Have I Gotten Better At Being Alone? An Inquiry Through Self-Portraits

Today I’m going to share with you all a blast from the past. Not just because of the fact that I’m behind on writing new blog posts, but because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. And that something is pushing myself to be alone with myself and not causing it create anxiety. So I thought, wow this would be a good blog post topic, and then I immediately realized that I actually wrote something on this very issue back in 2016 for Thrive Global’s Medium publication.

Quite simply, now it’s 2019 (3 years! Damn, what?) and I still find myself needing more practice at being alone and not being so codependent on social interaction. But, Arbela isn’t social interaction good? Don’t you love your friends? Yes, I adore my friends, and platonic relationships are definitely the things I value the most in my life. But this idea of being alone has come back after 3 years, especially since I’ve transitioned out of a community, social-driven setting (college), my friends are slowly moving away and starting new lives (sobs giant Taurus tears), and I’m mainly working from home which usually consists of me being….

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And truthfully, I have learned to love it more. Since writing that piece back in 2016, I’ve come to fully embrace my introvert-ness and even thrive on it. But I’m still learning how I sometimes tend to cling on social interaction and use it either as a distraction or as a coping mechanism. Like, if i’m really nervous to start a project one week, or if I have a deadline coming up, I usually distract myself by taking a Target trip with a friend or going out on a night I particularly don’t feel like going out on. All the while, I’m continuing to overstimulate myself between social interactions and then sitting at home doing nothing and being anxious about it. Neither extreme is good.

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Another very real factor that has only become worse for basically everyone and anyone who uses social media is also, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This is a crippling state of mind that a lot of people I know struggle with, and it has a lot to do with us not letting ourselves be alone because we think we’re constantly “missing out” on something better. But I’m now learning that this is a pretty mean thing to think about myself. Because being able to hang out with yourself, especially when you could really use the alone time, is a very important thing to have. So since 2016, I definitely still appreciate my alone time more than ever, but I now not only look at it as good for mental health, but also good for allowing myself to be more independent with everything I do.

Here’s an excerpt of what 2016-Arbela had to say about being alone:

I think for a lot of people they think it’s better to be more of an extrovert than an introvert. That’s because I feel like there’s always this constant pressure to have a perfect social life–one where we are always doing something with someone, and are always surrounded by people constantly. But honestly, for some people (including myself) what I just described sometimes feels like nothing short of a nightmare. But unfortunately, the popular thing to do isn’t to keep to yourself–everyone expects you to be outgoing and happy, so we try to strive for that. And that’s what I was trying to do for all those years; convincing everyone around me, along with myself, that I’m a happy, full-of-life extrovert.

But i’m really not. I’ve learned this now more than ever. And now that I’ve come to terms with it, it’s really helped me be more comfortable with myself, and even other people.

Additionally, keeping the balance between being an introvert and having anxiety can be a challenge in itself. Because while I feel burnt out at times and want to be alone with myself, another part of me is eating at me and saying; why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you seeing more people, why aren’t you having more experiences, why are you missing out on everything.

It’s really interesting how “being alone” really right away comes down to being unhappy. And I think that’s something that society has lied to us about when it comes to how we interact with others and ourselves. I feel like sometimes, the pressure to be always hanging out with people can be not only overwhelming, but right away feeds into negative thoughts about ourselves. Like, of course I need to hang out with someone, because certainly I’m not enough for myself? Who knows, maybe I’m taking a leap with that, but I do know that I’ve learned to be more comfortable with being alone with myself lately, and actually, well, enjoying my own company. How weird is that?

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One thing I talk about in my 2016 piece is some tips on how to let yourself be an introvert and essentially “be your own best friend” (cheesy I know, but i stand by it!). One thing I mention is having a fashion show with yourself, which has manifested even more now for me now that I’m trying to get into the realm of fashion blogging. I’ve been looking at different ways I can take self portraits and still get the desired outcome without depending on another person. It’s been a weird, revealing and also super fun exercise for me. Not only do I feel a bit more independent, but i’m learning more about myself (and getting a chance to practice poses).

The photos in this post are the result of one of the first life photoshoots I’ve been doing with myself in PUBLIC. At first, it was terrifying. And I’m definitely not 100% confident about it yet. Cleveland isn’t a small town exactly but it’s also not NYC where it’s completely normal to see a walking fashion show or Billy Eichner could attack you at any corner. In other words, there will be people who stare. But I kept asking myself; why do you care? And my anxious brain never really had a good answer. Even when friends and I are out and about and take photos of each other, right away a stressful dread comes over us; but what will people think? As if me putting up a tripod and taking a photo in an outfit I like is the equivalent of walking naked down the street. Well, what is the worst that can even happen? The truth is, they’ll probably look over, look for a second, and maybe if they’re a special breed of terrible they’ll say something. But that’s literally the worst that can happen.

Taking photos are something that I really have come to enjoy both behind and in front of the camera, so I’ve definitely made it a point to do more practice with self-portraits because well, it’s essentially three of my artistic hobbies put together: photography, modeling and styling. It’s given me confidence and more sense of freedom. And it’s something I’m proud of myself for trying out (even if it will take some time to master), because even 2016-me wouldn’t have had the courage to do that. So it shows a little bit how I’ve become more comfortable with just hanging out with myself and even being dang proud of it.

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More tips on practicing being proudly alone:

  • Schedule actual me-time.

  • Learn to say no (even to your besties).

  • Eat by yourself.

  • Journal.

  • Go to a coffee shop with just a book.

  • Take walks!

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outfit details:

Purple silk blouse — thrifted, similar here.

Brown loafers — thrifted, similar here

Lime green belt - thrifted, similar here

Mini purse - hand me down

Earrings - vintage finds from Vintage Fashion Cleveland

Read my full piece on Thrive Global here.

wellnessArbela Capas