Last week was an interesting experiment in getting to know myself and my social needs. Both of my good friends from work were out of town and I suddenly found myself feeling alone at work. Of course, I wasn’t really alone, but socially it felt that way. There were plenty of other folks with whom I could have spoken, taken a coffee break, or had lunch, but it wasn’t as easy or comfortable as just hanging out with friends who wouldn’t be surprised if I asked them to join me for coffee.
I wasn’t too worried because I knew that Neelmani, specifically, would only be gone for a little over a week. I didn’t seem to mind having lunch alone at my desk or grabbing coffee without a friend, but slowly I started to notice that I was bored. Understandable right?
Keep in mind that when I use the word “bored” I don’t just mean that I wanted to do something fun. I mean that nothing seemed fun. Nothing interested me. I found I couldn’t get myself to stay at work as long as usual, but then when I went home I didn’t want to do anything there neither. I just lied in bed and tried to think of something that would brighten up my weary mind.
I looked outside at the rain and thought, “even the sky is gray, just like my mind” and then it hit me. I was depressed. Either it hadn’t really happened that clearly in a while or I had never really examined it with that much clarity. I started to examine what it felt like and realized that the dreary weather reminded me of my depression because that’s what depression is like. It’s like seeing the world in grayscale. There is nothing interesting, nothing bright, nothing fun, nothing to look forward to.
I wasn’t sure what was going on and despite giving myself some time to think about it, I couldn’t figure out where the depression was coming from. I felt worried that it was spontaneously coming out of nowhere and that I had no control over it. I did acknowledge that the beginning of this mood had coincided with my friends going out of town, but that didn’t seem significant enough. After all, I’m around people all day even if I don’t have meaningful conversations with them.
The next day it all became clearer when I ran into one of Dave’s co-workers. We chatted for a good fifteen minutes or so and then I headed home. In the car I became aware that I was now in an excellent mood! I was hyper, singing along with the car stereo, and looking forward to doing stuff when I got home, no matter what that stuff was. I discovered that just a brief fifteen minute conversation of no special significance had greatly lightened my mood.
Why was I depressed last week? Because I was lonely, I needed social interaction. Not just saying hi to someone I recognized, not just asking questions in a meeting; I needed to have a conversation in which someone was interested in me, what I thought, what I felt, my life, who I am. I also needed to feel as though I was getting to know the person to whom I was speaking. I needed to make a connection with someone.
Getting together with friends to just hang out and talked has always seemed like a luxury in a way. Not necessarily something that I needed very often, but just something that was fun to do. I realize now that it’s an important part of what keeps me healthy, like eating, sleeping, and breathing. I may not need it as often as those, but I do need it regularly.
Now the trick is to find out how often I need it, in what form, and with whom. Does it vary during different times of the year? Do I need diversity in the kinds of friendships I build?
How much time do you need to spend with friends? Do you spend time with different friends based on your needs at the time? How do you know when your social time is lacking? Are there early warning signs for which to watch?