October 2022, Switzerland

“How do you feel when you’re alone?” (poll)

The following conversations give a little insight into the lives of people who responded to my volunteering call about introversion. I talked to them about loneliness, creativity, creating restful islands in their daily lives, being alone and how their attitudes towards it have changed over the years.

(reading time: approx. 15 minutes)
(text & photos: Alexander Rodshtein, support proofreading: Natalie M.)

By the way, in the memotheque I regularly share short answers from people to the question of what they are proud of in their lives.



“This photo radiates something intangible; you could be happy, sad or thoughtful.”
“It represents my inner life. I live and feel many facets. Sometimes lightness dominates, sometimes heaviness, and the change in between is fluid.”
“What is lightness for you?”
“Pulling in the feelers, living the moment, bringing the carousel of thoughts and thus the inner team to a standstill. I succeed too rarely in this, unfortunately, and only when I consciously engage in it, or perhaps when I completely forget myself.”
“Do you know where the heaviness comes from?”
“It’s not heaviness in the sense of sadness. It’s heaviness in the form of vibrations that are still present. Too many impressions that come at me in everyday life. Encounters with people that make me think. Like a chest of drawers, I sort the thoughts into different drawers which I open again and re-sort. After this conversation I will open a drawer in my head and think: ‘What will he do with my story?’ Then close the drawer and open another one: ‘How far have I described introversion and not wandered over too much to high sensitivity?’ Closing the drawer and opening another one … it’s draining.”
“How do you feel about these thoughts?”
“The energy balance and that I need so many breaks, annoys me sometimes. In everyday life, I always imagine a traffic light system: red means overstimulation. I react to this state of stress either by fleeing or resisting, hoping to escape or counteract the situation. Rigidity when the situation seems hopeless. Orange is the preliminary stage and in my case shows itself in forerunners, for example in strong inner restlessness, exhaustion, but also tension. In these moments I think about how I can get back into the green zone; what kind of people are good for me, from which activities, smells, and colors I can draw strength. It’s a search for islands. I like the color blue; I like being around water. I enjoy little things I find while walking: flowers, stones, leaves. Sometimes I take something home and enjoy the treasures. I guess I’m a collector.”
“A collector of beauty along the way, whether it’s a gravel path in the green or a path through the diversity of life.”
“Be careful not to trip over flowers, ha ha.”



“Do you know the situation when you decide to be alone only to then feel lonely?”
“Hmm… yes, I do. First of all, it’s kind of a new-fashioned FOMO, fear of missing out. And secondly, everyone has a desire for connection. If the people I want to spend time with, are not available, it happens that I feel lonely. This is unwanted solitude then. Alone and lonely… loneliness… it’s a feeling I’ve only just started experiencing recently because I take more time for myself.”
“Does that also have to do with your move to a new city?”
“Yes, that’s a reason as well because there isn’t as much spontaneity anymore. Here, I’m really forced to deal with myself. But it’s not like I’m sitting at home then; I do things anyway. Hiking, swimming, going out to eat, traveling … I used to say to myself that the main thing is that I’m around people, but I wasn’t really connected to those people in these moments. Nowadays, I do the things that engage my extroverted side more consciously. Ah, now I remember what resonated with me about your call: accepting my quiet side. I used to focus much more on the outside, being hyper and mindless. I feel there is something to catch up on, something to listen to. I’ve asked myself why I’ve to deal with this at all. It may be that I paid too little attention to this side in my childhood and adolescence. Now, I’ve come to know myself better.”



“I think more than I actually speak. Although, isn’t that the case with everyone?”
“Maybe if you spoke often without thinking?”
“That rarely happens. In some cases, I add – how do I explain this? – something like hidden hints to my sentences. I know my mother so well that I can tell right away when she’s having a bad day. But I would never ask her that directly.”
“You ask questions in a way to find out more than you actually asked?”
“Why don’t you ask your mother directly?”
“I can’t say exactly why, but at first glance our relationship seems distant. We never hug, we don’t kiss each other on the cheek … even when I was a kid, we didn’t do that. My mother would have no trouble hugging me, but for reasons I can’t name, I’m hesitant.”
“Do you have trouble allowing closeness in general?”
“Not really, because surprisingly, with my father it’s different, I hug him without hesitation. But I must confess that in the last two or three years things have happened after which I’ve cooled down a bit. I’ve become more reserved; I don’t like meeting new people as much as I used to. I’ve been writing with some people for months, but I haven’t met them yet. Always because I’m afraid that in reality everything will be different and things will end.”
“Would you say that you are often nostalgic?”
“No, not necessarily. I’m a happy person. True, my thoughts are more directed to the past, because living too much in the future … you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Of course, I try to be in the present as often as I can. Sometimes, I need to get my mind off things, and this is one of the places I like to go to. I think of my childhood: we often walked the dog in this canyon. Now, I remember what else I had wanted to mention: I had a near-death experience when I was four. My mother saved me; without her I might not be here. I like to say that a look reveals more than words, whether in photos or in real life. When my mother and I look at each other, we know we are grateful to each other.”



“Is it all right if I record our conversation? Then I can listen to it again later.”
“Oops, yeah, I’ll just try to block this out.”
“Are you nervous?”
“Can you please describe to me once more how agoraphobia affects your life?”
“I avoid many situations in everyday life. Public transportation is not an option for me. Someone sits behind you, someone in front of you or next to you … all these looks, impressions and emotions overwhelm me. If someone laughs, it must be about me. If someone gives me a weird look, they can only have bad things in mind. These thoughts are anchored inside me.”
“And that also happens in public places when you can’t see who’s behind you?”
“Exactly, although just the other day I was in a skate park with a bunch of people. I stood in the front, surrendered to the music, and felt free. I was surprised that on rare occasions it is possible after all. It was nice not to be hiding at home for once.”
“But you found ways to cope? Here, where we’re sitting now?”
“Yes, driving is liberating.”
“Why exactly is it liberating?”
“It’s a combination of so many elements. You turn the key, the ignition responds, the spark jumps, and the engine starts. You alone move this mass of metal. It’s a contrast: always being concentrated, having an overview of the road, being aware of danger, and at the same time feeling the lightheartedness. I can hold on to the steering wheel, that gives me security. Leaving everything behind, listening to music, rolling down the window, reaching out and feeling the wind … it’s like a fresh ocean breeze. And with the yellow light under the dashboard, I always have the sunset with me. With this car you still feel the power of movement, the vibration, the engine, all the mechanics. In addition, these headlights that I can open and close … isn’t that great?”



‘Hey Alex, I would like to volunteer for your series on introverts.’
‘Hey Vivienne, thanks for your message, I’m not quite sure if I already have enough people or not. Can you give me a few key points about yourself so I can get an idea of who you are?’
‘Situations where there are a lot of people around have always intimidated me, and I’ve a hard time talking about myself. In many situations, I’m the friendly but very quiet person in the background. Right now, I’m trying to improve all of that by working in catering where I interact with new people every day and where I actively approach strangers who seem nice and interesting. I hope that gives you a little idea.’
‘Thank you very much, that sounds interesting. What do you think, shall we meet beforehand to get to know each other? Then you still have the option to cancel if you realize it doesn’t feel right for you.’

“Do I remember correctly that you told me that you usually don’t like your smile that much in photos?”
“Exactly, but in this case, I really like it.”
“When I first saw you about a month ago, I was like, ‘What, you’re Vivienne?’ – in a positive way, I mean. Does working in catering help you in situations like the one we’re currently in?”
“Yes, oh yes. I’ve been thinking about why I even want to be involved here. I’ve to get over myself and step out of my comfort zone. If I start a new job, it will be the same. I will try to talk to as many people as possible. To approach them and say, ‘Hey, I’m Vivienne, I’m new here.’ Additionally, I want to be able to have conversations that go deeper, because small talk is kind of boring.”



“I see how people dress, move, talk to each other and if they are confident about it or not. Maybe I’m imagining a story; maybe someone got a long-awaited confirmation, maybe someone got disappointed, surprised, or hurt.”
“Do you also think about how others perceive you?”
“Definitely, but I do that less these days than I did in the past. I was more insecure, felt like I had to have a brilliant conversation with everybody sitting across from me.”
“And nowadays?”
“It may be that when we’ve said goodbye, I go back over our conversation and ask myself if I could have expressed myself better. But I don’t put as much pressure on myself about it as I used to.”
“What happens if the person you’re talking to is a quiet person like you?”
“When we only know each other briefly, it’s hard for me to open up. A few minutes ago, when I was sitting on the bed and you were looking through the photos on the camera, I didn’t really know how to react to that silence either.”
“What’s going through your mind in situations like these?”
“I’m thinking about what we talked about and what I could say next.”
“Do you ever express that you don’t know what to say?”
“Yes, I’ve learned that this helps lighten the situation.”


Ben (19)

“You seem pretty confident for your age. I would have guessed that you are in your mid-twenties.”
“I hear that from time to time.”
“On the phone, you told me that you socially withdrew about a year ago. Was there a particular reason for that?”
“I went through a breakup and had been pottering around in the garage almost non-stop for two weeks. I didn’t reach out to some people anymore and they didn’t either. A few stayed my friends which is quite enough for me. I’ve many acquaintances, you see each other on the road, chat and go home again. But building friendships has become more difficult for me. It got harder to trust people.”
“Why exactly did you stop reaching out?”
“I felt misunderstood. And at some point, you also close yourself off from those who are good for you.”
“Do you think you’ll be more open to people in your life again in the future?”
“I probably will.”



“I am convinced that we should feel much more in this day and age. You don’t always need to see, but you can trust your inner self. I often act with heart and intuition, especially with people or groups of people. This has a lot to do with my own experiences. People have turned away from me because I was myself. Looking back, I’ve always been a little odd, felt misunderstood. Here in my home, I feel a sense of comfort. Sometimes, I start a painting at 10 p. m., immerse myself in a world full of flow and creativity. Then I am centered and completely with myself and don’t live on the outside. My dear Paula often keeps me company, lying on the table or on my lap. I can paint for hours, and when I’ve started a picture, I’ve to finish it in one go. It happens time and again that I go to bed at 3 a. m. and drive to work four hours later.”
“What should people know about that you’d feel understood?”
“It’s complicated to explain … I overthink a lot, I’m flighty sometimes, maybe you can tell by what I say. I also enjoy being alone sometimes, working on this and that. Seen from the outside, my life is a quiet, unexcited one. My consistency lies in change, I think that’s the affliction of creative people … that they are chaotic with their ideas, which is what allows creativity to flourish. In my life, I don’t walk a straight line, I’m volatile. I served in the German Armed Forces for eight years and went to sea. Then I trained as a computer scientist and now I work as a therapist. I’m also volatile in small things: I rearrange my apartment every now and then; sometimes I devote myself to minimalism, sometimes I put a plant, a picture, or small treasures in every corner. ‘Do you really need so many things and all these changes?’, I am sometimes asked. I always answer that these things give me support and comfort. In the end, it always comes down to what we all want: to be accepted as we really are and to find the right environment for this. On the outside, as well as on the inside.”


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