I Enjoy Being Alone But I Wasn’t Prepared for Loneliness that Comes With a Lockdown

Coronavirus

I Enjoy Being Alone But I Wasn’t Prepared for Loneliness that Comes With a Lockdown

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

At the time of writing this, I have practised a little more than three weeks of social distancing. That includes working from home, not going to the gym, and carrying the delusion that I will work out indoors from one day to the next. I’ve done all of this before, but back then – it seems like a long time ago – it was known as being an introvert or anti-social, tags that I agreed with. Until the choice was taken away.

That is three weeks of being on my own. Three weeks of serious loneliness.

This isn’t my first brush with loneliness. I live in a city that I only moved to three months ago and the people I know here are, at best, acquaintances. I hardly ever have solid weekend plans, but I manage a couple of hours by the sea, or a much-awaited release in the theatres, or simply, or a walk along Bandra’s bustling Hill Road. Watching life pass by has – had – become a favourite weekend activity, and its absence has left a gaping hole in my life.

In the past, working from home, while visiting my parents in my hometown, was fun, even if I had to work through terrible period cramps or a twisted foot. For it meant the comfort of a real home, like mom’s poha for breakfast. I hadn’t expected working from home to be very different. I mean, hadn’t years of living alone in dorms, in different parts of the country, through different public crises, taught me enough to accommodate minor changes in my lifestyle? Apparently not.

The problem isn’t work, nor is it learning to cook or clean on your own. The problem is the dent this crisis has created.

While it is cushioned by oodles of social and financial privilege – social distancing itself is a privilege – it is difficult to be by yourself, even if you are an introvert. And it is all made worse by lurking mental illnesses.

This is how I go from being alone to being lonely. This anxiety isn’t placated by a day of back-to-back Zoom calls, a day where I also have to cook, clean, and worry about groceries. It’s the loneliness that gnaws at me.

I quite enjoy being alone, as I have been for most of my adult life. It has made me fiercely independent, brave, and ambitious to a point that it clashes with and often overrules much of my “progressive enough” upbringing which was fragrant with more than one woman character from Austenian romances. I have taken more than my fair share of leaps of faith, have switched jobs and moved cities driven solely by belief. I thrive on chasing goals – however small they may be. And goals are a notable absence in my current situation. What should I aim for right now? I don’t know, my day will look the same tomorrow as it did today.

I live in a small but lovely 1.5 BHK in the quaint Ranwar village in Mumbai that I share with three other people to be able to afford the rent. On a better day, I find the apartment a little crowded, I find it inconvenient to share one washroom with three other people. But my roommates are away, self-quarantined in their family homes. My knowledge of the building is limited to the obscene number of chappals outside the entrance to the adjacent flat during Sunday afternoon kirtan. I’ve often wondered how they manage to accommodate so many people if their place is anything like ours. But I have never met any of my neighbours, and now that the kirtans are on a sabbatical, it feels like I’ve landed in a ghost town.

And that is how it hits you. “Anxiety has joined the meeting.” On a usual day, if anything like an unpleasant conversation triggered a bout of anxiety, I’d have soothed myself, gone to work, and found distractions well enough. Now I focus on the small things – like working from home efficiently, changing into fresh clothes every morning, putting the laptop away at 8pm. But it has only led to the realisation that my professional work, while extremely important, can only go so far in filling the void.

In the past, working from home, while visiting my parents in my hometown, was fun, even if I had to work through terrible period cramps or a twisted foot.

The problem isn’t work, nor is it learning to cook or clean on your own. The problem is the dent this crisis has created. It’s the silence on the street outside that I spent months longing for because the honking would simply not stop, and now it won’t start as much as I want it to. I moved to Mumbai, motivated that I could fit into the “crowd” and the “noise”, and right now it’s impossible to find even one person or a voice. Even if I do manage to video call a couple of people every day, it’s only a reminder that everybody else is struggling too – some with toxic families, others with irresponsible roommates. There is very little to seek hope from.

I tell myself hourly that we’re all staying home to solve a bigger problem, and ask my brain for hope, and it hands me Frankenstein. I have a sequence playing in my head, where I fall on the tiled floor with a thud, hit my head and that’s the end. Nobody comes to my rescue, nobody dials 108 for an ambulance. So that is how I go through my day – trying not to slip in the shower, trying not to burn myself while toasting bread, unlocking and relocking the door four times at night so as to secure myself.

Does your own company feel sufficient?

Maybe it’s because we are accustomed to criminally romanticising isolation culture. Three weeks ago, I earnestly looked forward to having all the time, little distraction, and the comfort of home, because hey, I could finally write that long-form piece that had been brewing for months. I could finally put my sketchbook to use. My colleagues couldn’t get enough of tweeting, “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined during the plague,” or “Nehru wrote The Discovery of India in prison.”

I doubt I will write the next King Lear or The Discovery of India. Maybe, if I can learn to just slow down, calm my mind, and keep my anxiety at bay, I will have won the lockdown. For now, that’s enough.

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