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How solitude and isolation can affect your social skills

Humans are deeply social creatures, so what happens when we’re alone for a long time?

By | Zaria Gorvett | www.bbc.com

Neil Ansell became a hermit entirely by accident.

Back in the 1980s, he was living in a squat in London with 20 other people. Then someone made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: a cottage in the Welsh mountains, with rent of just £100 ($130) per year. This was a place so wild, the night sky was a continuous carpet of stars – and the neighbours were a pair of ravens, who had lived in the same cedar tree for 20 years.

The catch was that the scenic views came with extreme isolation – by standards achievable in the UK, anyway. He lived on a hill farm inhabited by a single elderly tenant, miles from the nearest village. He didn’t have a phone, and in the five years he lived there, not a single person walked by the house.

“I became so used to being on my own that I recall going to the village shop one day and my voice cracking, as I asked for something at the counter,” he says. “I realised I hadn’t spoken in two weeks, not a single word. And that became quite normal for me.”

When you’re alone, you start to lose your sense of who you are

By the time he returned to civilisation, Ansell had fully adapted to being on his own – and the social world was a bit of a shock. “What I found difficult was the amount of talking. I’m not an antisocial person, but I did struggle with that.”

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www.bbc.com
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