By Jess Commons
Three years ago I moved in with my boyfriend. We didn’t make a big deal out of it — we’d been together for six years and his housemate was moving out. It just made sense; the next logical step.
And it was lovely. We made our little house nice(ish), mould allowing. We had the customary three months of bickering while we learned each other’s oddities and annoying habits, and settled into a state of cohabiting bliss. We even got an old man cat. He’s senile and quite annoying (the cat), but we love him, and each other, a lot.
But one thing is missing for me, and that’s other people. It’s taken me a little time to realise, but despite for years wanting nothing more than my own little safe space to run away to at the end of the day, I’ve come to find that too much safe space isn’t always a good thing.
In moving in with my boyfriend, I’ve created a mental oasis. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a wellness spa or anything (I especially like the cupboard you can’t store anything in for more than a week before it starts to smell damp), it’s just a place where I know I can keep ‘control’ of the situation. And as anyone with anxiety knows, trying to keep ‘control’ is about nine-tenths of any situation.
“‘You do you honey,’ I shout at myself, spitting Doritos down the front of my old t-shirt.”
The house I share with my boyfriend (and Gramps the cat) gives me a small and manageable environment in which all factors are easily controlled by me. Don’t want to see anyone? No problem. Fancy ignoring all responsibilities and watching Netflix for 10 hours? “You do you honey,” I shout at myself, spitting Doritos down the front of my old T-shirt. The state of the house doesn’t change without my knowing — either we cleaned it and it’s clean, or we didn’t and it’s not.
In my shared housing days, I was lucky enough to live with some of my best friends for the whole 10-year stretch. There were some randomers, and some absolute nightmares, but a lot of my 30+ housemates over that time were mates, which I know makes me luckier than most.
It was mentally challenging, because a house of five-or-more-people-depending-on-whose-mate-is-crashing-on-the-couch is not an easy environment to control. Who was going to be sitting talking in the living room while I wanted to watch First Dates? No idea. What state would the kitchen be in when I got home, exhausted and wanting to cook a nice meal? Impossible to tell. If I tried to plan a good night’s sleep and get myself off to bed at 10pm, there was absolutely no guarantee that someone wasn’t going to come barrelling through the front door, bag of Red Stripe in hand, with a bunch of people they’d just met at the pub who were looking for somewhere to after-party. In short, it was (barely) organised chaos — and I had no choice but to let go.
But looking back, I thrived. My comfort zone was a distant memory, time alone was a rarity, my anxiety was being challenged all the time. I thought I needed the opposite — a place for calm and still — but once I moved in with my boyfriend, my mind went on a slippery slope to a very bad place.
“Confronting my fears is key, and it usually leaves me feeling high as a fucking kite.”
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my anxiety over the years, it’s that to live my ‘best life’ (ugh sorry) I need to essentially do the opposite of what I want to do a lot of the time, because that means giving up my sense of control. I may not always want to go out to the pub but never once have I looked back at a social interaction with friends and wished I had stayed in and watched Netflix instead. Confronting my fears is key, and it usually leaves me feeling high as a fucking kite.
Which is why giving myself an environment I could exist in without losing control every day threw me for a loop. Of course my experience might be completely different to yours. Many people are natural introverts and if that means you need to be in your own space to be happy, then so be it. Other people may not be in a stable enough place to think about challenging themselves right now. But I stand by the comfort zone thing for the long term. If you’re ready, the way to get better and stay better is to tap at least a little toe outside it as much as you can.
So my new living situation has been a tough thing to figure out, but I think I’m there now. My brain might tell me on Friday evening that I want to go home, glue myself to the sofa and remain there until Monday morning but, unsurprisingly, when I do this, I end up feeling like crap. So now, never do I let a weekend loom without some sort of solid out-of-the-house, social interaction plans on the horizon. Booking classes for Saturday and Sunday mornings is always a good idea. Not heading straight home after work on weeknights is good too, instead opting to do some errands, meet friends, or go on a run. One thing I’ve found that really helps is getting my friends to sleep over and pretend we’re still living in a shared house as much as I can. When the pandemic is over, I can’t wait to do this again.
As long as I stick by these rules, I’m all good. But that’s me. What about you? Take some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you about your living space. And remember — what works for you mentally might not be the thing that you like. Once you’ve figured out what works, figure out how to get more of it. For me, I know it’s important that I have less control and surround myself with people. And so, with that, I bid you adieu; I’m off to live in a commune.
Originally published at https://www.refinery29.com.