Walls of Solitude

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AS LITTLE ONES WE MAKE IMPENETRABLE CASTLES WITH COUCH CUSHIONS, BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF, AS WE GROW, THE WALLS NEVER TRULY COME DOWN?

From a young age, I always leaned more to the quieter side. It was as if I had an overwhelming desire to keep the world at arm’s length. The framed photo in my parents’ living room of me during my preschool years isn’t of me smiling over a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tracksuit top. Rather, I’m cradled in the arms of my teacher, sneaking a glance down the lens over my shoulder. The photographer gave me the creeps. Through school it was the same story—I was always skirting the periphery. I studied hard, but kept to a core group of friends and didn’t really stray outside the pack. Around about Year 10, I started playing with “adult-building-block” concepts like girlfriends and relationships, and after a series of these ended in disaster, my distrust for people began to worsen. By the time my HSC rolled around, I had been transferred to a different school, and the walls were well and truly up. It stayed this way for many years, and the only reason I eventually opened up to the possibility of embracing anyone outside my immediate circle was the love of my life (Come to think of it, most of the positive changes in my life have come about because of her!).

When my wife and I moved to Sydney after finishing uni, we entered a bubble. We knew no-one, we were country kids in “The Big Smoke”, and we had little money to branch out. What’s more, we were just so happy to be finally living together, after years of keeping one eye on each other’s closed bedroom door while living with our parents … Eventually though, my wife did something which was totally out of character for us both … She made a friend. Just someone she met at work, by chance. But as is the irritating way with friends, one soon leads to many, and before she knew it, she was part of a group of what I would have called at the time, “insane people”. I buried my head in the sand. I figured one of us had to stay the course of smug self-reliance and pride, so I resisted the temptation to go off and make friends of my own, and I figured life would just carry on as normal. Then the phone calls started. Right when my girl and I were watching a movie, one of her so-called friends would rudely call her to “see how she was going” or to “make plans”. Then it got worse. All of a sudden, date night wasn’t a given—I had to check to see whether my girl had already made plans. This resulted in many a night of me sitting at home alone, cursing the big, bad world and waiting for a call to come collect a drunken, laughing, happy brood of females from their night out.

My love of solitude and perceived elevation above the need for friends, or community, had become a double-edged sword.

I had spent years convincing myself that I didn’t need anyone new in my life; that making new friends was scary and that they’d just hurt you or let you down. So how could I now be surprised that this way of thinking had led me to the life of a 65-year-old in a 25-year-old’s body? I was finding it harder and harder to convince myself that I preferred the sheltered life.

The turning point came for me one night when I was dragged out by the love of my life to have dinner with her new-found family. I went along, sulking, determined not to make an effort, or a friend. Reluctantly, I was lured into a conversation about religion—being sat at a table amongst a bunch of Catholic ladies with Italian heritage, my atheistic beliefs instantly made me the centre of attention.The group looked at me with the pitying expressions I imagine cancer patients receive constantly. They struggled to understand how, without religion, I found it possible to get up in the morning; how I found it possible to take joy from life, knowing it would someday end for good. My answer surprised me, and it has rung in my ears like a bell from that day to this: “Well, if life is all we have, the way I see it, we’re all in it together, and we’d better make the most of it while we’re here.” The look on my girlfriend’s face was priceless, with good cause, but from that day on, my outlook completely changed. I started to view my past outlook as churlish and infantile, and committed myself to slowly taking down the walls I had built up around myself.

It’s an ongoing process, but the benefits I have seen in my life are such that I can’t imagine where I’d be today had I continued on the same trajectory. My career is in an amazing place.

My life has been enriched by friends I would have never have made. Most importantly, I’m closer to my family than ever before, and I have started one of my own, surrounded by truly irreplaceable human beings.

Not long after the birth of my son in 2015, I got thinking about what lay ahead for him in the years ahead. My mind wandered forward to his early school years—the time most of us make our most enduring friendships. I wondered how he would fare, realising I didn’t want him to have to make the same mistakes as me and spend years in self-enforced isolation. With a smile, my mind was suddenly at ease. When he’s old enough, I’m going to tell my son this: “Making friends while you’re young is easy. It’s as simple as ‘I’m a kid, you’re a kid, let’s be friends’. Carry this attitude with you all the days of your life, and you’ll never have to spend one alone.”

Mitchell J Carlin - Wedding Photographer

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