For the first time in my life, I have experienced true alone-ness. Not loneliness, the longing for other people, nor deliberate isolation where my eating disorder could fester. Not a desire to be by myself. But a whole new experience – ‘aloneness’. I lived alone for just over six months, and, retrospectively, I have realised a few things about that experience.
Growing up, I was never truly alone. I am the youngest of three, but even once my two elder siblings moved out I was extremely lucky in that both of my parents were always around. I rarely spent a night by myself. I relished alone time as an introvert, but the house was never empty, it was never silent.
Then I moved to the other side of the country. My first experience living away from home was a very odd sharehouse situation that I’m electing to brush over because it was awful and painful for a few reasons and not all that relevant either. Put it this way: you do not want your housemates to discover you struggle with mental illness because you need driven to hospital in case you bleed out. Not. Good. After that, I chose to live alone.
During my childhood, even though I was constantly surrounded by people – at school, work, youth theatre and home – I always felt isolated. Ignored. Invisible. But not alone. I guess the introversion possibly caused by this isolation gave me the idea that living alone was for me. I thought that if I was still depressed despite being surrounded by people, thought that because I remained suicidal even when surrounded by ‘friends’ in inverted commas, that being alone could hardly make things worse.
Here’s the truth:
It did impact my mental health. Being with people keeps me safe, because even when I feel alone, I am not truly alone. When I was living by myself I self-harmed daily. Now that I have a housemate, I still self harm, but not as badly, for fear she’ll find me. It’s also not as often, for fear she’ll see the scars – or worse, fresh wounds. So having a housemate hasn’t ceased my self-harming behaviour, but it’s certainly a deterrent. Only time I’ve ever been grateful for anxiety.
Being with people keeps me safe, because even when I feel alone, I am not physically alone.
Living alone wasn’t good for my eating disorder either – its function practically shifted entirely from control to suppressing emotions. Bulimia became a comfort, whereas anorexia had been an escape. Conversely, now that I could control everything around me, around food I felt totally out of control. Interesting. Living alone isn’t bad in and of itself, but I know others were concerned about me, and I was concerned about myself.
Maybe things would have been different if I hadn’t lived on my own for a little while there. I don’t think it necessarily matters. What matters is that I’ve learned being around people keeps me safe. Being alone, does not. Introvert or otherwise, I do need people, as scared as I am to admit that.