What I Learned Living Alone on an Island

3 months ago, I moved to an island off the coast of Africa by myself. To be honest, I didn’t envision any kind of transformative experience for myself. I didn’t think about it at all actually; I just wanted to escape.

But those 3 months changed my life. Here’s what I learned:

Solitude is important, but it’s not everything. At least not for me.

I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. I placed too much weight on the whims of others and didn’t have a strong foundation of myself. I let the people closest to me bend and skew my perception of the world.

In short, I wasn’t standing up for myself.

I didn’t know how.

I spent the beginning of quarantine working with my therapist to surface everything I’d buried from my past. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and also the hardest I’ve ever worked.

I came out lost - but unchained.

I had so much energy. So much zest for life. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel like this. I dove into my work and hobbies with a vigor only possible when founded in deep self-assurance. I spoke up. Asked for what I wanted. Demanded it.

And all was well.

But then, I met a boy.

We were both hiking to the highest peak on the island, some call it the God’s walk for its surreal views. Except we did it in the freezing rain.

It was supposed to be a group hike, but in my newly individualistic ways, I lagged behind. He mentioned waiting for me at one point and I made up some excuse about getting stuck.

Really, I just wanted to be alone.

After the hike we exchanged numbers and I didn’t think much of it. A week later, we agreed to meet up for a second hike, just us this time. In hindsight, that second hike was the first time I experienced silence with someone else. We hiked together but it was mostly quiet, comfortable.

At one point, I remember apologizing for my preferred languid pace. And although he himself preferred going quickly, he genuinely seemed not to mind. He said something along the lines of, “I’ve spent too much time doing what I want and would rather do more with others.”

As someone only just learning to do what she wants, I could not comprehend the sentiment. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t process it at all. Because it’s only now, in my reflection, that I’m realizing his response was the lesson of my island experience, eloquently put.

The rest of the day was something out of a dream. He shared his snacks with me and we stopped on many occasions to just look and breathe. We even stumbled onto the field that would later become my favorite spot on the island, together.

At the end of the trail, we grabbed drinks, food, more drinks, and even played frisbee on the beach.

Everything about that day was so lovely. But I was too preoccupied with my solitude to notice. To notice him.

Just before he left the island, he sent me a message hinting that we should go see the stars together. Me, wanting to be alone, politely declined.

At the end of my 3 months on the island, I was only thinking about my needs, my wants, and my aspirations. And to some extent, that was exactly what I needed to be doing. Grounding myself. Forming a solid reality. Only upon leaving, did I realize, I want more. Me and my solitude are just the foundation. I need to learn how to share and grow and mesh with others, but this time without losing myself.

If you’re reading this, then maybe we can still see the stars.