Learning to be Alone

I have never been very good at being alone; certainly not since being ill anyway. When I felt unwell I really needed someone nearby to keep me calm. My symptoms were scary and unpredictable and I was house bound most of the time. My brain and my muscles didn’t work as they should so I didn’t trust myself. When my mental health was bad I also didn’t trust myself to be alone, at least once I had realised I was sick. When I was deep in my delusions I very much wanted to be left in peace. I’m grateful now that I was not.

When I moved away from home for the first time I found it difficult to be alone. It was both exciting and terrifying to know that no one knew where I was or what I was doing. I had to trust myself and I had to be responsible for my own safety and wellbeing for the first time in a long time. I didn’t always get it right and I used to really beat myself up about it but eventually I started to get the hang of it. I had to make myself a schedule for the day with varied activities interspersed with rest breaks and I would plan my meals so that I didn’t get stressed out about them. However this made me very restrictive and quite obsessive. I spent a little too much time inside my own head. When I started dating, living my life to someone else’s schedule was really hard for me; both mentally and physically. It was really nice to not be alone anymore and it helped me to be more spontaneous and worry less. In time I found that I could do more than I thought I could but I overdid it a lot and had a lot of bad days whilst I was trying to live a life I couldn’t lead.

Inevitably relationships ended and once again I was alone. Anyone who has gone through a break up will know that those first few weeks and months of being along are awful. Everyone else seems to be paired up and enjoying life whilst you’re in your pyjamas watching box sets and eating cereal from the packet. You’ve forgotten how to be alone and it feels terrifying. I’ve gone through my fair share of heartbreak recently and now I am very much alone. I have housemates but they’re hardly ever at home and I’m in a new town so don’t know many people to go out with yet. I struggle to go out on my own, to a museum or for a meal because I end up feeling paranoid and rush around. The only thing I manage is the cinema or theatre because no one can see me!

When I first moved into my new accomodation I fell back on my old habit of making a daily schedule and keeping busy. But I realised today that I’ve just been distracting myself. I can’t bear to be doing nothing. I watch TV, I listen to music and audio books and podcasts, I read, I scroll through social media apps endlessly, I learn languages, I write, I clean, I cook. Because when I stop doing anything my brain floods with unhelpful thoughts about why I keep getting hurt and rejected. I convinced myself this week that I didn’t want to be with anyone anyway, that I’m going to focus on having a brilliant career making breakthroughs instead of babies. I’ll become a doctor of Art History just because it seems so fantastical and ridiculous to me to be called a doctor for something other than medicine. These are great ambitions to have but they are still distractions.

This evening I walked around the estate on my own as the sun was setting. I haven’t been outside in the evening here yet, I’ve always been tucked up watching some rubbish programme. I had felt strangely afraid but I didn’t know what of. However, today had been gloriously hot and the flat was feeling so oppressive that the breeze coming in through the windows drew me outside. It was beautiful. The last golden rays of the sun glowed through the leaves and the cattle were happily grazing in the field. I found a sunny spot to sit with a view of the house and told myself that I had to sit there, doing absolutely nothing, until the sun had gone behind the trees. The unhelpful chatter started up but then I began to notice my surroundings instead. I could hear birdsong and I watched bees merrily collecting nectar from a nearby honeysuckle plant – which smelled gorgeous – whilst ants hurriedly scrambled across the gravel path. I realised that I’m not really alone; I’m surrounded by life at all times. I have many connections with friends, family and colleagues but also with the natural world around me. Spending some time alone is a healthy and much needed way to check in with yourself and shouldn’t be avoided.

Last weekend I was ill with a virus and all alone. Being alone when unwell was one of my big fears. I really struggled to cook and keep hydrated. I hated being too ill to even distract myself as my eyes got tired quickly from the TV. I also got some sad news that weekend and had a cry. Everything hurt a lot.  However, I did survive and it has made me feel a lot more capable of looking after myself.

I’m going to challenge myself to do more things on my own (without feeling paranoid) like going to a museum or for a meal. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Do you find spending time alone difficult?

Can you try spending some time alone without distracting yourself this weekend?

If it feels too difficult I find an audiobook or podcast really helpful to start me off as I feel like there’s someone there.

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