Change doesn’t come easily, and it definitely doesn’t come overnight; not substantial change, anyway. Getting tired of your own bullshit takes eating spoonfuls at every meal, until you can’t stand yourself any longer. But no one shows us how to change ourselves before we need it desperately, no one shows us how to match the frequency of the reality we want. How to create a stronger sense of self, a sense of value, of who we are. How to bring out an excitement about ourselves and share it with others. How to trick the mind into arriving at the destination before our life does. These are things we have to decide to learn on our own.
Recently, I decided to live on my own for a while. It was the thing I wanted the most, the thing I feared the most, and the thing I knew would bring me closer to the person I wanted to be. I was going to live in Portsmouth for one more year while finishing my master’s (and working full time) so I did the maths and the overthinking and then went searching. My only condition was that the place was unfurnished, for it had always been my dream to decorate my first house – where I had, I just knew I had, to live on my own first.
The first studio was awful. Tiny, smelly, cheap in every way. I was close to taking it only because it would have been mine. The second place, however, was perfection, and I signed for it then and there. A one bedroom flat in the city centre at a price beyond reasonable became my home for the next 12+ months. I put all my energy and enthusiasm into furnishing it as quickly as I could while sleeping at my best friend’s house. I must have done it all in less than a week, though. Charity shops, friends’ generosity and some savings made my new flat look like everything I dreamed of. And then, I moved in. And I cried. A lot.
Since moving to the UK I had lived in halls and shared houses, but never quite got the feeling that I was on my own. The first time I came home to my flat and realised I didn’t have to go sleep elsewhere that night, I had a panic attack. ‘I live alone now, I have to learn how to manage this,’ I thought, and the thought only made it worse. The next few months were strange. I found myself unable to turn off the TV while leaving the music on in the bedroom at the same time, so that there was always a voice in the background. I’d always wanted my own space to introvert away, and all of a sudden I was pacing around it like a lion in a cage.
Well, people get what they want and usually hate if after, and I was no exception. I couldn’t read a book unless I was in the bathtub and could hear the fan. I couldn’t enjoy my coffee unless I was on the balcony, watching people walking, existing. I was calling family and friends far too often, and not because I missed them terribly every few hours. It was strange indeed, and it took me quite long to adjust – it always takes me quite long to adjust. The biggest trigger was that there was no one there to push me anymore. It was always my family and my friends until, all of a sudden, it was just me.
When you live alone you have all the time and space in the world to do absolutely nothing, and no one to remind you to get off your phone and do some actual work. You get to think all your whatifs through and back again, and even colour in a little more. You lose track of time and things stop making sense after a while. TV show characters become the most important people in your life. You eat ridiculous amounts of ice cream because you don’t see the fun in cooking for one. You want to write your essay, but you won’t sit still, so you want to go to the library where there are other people. Maybe then you’ll sit still. But there’s no one to push you anymore.
And then, darker things creep in. Life gets boring. You don’t know how to entertain yourself, and all your friends are busy. No one cares what you do with your days. No one cares if you tidy up or nah. You sit in bed, recalling with embarrassing clarity all the times when you were messy-hearted, irrational, and wrong. You host some parties and let them see white teeth and a mouth widened, because anything else pushes them away. You don’t tell them that sometimes loneliness feels like being offered a full meal, and not being able to eat it. You think of the many privileges and blessings, but not find them to be enough. You think of yourself as ungrateful and weak and unable to come out of those endless, inescapable places. But you escape them. You escape them every time.
And you realise it was all just necessary weather, because here’s the thing: there aren’t many things as scary as living alone for the first time. Going through the hell of your mind, alone, in perfect silence, and making some kickass dinner at the same time? Seriously, what else is there left in the world to scare you? No one can hurt us more than we can hurt ourselves. No one. If you manage to survive your own self and the insanely absurd ways in which you, yourself, torture you, suddenly someone’s nasty comment becomes a piece of cake – and you’ll probably eat it, too. Poisonous? Have you seen my thoughts? This is great! Got more?
And so, after a few months, living alone became excellent. I made peace with my home and with myself, and transformed it into a place with energy as good as me. I gained a level of control over my thoughts and an emotional independence that I’d never hoped for. Days passed by sweetly. The future spilled over with light. I worked hard on creating a safe space for myself and I felt proud of myself every time I looked around. I learnt lessons that would come with me anywhere life would take me next, and I learnt them all by myself, in perfect silence. Ok, with Friends playing in the background.
Living alone is something I am immensely grateful for having had the opportunity (and courage) to do, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It taught me to be transparent to myself and to overcome the need to constantly ask for advice, permission and opinions. I trust myself to make good decisions now – and when I fail, I trust myself to go back and make better decisions. My mind in rinsed and I feel alive, strong, and ready.
They say to take the good with the bad, but after having experienced living life on my terms, I think I’ll take it without.
“I know. Me too. It’s great. I haven’t been scared in a while.”