How much solitude can a person take?
October 9, 2007 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Am I normal? Our company recently closed its New York office and asked some of us to stay on and work from home. At first it was heavenly, but now, nearing the end of month two, I think I'm starting to go a bit balmy from lack of stimulation and human contact. Is it me? Or is this somewhat normal?
posted by cookie googleman to Human Relations (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I like solitude, but I think you're normal.
posted by rhizome at 5:08 PM on October 9, 2007

I think it's normal. My mom has told me that when she wasn't working, she used to sometimes get really lonely just being alone in the house all day. Humans need interaction.

Do you go out and do social activities at night or when you aren't working? If not, I bet that would help you immensely.
posted by DMan at 5:09 PM on October 9, 2007

It took me about a year of working alone at home to get cabin fever, but you are probably a lot more social. It's not like you couldn't handle being alone for a day or two, so I'd say you're definitely normal. (From a point of view rather far off from normal.)
posted by Listener at 5:14 PM on October 9, 2007

I did the same thing. I worked from home for about a year and it got worse and worse. There is something about being able to vent to your fellow coworkers, whether you like them or not, that adds to your ability to stoicly do your job.

I'm a very solitary person usually, and don't mind staying at home most of the time. But when I am forced to WORK at something I do not enjoy at home, it's a different story.
posted by Espoo2 at 5:15 PM on October 9, 2007

My suggestion is a mid-day exercise class. Gets you out of the house, around other people and good for your health.
posted by metahawk at 5:17 PM on October 9, 2007

Totally normal.

Consider co-working or try to find another telecommuter you can work with occasionally.

Also, get out of the house during the day, for lunch or errands or just a walk. A little sunshine and human contact can help a lot.
posted by stefanie at 5:18 PM on October 9, 2007

I'm kind of getting this humorous idea of you and your other telecommuting co-workers buying an apartment and turning it into an office of sorts where you all go and telecommute together... :D
posted by DMan at 5:21 PM on October 9, 2007

Yes, completely normal. A few years back there was a problem with my train line and it took me 3 hours each way to get to work, so I was allowed to work from home 9 days out of every 10. I live at the end of a cul-de-sac, in a forest. No passers-by. Most people out at work all day. I nearly went crazy. I felt like I was going to turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Now I work from home 2 days a week, which is just about enough. I'd hate to be in the office full-time, and I'd hate to be at home full-time.

On my 'at home' days, I make sure I get out for a break, even if it's only to the supermarket, so I speak to at least one real, live human during the day.
posted by essexjan at 5:25 PM on October 9, 2007

Normal. And I really like solitude. But the times when I've freelanced and worked by myself at home for many many many days at a stretch...well, it made me a little weird.
posted by rtha at 5:31 PM on October 9, 2007

Totally normal, even if you're generally happy alone. Just making sure that I got out of the house and around other people every day, rain or shine, helped me a lot. Exercise was even better, but only in a crowd (gym or martial arts class).
posted by Calibandage at 5:51 PM on October 9, 2007

Nthing the "normal, and I really like solitude" responses. I really, really LIKE being alone, but once I went for a stretch of about a year and a half working at home alone and it really did a number on my head. It actually took me quite a while (over a year, maybe two) to learn how to be social when I started working with others again. I'm afraid I developed a bit of social anxiety, even. So if you're feeling a bit weird, try to get out of the house as much as you can. (Now I work at home about half the time and in an office about half the time, and that's a great balance for me.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:57 PM on October 9, 2007

I work at home 2 days a week, and I think the 2 or 3 days a week balance is just about right.
Some ideas for breaking the solitude:
- walk to the bakery and buy a fresh roll for lunch, eat it in the park.
- get a routine where you go somewhere every day. In my case it can just be the shop for milk and bread, but when you are a regular people say hello and you can have a micro chat.
- if you don't need that much bread, buy a newspaper everyday
- do some regular exercise, a 20 minute jog around the park at the same time each morning will get you on nodding acquaintance with other regulars.
- buy a dog for the instant camaraderie when you walk it.
- go to the library

The key theme for me is actually leaving the house and doing something regular. These will combine to give you some extra human contact.
I just noticed you are in NY. How about becoming a breakfast or lunch regular at a nearby diner?
posted by bystander at 6:24 PM on October 9, 2007

Totally normal says this introvert. We all need a bit of human contact, just in varying amounts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 PM on October 9, 2007

sounds normal to me. how do your co-workers feel? maybe you can meet up for a couple of hours a day and work from a mutually convenient coffeehouse.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:33 PM on October 9, 2007

I work at home most of the time and enjoy being alone, but it does get a little lonely at times. I try to make sure I have lunch or dinner with a friend at least a few times a week, carry on some IM conversations during the day, get outside during the day, etc. It means making an effort to connect whereas before it was all there for you. It can be done, though, and can work out well!
posted by FlyByDay at 6:55 PM on October 9, 2007

I work from home in NYC too, and I find that I'm OK if I go out for coffee or lunch and a bike ride each day. But in the winter when I'm cooped up all day I get pretty screwy, and find myself going out at night more. Can you convene a circle of drinking buddies or dinner pals?
posted by nicwolff at 7:11 PM on October 9, 2007

Double nthing the "normal, and I really like solitude." I'm a crazy-strong introvert who telecommutes 100% of the time, and after a few months I got a horrible case of cabin fever. Seconding going out to lunch (even alone) or taking your work to a coffeehouse. Gym classes are also good. Something to get you interacting with people again will do wonders.
posted by fuzzbean at 7:17 PM on October 9, 2007

I worked from home for 6 months. I did not get antsy or lonely, but I used IM a lot with other people in my field. I suggest IM and an open skype line to someone you want to talk with (fellow telecommuters, friends, co-workers at the home office, etc).
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:44 PM on October 9, 2007

LifeHacker covered this here and here.
posted by anaelith at 7:52 PM on October 9, 2007

It sounds like you have a higher tolerance than I would have in your situations. So, yes: normal.

Perhaps you can take your work to a cafe? From stuff I've read on the net, it seems to be pretty common for Americans to sit in Starbucks all day, working on their computers and using the free wifi. You might meet others doing the same. You'll at least be around people, which will lessen the isolation.

Not that I mean to encourage anyone to go to the evil and disgusting Starbucks.
posted by Lucie at 8:05 PM on October 9, 2007

Normal normal normal. I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I could telecommute from home almost every single day, and I have never taken advantage of this option for more than a single isolated day unless forced.

It's the same problem you get when you try to work from home as a freelancer or running your own business; your home is for relaxing, and it's hard enough to motivate yourself to wash dishes there, much less work. Your entire environment is set up to relax and entertain you, distract and comfort you.

That's why successful telecommuters (and similar) either set up a dedicated room and force themselves to stay in it while working, or rent a space somewhere close to home (or set up space in their garage) so that there's an emotional commute.
posted by davejay at 9:56 PM on October 9, 2007

I worked at home for a year & a half. I'm very into my solitude but I'm generally pretty social too, so I thought it would be totally okay. But then I found myself cocooning over time and spending more and more time at home. it really was SO unhealthy. Worst depression of my life, I'd say.

Get outside and spend some time with other people at least once a day, even if you don't feel like it. It's important.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:17 PM on October 9, 2007

Yeah you should learn to take advantage of the benefits of working at home. It's pretty sweet if you set it up right. My system is: sometime mid-morning I go to the gym. Sometime mid-afternoon I go grocery shopping. This gives me two good looks at the outside world each day, and it's a lot better than trying to go to the gym and supermarket at the end of the day in rush hour like the mere mortals who work in offices. You'll find yourself talking to retired people more than usual. These two breaks replace lunch-break, because lunch is just me taking food from the kitchen back to my desk. Also when you're supposed to be working you can be sociable on metafilter.
posted by creasy boy at 12:27 AM on October 10, 2007

Normal. I'm very sociable, but I love working from home (1 yr and counting). I do have housemates which mitigates the solitude. Give yourself set times to get out of the house. My routine gets me out during the middle of the day to run errands, plus language class/sports club in the evenings. If I didn't have those I'd have turned into bonkers cat lady long ago.
posted by poissonrouge at 2:53 AM on October 10, 2007

Normal. In fact, the Lunch Club was created by someone who was getting lonely while working at home.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:54 AM on October 10, 2007

100% normal. I'm a pretty solitary/introverted person, and working from home without human contact is rough on me after extended periods. I know a lot of folks who telecommute, and I have yet to talk to anyone who telecommutes who doesn't occasionally feel a bit stir-crazy.
posted by jzb at 5:09 AM on October 10, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the advice and support. I feel better already. FYI, I am somewhat introverted and really enjoy my alone time— but I guess this is just too much of a good thing. I'll make a point of getting out at least once a day.
posted by cookie googleman at 7:29 PM on October 10, 2007

Other people in the same boat as you obviously exist, and we're doing something about it! Check out cooperBricolage, the latest co-working in NYC push, and come to one of our events!
posted by dantekgeek at 9:45 PM on October 10, 2007

I found that joining a community project helps. Occasional meetings, diverse socialization, sort of working on something positive, finding other stir-crazy people.

The other thing that works for me is having a little private office in town (with 24hr access and a toilet). Makes home homier, run errands easily when I need a break, clean tax write off, easier to meet up with people, and I can work all night without waking anybody. And all I have to do is step through a door to be overstimulated.

But I am delirious with cabin fever, so yeah, normal.
posted by okbye at 5:42 PM on October 26, 2007

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