Well, here I am. Sam left for Chicago on Saturday and we probably won’t see each other until Halloween, which means two weeks of gettin’ by on my own. I know this isn’t a big deal for a lot of people–most people have lived alone at some point in their life–but you know what? I haven’t. Every night I’ve gone to bed, other people are around me: family members, roommates, boyfriend/fiancé/husband, dog(s). To be fair, I’m not entirely alone right now. I’ve got a long-time friend living upstairs and he’s good company to keep, but I still spend a lot of time by myself.
So how do I cope? That’s an excellent question. And I’m going to spend at least a month (perhaps longer) figuring that out. But in the meantime, I do have a few tricks to stay sane when I’m alone:
Set up a Social Schedule. Though I’m notorious for keeping a busy schedule–playing trivia at my favorite bar, volunteering at the local art museum, serving on two boards–I am also one of those people who comes home from work and establishes a million reasons as to why I shouldn’t leave my house tonight, perhaps ever. If I don’t already have somewhere to be, I’m staying cooped up. I might walk around the neighborhood but it’s unlikely I’ll get in my car and go into town. It’s good to have a peaceful evening to myself every once in a while, but eventually I slip into the habit of not wanting to hang out with anyone and aging myself 60 years. When I do muster the strength to meet up at a bar or see someone in town, I’m astounded at how quickly I find myself again: I’ll talk for hours and radiate happiness, and that energy charges me for the next day or so. I know my formulaic tendencies–come home, stay home–so I have to combat them by making plans in advance and knowing I won’t disregard others as easily as I do myself.
Listen to NPR. Most of my morning commutes are done on bicycle or on foot, so I don’t listen to the radio during my commute. When I do drive, I’ll try some hum-drum pop radio stations first and eventually settle on NPR. If I’m by myself I might respond to aloud like I’m part in the conversation (if you think this is creepy, skip the next paragraph). Sometimes I turn on NPR in my house and listen to it while I cook or clean. Listening to people talk and hold meaningful dialogue puts me at ease, but I should note that I can’t listen to any blabbering noise. Television is one of those things that I can only tolerate for two hours tops before I turn it off and search for my soul. I hate listening to people yell at each other, interrupt one another, and constantly yak-yak-yak away about literally anything…and I truly despise commercials. If there is a commercial playing and someone doesn’t mute the TV, I’ll leave the room. Luckily, NPR never makes me feel that way; I always feel like I’ve found my people.
Talk to Yourself Out Loud. I’m not crazy. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you do this, too. Maybe you disguise it by talking to your dog/cat/domestic pet, but my pets are chickens and live outside so I don’t have that outlet. Maybe you pretend like you didn’t just say something to an empty room and that surely someone was listening, but you know what? They weren’t. You said it to yourself. Let’s clarify that I don’t walk around the house holding full-out conversations, telling myself a story about what I did today. I tend to just blurt out little phrases, like “Crap, that’s way too much fennel” or “Where the heck did the chickens go?” or “I just saw my breath. I should turn on the heat.” Most often, I am convincing myself that “No, I did NOT just hear someone break into the house. I’m imagining it. Definitely.” It might be unorthodox, but it works.
Read All The Things. Going out, talking on the phone, or convincing people to come hang out with me aren’t always options. When I can’t change my surroundings, I delve deep into a book and go somewhere else for a while. It’s not always someplace better, but reading captivates me and I meet awesome people. I’m not conversing with real people, but spending time with strangers that quickly become friends—even if it’s only in my mind—is always something that makes me feel less alone.
Spend Time With Yourself. Truly. Yes, I love spending time surrounded by people. But the reality is I need time to understand who I am, and that’s hard to do when I’m constantly socializing. My favorite forms of relaxation include hiking, soaking in a hot bath, cooking, creating artwork, and writing/journaling. I can do all of these activities alone, and they’re all rewarding ways of getting to know myself better. Doing any of these things allows me the chance to churn through personal stresses. Coping with inner struggles and growing pains doesn’t come naturally to me, but I know it’s important. Besides, I can’t deny feeling so much better after getting to the roots of emotional stress.
I’m sure I’ll learn more about how to cope with being alone, but in the mean time I’ll be trusting in my tried-and-true methods. Do you have a favorite way to spend time alone?