COVID-19 is Forcing Me to Learn How To Be With Myself
For the last few weeks, there’s been a quiet humming presence of loneliness beneath my everyday activities.
Earlier this year, when my relationship came to its end in the midst of the pandemic, I was luckily living with my family. I didn’t take it as badly as I thought I would.
Now, I’m a 13-hour flight away from the familiar comforts of home, living with two flatmates in the pandemic centre — London. I didn’t realise that I’d never been forced to listen so intently to the voices in my own head. I came back for college, thinking I’d be able to see at least some of my friends and enjoy living with people my age. But the truth is, I still feel lonely. Both of my flatmates are in relationships, and sometimes, I think that I’d feel less bad if I was living on my own.
It’s a feeling of sadness, in all its hues, that I cannot describe with words. I say lonely, but really, it’s really more of fear—a fear of having to actually face sitting down alone with nothing to do.
But as I was telling all of this to my best friend via a 3-hour phone call, she said to me,
‘Why don’t you see it as a personal challenge? Treat yourself like you would a new friend. You ‘think’ you know yourself, but maybe you don’t. Take this as a chance to really get to re-learn what makes you happy.’
It’s only been two and a half weeks since that call, but I think it’s changed me for the better. Here’s what I’ve learnt about being not just okay, but great, on your own and how you can implement these mindsets into your life too.
Know that it’s okay not to feel okay
I wish someone had told me this earlier. It feels silly, but when I was feeling bad, I thought the solution was to feel bad about feeling bad, and that somehow that would solve the problem.
Clearly, it only made things worse.
You too might be doing this without being conscious of it. If you feel restless or uncomfortable, try journaling your thoughts. Even if that sounds daunting, just open a blank page, pick up your pen and see what comes out of you. Try to describe exactly what you’re experiencing inside.
Only once you’ve accepted your current state, can you take the step forward to do something about it. So it’s okay to not feel okay. Just make sure you take note of it without judgment.
Find gratitude in having solo time.
I don’t recall where, but in the midst of my ‘feeling lonely’ phase, I came across someone saying that we never really know when the next time we’ll have a large chunk of alone time will be. Because one day, we might meet our life partner, fall in love, and from then onwards, walk the path of life with them.
In knowing that, you can change your perspective and view this time alone, as a time to become the best version of yourself and do everything you’ve dreamed of doing alone, so that when that person does come into your life, you can move forward with no regrets.
How you approach this alone-time right now will affect your life experiences further down the line. Spend it wisely.
“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”― Albert Einstein
Resist the temptation to always check your phone
During the first few days of being in London, I noticed myself constantly checking my phone. I’d pull down the notifications to see if anyone had called or messaged me, or if there was any notification that I could engage in.
But eventually, I realised that this only made me feel more alone.
Now, instead of depending on external validation for a hit of dopamine to improve my mood (or worsen it), I’ve started to keep my phone in the living room and away from my bedroom, which is where I spend most of my day.
This simple hack has forced me to stop looking for external stimuli. Instead, whenever I find myself looking to distract myself with the phone, I try and figure out what I’m feeling and what nourishing activity I can do instead.
“Blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately looking for something to do, something to amuse themselves with, something to judge.”
— Paulo Coelho
Schedule in exciting activities with and for yourself
When was the last time you scheduled in time for yourself?
Even if its something small or insignificant, there are always things you can do to consciously elevate your mood.
Ever since that phone call with my friend, I began trying to schedule at least one thing each day for myself that I could look forward to. For example, last week included activities like: going to the speciality coffee shop near my house to get an oat latte, cooking a warm lentil stew, going for a walk in the park, taking an extra long shower whilst singing to my favourite musical, and sleeping in until whenever I felt like waking up.
You might already be doing some of these things, but writing it down and planning it makes it seem like a special event (which it should be!). The more you appreciate every little moment you spend with yourself, the more comfortable you will be alone.
“Date yourself. Take yourself out to eat. Don’t share your popcorn at the movies with anyone. Stroll around an art museum alone. Fall in love with canvases. Fall in love with yourself.”
Idolise independent people
In a world where searching for the perfect loving relationship seems to be a goal for many, why not look for people who are absolutely and unapologetically comfortable being alone?
For example, one of my friends from high school left home after graduating at the age of 18 and has been living alone since then.
She’s fiercely independent — always having her own hobbies, musings, and is one of the most self-aware people I’ve known.
I’ve always wondered, how does she do it?
There’s something admirable in people who aren’t afraid to spend time by themselves. People who know exactly what makes them happy, how they enjoy spending their time and don’t sulk in the aloneness.
Thinking about people like that, and wishing I could be like them, has been a motivator for me since trying to embrace this feeling of being alone. Instead of looking at my friends in relationships and feeling sorry for myself, I’ve decided to walk down my own journey of becoming comfortable being alone.
If you’ve been feeling a bit under the weather or have been feeling some variation of ‘loneliness’, know that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way. In knowing that others are going through the same thing, you can feel less isolated.
More importantly, though, realise that you have the power to turn alone-time from something uncomfortable, into something meaningful. All it takes is a change in mindset.
So take the time to sit with your own thoughts and remember to be kind to yourself. That’s where the magic of self-growth happens.
“We need solitude, because when we’re alone, we’re free from obligations, we don’t need to put on a show, and we can hear our own thoughts.” — Tamim Ansary