I Live Alone. This Is My Survival Guide For The Second Lockdown

I’m single, I live alone and I struggled with my mental health before Covid. As we take on another lockdown, I’m trying to remember we’ve done it once already and, together, we can do it again

I remember the feeling very clearly. The rising panic in my chest when Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown on the evening of March 23.

I had held it together until then, but the reality of hearing the words broke me.

It was hard to name exactly what I was feeling but as someone who lives on her own, my standout concern was not knowing when I would get my next hug.

So I did what any good 30-something journalist with mental health struggles would do: I tweeted. And loads of wonderful people sent messages of support.

I know now, more than six months later as we face another national lockdown, that people like me who are single and live alone were forgotten by the first lockdown’s rules. And don’t get me started on the mental health impacts.

This time round, we’re getting to keep our support bubbles and are allowed to meet one person outside. And I find myself feeling much calmer as a result, even as I try not to dwell on the anger I feel that these two things would have made my first lockdown so much more bearable.

In March and April, the weight of the restrictions, especially the limitations on trips outside, left me feeling scared to go out. Like periods of dark depression before Covid, all I wanted to do was hide under the duvet, shut the curtains and go to sleep. Sometimes I wished I would close my eyes and never wake up.

But I did wake up, every day, and I did get up and I did go outside and I did keep going. And somehow 2020 has become a year that I have not only survived. At times I have even thrived.

I am aware of my privilege: I have somewhere safe and warm to live, I have a job and can work from home and money is not a worry. I have no dependents and my physical health is generally good. But I do suffer with my mental health and have done for 20 years.

My first step to surviving this year was being grateful for this privilege, but also recognising that my feelings were valid. It was hard to ask for help when everyone else was also suffering but I reached out to my friends and family network, offering my own support as well to colleagues and neighbours.

And, as we take on Lockdown 2.0, I’m remembering: we’ve done it once and, together, we can do it again.

I’ve decided to go back to basics – taking each moment at a time, not looking too far ahead, and really really being my own best friend. Living by the advice that I give to everyone I care about: be kind to yourself. Friends, family and colleagues have proved a lifeline, but so are the radio, podcasts, books and organisations like the Blurt Foundation, Action For Happiness, Sunday Assembly and Museum of Happiness.

I’m going to focus on the small things and take it one day at a time. Thankfully, I don’t have to feel alone this time because I have permission to stay in my support bubble with my sister, brother-in-law and niblings (niece and nephew). I can also go for lunchtime walks with my neighbour friend who I met in lockdown and meet others people outside, one at a time. I have permission to have proper human interaction. Thanks Boris...

Here are some other things I will be putting into practice. Everyone is different but I am sharing them as tips in the hope they help.

1) Work out what your priorities are and say no to anything that isn’t manageable. It’s ok to say no.

2) Treat yourself with the care you would a best friend. You deserve it.

3) Be kind to yourself. From going along to the Museum of Happiness’s self-care check-ins, I’ve learnt the best question I can ask, especially in times of need, is: “What is the kindest thing I can do for myself in this moment?” Sometimes the kindest thing I can do for myself is not the easiest; get out of bed, make bed, go outside, exercise, make nourishing food.

4) Find a mantra that works for you. Call me basic (or just a Fleabag fan) but mine is: “This too shall pass.” Quite often, well nearly all the time for me, sleep helps. Time helps. It also helps to pause before acting on strong emotions. See how it feels in an hour, 24 hours. Are you still going to feel that way in a week?

5) Make a playlist of songs that uplift you. Sing at the top of your lungs and dance like no one’s watching.

“You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to lose weight or get really buff. But get outside and move in whatever way feels good for you.”

6) Rediscover your passions and do them as much as you want to. There is no expectation to write a book or finish a masterpiece. Find what feels good and do it for as long as you want to. During lockdown, I’ve done more writing but I’m not expecting myself to reel off a book. I’ve read more, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t read for a long period of time. I’ve discovered new recipes and cooked more, but I’m not going to criticise myself if I need to order a takeaway.

7) Ask for help. It’s okay not to be okay. Sometimes sharing it makes it feel a lot better. Find ways to be there for your loved ones – phone calls, emails or even letters. Share that uplifting playlist with them. Kindness makes you feel good.

8) Move your body. No, you don’t need to put pressure on yourself to lose weight or get really buff. But get outside and move in whatever way feels good for you. With all this time at home, we need fresh air, nature and sunlight more than ever.

9) Make time for escapism. Switch off the news. You don’t have to watch the press conference if you’re not a journalist. If you’re a journalist you don’t have to watch it if you’re not on shift. Find TV shows, films, podcasts and books that transport you to another world and let your mind rest.

Finally, here are some recommendations of things that have given me hope.

How To Be Hopeful by Bernadette Russell is a good place to start. What better time to release this book than during a global pandemic? As for podcasts, my saviours during lockdown have been Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail and Dani Shapiro’s The Way We Live Now. Both these women just ‘get’ it. Other books that stand out for me include Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, Emma Gannon’s Olive, Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts and Glennon Doyle’s Untamed.

As a single woman, the newsletter that’s kept me going is Nicola Slawson’s The Single Supplement, and as someone who lives alone, I thoroughly recommend Francesca Specter’s Alonement podcast too. I’ve also launched a good news newsletter for HuffPost UK, The Brightside, focusing on uplifting news only, and you can sign up here.

As I look ahead to 2021, I’ll be using Project Love’s Goodbye Hello journal for the fourth year running, and hoping for a better year.

The next four weeks, or however long this lockdown lasts, aren’t going to be easy, but if you are living alone through this, please know that you’re not alone.

Useful websites and helplines

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.