Living alone during Coronavirus

I live in a neighborhood I don’t entirely trust because my house got broken into a while back. On Friday I lugged in the heavy CPU and monitor I got from work right when I arrived home.  I didn’t want to leave the valuable hardware in my trunk for any amount of time. I didn’t think anything of it, but at one time my husband would have carried those items in for me. Eight years after being divorced I’m my own husband, my own wife, my own jar-opener, my own heavy lifter and my own digital assembler.

I’ve been seeing a few posts from people talking about what it’s like to live alone during the Coronavirus crisis. There is a little bit of shame and shyness in admitting to living alone. The comments mostly consist of people who live with families, significant others, or friends offering platitudes and sympathy. I have to admit this makes me angry because I see little reason to feel sorry for those of us who live alone.

Living alone has been like developing a muscle. It’s not always easy, but it can be quite rewarding and empowering. It wasn’t  too long ago that women could not live by themselves because of societal shame and because they would have reason to fear for their safety. Women still face a lot more danger and fear than our counterparts do, but in the modern western world we are often able to pull it off, especially as we find ways to pay our own way through life.

When you live alone there is no one to tell you to wash the dishes or make your bed or clean the tub. I admit when I first started living on my own, I let a lot of these things go until I absolutely had to do them. Over time I realized that I must take care of myself and the house, maintain cleanliness and orderliness even if I am the only person who will see it. I’ve realized that self-discipline is one of the cornerstones of living alone successfully.

It’s not just about keeping the house clean, but about keeping the house looking nice, filled with beautiful objects and things that have meaning for you. When I first lived alone my apartments were quite spartan. I figured, I don’t care, and this is temporary. I’m going to wait until I live with someone again to decorate the house and get the nice linens and a centerpiece for my coffee table. Granted I was broke at the time so I couldn’t really afford a lot of these things.

Eight years into living alone I’ve stopped waiting to live with someone again to have a nice home that brings me joy. I am financially stable now so I’m able to get nice (but still inexpensive) knick knacks, furniture and wall-hangings that make me feel like I’m a real person who deserves a lovely home that I’m proud of. I’m worth having nice things all by myself!

I share this with you because I feel like living alone is a sort of superpower and nothing to be ashamed of during this time of self-isolation. Because guess what? People who live alone have plenty of practice with self-isolation! We have practice with things like how to get ourselves the things we need without depending on someone else. We know how to take care of ourselves because we’ve had to for a while now. We know how to get the broken washing machine fixed, how to get a home security system installed and how to fill and carry three 5-gallon water bottles into the house. This is called resilience and we who live alone have it in droves.

However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need others. A very important aspect of the resilience of living alone is having a network of people in your life that can help you when you need it. We all need each other. That is something none of us can circumvent. One of my friends who lives alone was saying how she is planning to make a bunch of soup for herself and freeze it in case she gets the Coronavirus and is too sick to prepare herself any fresh food. I thought to myself, your friends will come to the rescue and drop off food for you in this situation. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING by yourself. It is ok to rely on others and to ask for help.

This is one of the reasons I moved back to Phoenix from San Francisco. I have a wonderful, strong and dependable network of family and friends that I know I can rely on when I need to. Living alone doesn’t mean you are alone in the world.

I wanted to share some of the tools I’ve cultivated from living alone for 8 years that are helping me get through the Coronavirus crisis as we all shelter-in-place, work from home and avoid face to face interaction with people outside our households.

  1. Self-discipline. When quarantine was imminent and my stress was at an all-time high, I started eating a bunch of Doritos. As far as vices go, this isn’t a terribly destructive one, I know. But usually as much as I can I like to avoid eating processed foods like that on a regular basis. I was so stressed I bought two bags of Doritos for my house because I figured, why not? It’s the end of the world. However, as things have settled down and we get further into self-isolation with little idea of when it will end, I see the need for self-discipline arising again. I’ve been able to shake off my Doritos addiction by substituting their place on my plate with roasted broccoli. As I get into working from home I’m making sure to wear work clothes to my desk in the living room and to wear make up. This helps me feel normal and puts me in a work mindset. Even tough I could get away with wearing pajamas all day, I know that would impact my mental-health. When you live alone, you do everything you can to maintain your mental health. Self-discipline is a key component of that.
  2. Self-love. I’ve been cooking myself some of my favorite dishes while at the same time being mindful of healthy eating, good ingredients and portion control. I’m remembering to enjoy myself but that we’re in this for the long haul. I have also been going outside for walks as much as possible as this has done wonders for my mental health. This is about loving yourself enough to take care of what you need. It’s about taking the time to listen to what you want on the deepest level and giving it to yourself. Sometimes this means picking up the phone and calling a friend. Sometimes it means putting on your gym clothes and dancing to your favorite online Zumba class. Sometimes it means turning on your current Netflix series and letting yourself relax.
  3. Helping others. Because we are unencumbered by spouses or children, we have extra bandwidth to help others. I find myself able to care about a wider swath of people than others in my life who are understandably focused on their families. I have a little more time on my hands to bake cookies for the people I love or to check in on my friends more frequently and show up for my mom when my siblings can’t.
  4. Connecting online. It is challenging living by yourself in this time of self-isolation. My usual avenues of getting social fuel are cut off for the time being. I loved eating breakfast at Ollie Vaughn’s on the weekends and running into friends there. Or going to Lux on Saturday mornings and seeing all the regulars I’ve known for years, listening to conversations around me and occasionally catching up with a friend I bump into. I loved going to lunch with old friends and new friends, connecting with the people in my life who are partnered and aren’t available in the evenings or weekends. I loved getting together with my family on Friday afternoons. I loved going to my group fitness classes at the gym and seeing my fellow fitness buddies and teachers. I loved going into work and collaborating with my coworkers. I see now that I’m not able to do these things how much they bolstered my wellbeing and my sense of feeling connected. With these avenues no longer available for the time being, I’m seeing that being connected online is filling some of the void. It’s so much better to be physically around others and have face to face interactions, but in this moment where those things will only put us at risk, we must cultivate connection via the methods available to us, which is over the phone, video conferencing, social media, and online classes.
  5. Nature/Spirituality Whenever I feel alone and for whatever reason the humans in the world aren’t making me feel any less alone, I am grateful that nature steps in. Just watching the breeze gently move the fronds on the palm trees in front of my house or seeing the fruit come in on the giant prickly pair outside my window, or hearing the birds chirping outside gives me a sense of comfort. I am not a religious person but I am a spiritual one. I believe in God and I find that nature is a good reminder that we are never alone in the world. That God is right there with us all the time. If you don’t believe in God, then maybe even believing in nature itself can be of comfort.
  6. Creativity. Creativity is one of the fruits of solitude. This is certainly an area we have a leg up on people who are constantly surrounded by a significant other or kids and they can’t hear themselves think. The solitude of living alone affords us the silence we need to listen deeply to our own souls, which is the wellspring for creative work. During this time of isolation, cultivate the extra stillness in your life to create some of the most beautiful work you have ever made and share it with the world. This is a wonderful and most satisfying form of connection.