"I also saw the awful agonies that Tantalus has to bear. The old man was standing in a pool of water which nearly reached his chin, and his thirst drove him to unceasing efforts; but he could never get a drop to drink. For whenever he stooped in his eagerness to lap the water, it disappeared. The pool was swallowed up, and all he saw at his feet was the dark earth, which some mysterious power had parched. Trees spread their foliage high over the pool and dangle fruits above his head --pear-trees and pomegranates, apple-trees with their glossy burden, sweet figs and luxuriant olives. But whenever the old man tried to grasp them in his hands, the wind would toss them up towards the shadowy clouds."

[Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.584]

Doubt and Other Disorders Author

: the action of isolating
: the condition of being isolated

1 : a product of isolating : an individual, population, or kind obtained by or resulting from selection or separation
2 : an individual socially withdrawn or removed from society

Definitions from
Merriam-Webster Dictionary


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the isolation that can come about from living with OCD.

For many of us with severe or extreme symptoms, we live locked in our own worlds and rarely, if ever, venture out.

I have gone through lengthy periods where I almost never leave my apartment unless absolutely necessary. My primary "social" contacts were through this computer. That is a very lonely existence. Having this computer, and what it could bring me in terms of contact with others, was really a two-edged sword. While it relieved some of the isolation, it also enabled the furthering of my physical isolation by giving me enough that I didn't have much motivation to seek out "skin on" or 3D contact. There were actually times where I had no physical contact, no matter how slight, with another human being for months at a time. That is an exercise in deprivation I don't recommend to anyone. After that length of time without any touching, a simple handshake becomes a powerful sensual experience. I think it is true that we actually need physical contact with other people.

It was after just such an experience that I realized that I had to get out and interact with the world no matter how much anxiety that produces. I had stopped living and was reduced to just existing. And that lets the OCD win. I cannot allow that. So out I go. And yes, it produces anxiety - every time. But it is preferable to being that alone.

One of the things I did to make getting out more doable was that I found an activity that was something I once enjoyed. I have discovered I still do. And since it involves other people, it, of course, triggers off my OCD on a regular basis. That's difficult but it is not the hardest part. For me, the hardest part is my perceived and continuing isolation and feelings of being separate.

I watch the people I am around going about everyday things without thinking. Simple things, like sitting in a chair without checking it out, deciding if it is safe, not having the thought enter their mind. I watch them with their casual touching of one another, apparently without much notice. I watch them walk across a room without being cautious about where they step, not even being concerned. I spend my time hyper alert, always being aware of what every part of my body is touching, of where everything and everyone is and what they have touched. And I am so envious. What it must be like to live that free. And most of them have no idea of what a gift that level of unawareness is. How free they are to not live in this nightmare world that I see all around me. Everything I want is embodied in that freedom. And it is just there, in front of me and infinitely far away. Tantalus in his pool understands.

There was a time in my life, long ago, when I lived that free. And the constant exposure to what I no longer have produces an ongoing sense of loss, even grief; for all that I have lost and for all that will never be. I am separate, separated from life by irrational fears, a product of a disordered biological process beyond my control. This is what I find the most difficult.

I keep going out there. I have made a new friend or two. And some days, I am less aware than others of this feeling of separation, this isolating process in me. There is improvement; life does seem closer at times. I don't know if this feeling of isolation will ever really pass. But the alternative, true isolation, and being totally alone is certainly worse. And in reality those other people do not see me as separate though, perhaps, they do see me as a bit idiosyncratic.

So I continue to try and grab as much as I can each day and try not to think about more then that. Some days I can and some days I can't. And I have bad days and dark nights with depression a close companion. But I have good days too. If all I look at is what I don't have and will never have then I will not make it. I will give up and that thought frightens me. I don't want to live the rest of my life alone and the only way to do that is to not isolate and deal with all the fears, feelings and concerns that brings up as they come up. It is work but what is the alternative?

Just some thoughts. Wednesday, May 24, 2000

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Always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment choice or changes in your treatment. Never discontinue treatment or medication without first consulting your physician, clinician or therapist.

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APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2009, January 10). Isolation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: May 26, 2013

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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