybe it was a little thing, but for someone who had found no purpose for his life, it was a world-changing revelation for Cam.
He realized he could fight the effects of isolation depression with his own skill with numbers.
Before self doubt had a chance to suffocate his idea, Cam got on the neighborhood social app, and announced that if there were any children or teens needing math tutoring, he would be happy to offer it online. For free.
He pushed send, then his heart sank.
What had he done???
He couldn’t face people he didn’t know. He didn’t feel like they’d like him, and his way of explaining math probably wouldn’t help at all. The effects of isolation depression had intensified his social anxiety… but could he push through ?
After all, he was weird… he knew he was.
Just thinking about someone contacting him for math help — then failing at it — made him die a thousand deaths. He just didn’t need any more failure.
An hour later, he heard the familiar :::BING::: It was a message. Someone in his building had a 12 year-old struggling with math. They were happy to pay him but just didn’t know how to help their son themselves.
Doing his best to sound like he was taking it in stride, he arranged a time the next day to talk with their son.
His heart was beating pretty fast …but it wasn’t as much anxiety, he thought, but maybe more excitement.
And he had discovered something he’d been missing.
Suddenly he had the purpose to help a preteen boy develop stronger math skills.
The next morning, he woke up, got his coffee, and sat down at his desk. There were five more messages. People whose kids needed tutoring…ranging in age from 11 to 17.
He didn’t know if he should try to work with all of them. What if he had a bad day and couldn’t function? That happened pretty often.
What if he got sick ?
The responsibility for all these kids loomed over him.
But finally, he made himself calm down. He decided he would try to do this a day at a time, and if it got to be too much he’d call his doctor. Or he could quit.
But for the first time in a very long time, he wanted to try.
Cameron isn’t alone, is he? You may be in a position a lot like his. Feeling cooped up, dragging from day to day, seeing no purpose in life, and wondering how long you can endure the days.
The Effects of Isolation Depression
If you live in a city that’s been “locked down” it can be hard to fight the isolated feeling of aloneness and despair.
It may be that finding a way to reach out and help someone in a small way could give you a lift, too.
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Or, it may be too much to try without some help.
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We’re sympathetic to your situation, and in this climate of lockdowns, isolation, and uncertainty, we want to help you with the equipping to not only face the days, but to enjoy them. To have the initiative and hope to find ways to help others, and to enjoy the reward of it.
This public virus situation is temporary, but for now you need all the help you can get weathering the uncomfortable circumstances that arise, and to have the resilience to help others manage them, too.
Give yourself the chance to rise above these difficulties. Give yourself the strength of resilience. We’re here to help.
To the restoration of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.