How Do I Contribute To Society While Isolating Myself From Society?

On seasonal affective disorder, (still) sweating too much, and hating other people while also needing to pay your rent. Plus: a few words from special guest advicetician Douglas Coupland.

Scaachi Koul is a senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada, formerly the managing editor of Hazlitt. Her debut collection of essays, The Pursuit of...

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I have not kept in touch, let alone remained friends, with most of the people from my childhood. We don’t speak. I don’t have them on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. I don’t know where most of them live now. I can’t even remember all of their last names. If you think this is all because I’m as unpleasant in person as I come off in this space every week, you would be correct. Congratulations! For this astute observation, you win nothing but my eternal, undying disdain.

This is going somewhere, I promise. See, in some column a few months back, I wrote a throwaway passage about a girl I knew in junior high, and her propensity for digging her nails into my hand when we were kids, apparently just to instill the fear of cuticles in me. In hindsight, this was probably a petty move, but at the time I didn’t really think much about it. It was what we in the biz call “adding colour.” Needless to say, it didn’t win me any Pulitzers, and I figured she’d never find out, since I hadn’t heard from her in seven or eight years and we parted on bad terms (did I mention she used to dig her nails into my hand for her enjoyment).

What I forgot was that we still had one friend in common, who has since moved to my city, and whom I met for lunch last weekend. “You’ll never guess who texted me about you,” she said straight away, and indeed, she was right: I would never have guessed that someone I knew when I was 14 would have found an article I wrote nine months ago, long after we had stopped talking, for a website I did not imagine she was reading.

Her text to our mutual friend was simple, mostly an expression of shock that our friendship had left such a foul taste in my mouth, along with some dismay that I had written a detail about her into an article about my family’s superstitions for some reason. Frankly, I don’t know why I’m so surprised: I often write about things that have happened to me, and have been caught telling true stories by the people involved multiple times. There are, of course, a number of ways to get caught doing this sort of thing, from writing a mean text and accidentally sending it to the person you were talking about, to getting caught in a subtweet due to someone else’s insistence that they mention the object of your ire in a reply. The Internet is a big place, but people can still find you.

So what do you do when you realize that someone from your past—maybe someone you had completely forgotten about—has written something unkind and uninspired about you?

You have a few options. The one that grants everyone involved the most dignity is probably just ignoring it and moving on with your life, privately acknowledging that this individual is, in all likelihood, a sad and lonely person clinging to old memories that most adults would have shed by now but that still bother her to this day. Or, you could fight back by writing some stories of your own about her, like about the time she punched you on the bus, resulting in the both of you getting suspended, or the time she came to your after-grad party and wasn’t even allowed to drink because her parents called your mom ahead of time and told her that she was to be monitored like a very tall, hairy baby.

Or, you can appeal to her sense of propriety by contacting the last remaining link that the two of you share, express your displeasure at being brought up in such a negative light, maybe try to see if you can talk out the old, lingering issues, and remember the good times you had, like the sleepovers in J’s basement or the time you both got drunk on peach coolers and went streaking. After all, behind many a sour memoirist is someone who has been hurt too many times to truly deal with her own feelings. Eventually, she’ll understand that ruminating on old fights and grudges left unmanaged only makes her feel worse.

Not that I give a shit, though, because here I am, still doing it anyway.

I’m starting to think I get Seasonal Affective Disorder. Around October/November, I get very sleepy and bored and a little down. I just stay in bed all day. I don’t really know what to do. Yesterday, I cleaned my room and ate a healthy meal, but it’s 11:30 a.m. now and I’ve been hitting snooze since 8:30. How do I force myself out of bed when I feel this way?

— Fall Blues

I have a few friends who appear to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, largely because every October, their Facebook statuses become exclusively dedicated to complaining about the fact that they live in a part of the world where snow and wind occur for a few months every year. It is impressive that, year after year, they manage to be shocked—SHOCKEDthat fall happens. Then they get sad. Then they complain.

So really, what I want to rescue you from is becoming one of those people who only want to talk about how the leaves on the ground remind you of your lost hopes and dreams. Fall and winter will always be with us—at least until the ice caps and ozone layer become myths we tell our children about from the safety of our subterranean bunkers—but your depression and lethargy don’t have to join them.

If you’re feeling sad now, at least take some solace in this: you have something in common with Douglas Coupland! That’s pretty great. I don’t have anything in common with him, except maybe my thick, lustrous beard.

My depression is not so dependent on the sun, so SAD doesn’t get to me on that level either. Author of a very many books including most recently, Kitten Clone, Douglas Coupland, however, does get it, and he has some advice for you.

“It feels like a profound homesickness, even when I’m home,” he says. “It’s very difficult to get out of bed and once I’m up, I cringe through the day. It only gets better around bedtime when I know sleep will take me away from it. Also, appetite loss. And I can’t create ANYTHING. It’s like time completely stolen.”

Sound familiar? If you’re feeling sad now, at least take some solace in this: you have something in common with Douglas Coupland! That’s pretty great. I don’t have anything in common with him, except maybe my thick, lustrous beard.

Coupland adds that last week was “Danger Week” for him—the week before daylight saving time, when he takes plenty of Vitamin D, goes to the gym daily, and drinks less. The time has turned, but it’s still plenty dark in the mornings and later afternoons, so for the next few weeks (or, really, for the entire winter), try to take his advice. Pump some iron with some upbeat music (IF YOU ARE LISTENING TO THE NATIONAL, STOP DOING THAT, TAYLOR SWIFT HAS A NEW ALBUM, IT IS GREAT, YOU WILL FEEL ALIVE), avoid getting blackout drunk every weekend, and take a multivitamin. Watch this adult Richie Rich dance to “Where They At Doe?” while his anchor tries to find the nearest fire escape. Know that this, too, shall pass.

And if that doesn’t work, drop some dough: “Go buy an LED lamp. They’re about $195.00,” Coupland suggests. No one ever said depression was cheap.

*

It’s me again, Still Sweaty. Thanks for your advice. Unfortunately, I ignored it and still haven’t seen a doctor. The sweatiness still hasn’t subsided, and it’s only getting worse. I made it through the summer (it was excruciating!), but spent every day with damp armpits and a river running down my back to my ass. Now, all of this I can live with… but when I’m in close proximity to others, I find my sweat occasionally (almost always) ends up on people. Do you think that’s gross? I’m afraid I’ll lose friends who don’t appreciate my sweat (being on them).

— Still Sweaty

Okay, let me try to understand what happened here.

You sent in a question about how you clearly have a medical issue that is turning your entire body into a water fountain. And since I am not a trained medical professional and cannot diagnose whatever is happening to your body without actually seeing you in person (I really do not want to meet you now), I told you to perhaps go to the doctor.

Instead of listening to me and having a professional determine what is wrong with you, you have ignored my advice and suffered through another hot summer while ruining all of your shirts.

Maybe you were too embarrassed to actually talk to the doctor. Maybe you just enjoy talking to me about your sweaty body. But I am a trained Internet Advice Thrower, so it is my duty to treat this with the utmost seriousness that it deserves.

Yes, this is unfortunate! If you are having a medical issue that not only embarrasses you but makes it hard for other people to be around you, that is a pretty good reason to get that sorted out. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your many coworkers and acquaintances who, at this very moment, are trying to find the right way to tell you to please do not stand so close, your shirt is not the impenetrable force field you wish it to be and you are very much dripping on my shoulder. More important, though, is the possibility, again, that this may be due to some more serious medical issue that you’re ignoring in favour of asking an Internet jerk. You are being foolish, which means that now, on top of being moist, you are foolish. You are moist and foolish.

See? I am a nothing if not a consummate professional.

*

I dislike other people, by which I don’t mean I’m a boring introvert, but actually that I have never actually met another human being whose company is preferable to being alone. It’s partly because people are, universally, awful, and there’s just no way around that so don’t even try to fight me, but also because I have legitimate social anxiety, so in addition to generally disliking people, they make me nervous, no matter who they are. My mom makes me nervous. I would be content to never see another human being for as long as I live if not for the fact that interacting with and knowing other people comprises a significant portion of my job. So, what is the best way to completely isolate myself from humanity while continuing to make money?

— Get Away From Me

You’re right: disliking the human race is far preferable to being “a boring introvert.”

Money aside, I’m having trouble understanding why you’re committed to working a job that you don’t merely find unsatisfying, but that requires you to interact with a group of people you actively dislike (“people,” let’s call them), when what you really desire is to live in the woods somewhere with nothing but a blue tarp to protect yourself from the elements. Jobs like this exist. Aren’t there people in the world who just hole themselves up in their homes and get paid by the government to grow corn and then sell that corn to cows so that we can eat the corn-cows while pretending they are more meat than corn? That’s a job, right? This is always a possibility for you.

Your desire to be alone doesn’t sound like a big problem. People are the worst. We are the only creatures who actively make fun of females for having a bunch of sex. If a lady tiger was like, “Man, I am getting some all the time,” all the other tigers would be like, “Wow, you must be an amazing, very content tiger!” not, “Wow, your self-worth must really be struggling if that’s what you’re doing, maybe you should think about whether or not hookup culture is affecting your viability as a wife.” People are pustules on this earth, and whatever created us has been face-palming its way through the ages.

Most of us are like skittish rabbits that only make contact with other humans when there is a mandatory pizza lunch, and are generally just trying to find a dark hole in which to hide and develop a vitamin deficiency.

Your social anxiety, however, does sound like a problem. Unless your mother is trying to kill you, it is not normal to be that nervous around your mother. (My mother had post-partum depression for two full decades after I was born and even we have found a way to mend our relationship.) Enjoying your privacy and your solitude is fine, but truly hating all human interaction to this degree isn’t just unhealthy, it’s very likely unsustainable.

Eventually, you too will have to go outside and run into at least a couple human beings.

You don’t have to like humanity, but you do have to hang out with parts of it if you want to continue making money. The best thing you can do for yourself is therapy. You cannot go the rest of your life feeling anxious about the BILLIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE you might some day run into. Letting yourself get bogged down in your own crippling fears will only stop you from doing things that you might otherwise find enjoyable.

So before you quit your job, or before you have a meltdown when your mom invites you over for Christmas dinner, or before you close your heart, mind, and soul from the rest of the world, invest in a good therapist and get ready to sort out your issues. The world is a terrible place, and the people on it are the worst—but it’s big and vast enough that even the most devoted misanthrope can find a corner to call home.

Or, I don’t know, try to get a job here at Hazlitt. Most of us are like skittish rabbits that only make contact with other humans when there is a mandatory pizza lunch, and are generally just trying to find a dark hole in which to hide and develop a vitamin deficiency.

*

My parents named me after Luke Skywalker. Why do they hate me, and how can I get them back?

— Sad Son of Some Star Wars Fans

My name has a silent letter, an extra vowel, and does not mean anything in any known languages. Go to hell.

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