I used to be the type of person to think that everyone around me was wolves, and these wolves could eat me if they wanted to, so I had to be extra nice to them. My niceness, though, wasn’t genuine. It was a way of protecting myself from those who could hurt me – and those who could hurt me were many, if not all. I sensed they were stronger, tougher, all metal studs and spikes on cool leather jackets, while I was naked, fragile, and vulnerable as fuck. And now? Now I’ll eat them alive if they try to bite me once. (Am I playing pretend from time to time when I say things like this? For sure. But I’m growing into it more and more and love the feel of my new skin.)
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. Unfortunately, no one educates us about how to change ourselves before needing to change ourselves. 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 all things we learn on our own. In my case, there was something I thought I’d try.
One year ago I decided to live on my own. It doesn’t sound like much, but for me 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 (on that note, your gut feeling is ALWAYS right.) I knew that I was going to live in Portsmouth for one more year while finishing my master’s, and that my job paid just about enough to finally go for it. I did the maths and the overthinking and then I went house hunting across the city, with my only condition being that the place was unfurnished. After all, it had always been my dream to decorate my first house – where I had, I just knew I had, to live on my own.
The first studio was awful. Tiny, smelly, cheap in every way. I was close to taking it only because it would have been mine. That’s how badly I wanted something of my own. The second place, however, was perfection. 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 this flat look like everything I had ever dreamed of. And then, I moved in. And I cried. A lot.
Living alone changes you in ways I never would have thought of. 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 new flat and realised I didn’t have to go sleep elsewhere that night, I had a full on panic attack. I’d struggled with panic attacks for years, but distracting myself with something, or someone, usually got me through. Well, here goes nothing, and no one, I thought then. Fine. I live alone now, I have to learn how to manage this – and the thought only made it worse, but I lived alone now, I had to learn how to manage this…
The next few months were strange. I found myself unable to turn off the TV for the most part of the day, and leaving the music on in the bedroom at the same time, so that there was always a voice in the background when I walked in. 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 the cars drive by. I was video 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 is that there’s no one there to push you anymore. It was always my mum, then Sandra, then Ale (hi girls, thanks for pushing me!) and then all of a sudden it was just me. 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 is probably nothing scarier than living alone. 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, the last few months have been nowhere near as bad as the first. In fact, they’ve been excellent. I’ve 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 pass by sweetly now. The future spills over with light. I work on creating a safe space for myself until a wave of hot wild joy whips through and lets me know I made it. I’m not there yet, and I don’t know if I’m halfway there yet either, but I know I’m on my way and that’s good enough. I know, because I am more myself than I have ever been. And because it feels so damn good. You already know – if it feels off, it is. None of this feels off.
Living alone is something I am immensely grateful for having had the opportunity (and balls) to do, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It taught me to be transparent to myself, to make a greenhouse for my mind, and to overcome the need to ask for advice, permission, and second opinions. I trust myself to make good decisions – 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. If last-summer-me could see me, I’m sure she’d think, yeah that’s where I’m headed. I feel no need to run around shining my light on everybody anymore. People pleasing has only ever eroded my soul. It takes an incredible amount of psychic energy to maintain a persona, and it’s exhausting and depleting. I am like the silence after rain now. They say to take the good with the bad, but after all this time I think I’ll take it without.
“I know. Me too. It’s great. I haven’t been scared in a while.”