How to be alone. (or how to beat the mehs).

Screenshot 2020-03-28 at 11.00.12A lot of my friends are struggling with being alone during lockdown. Quite a few of them are openly discussing “how not to go mad” during lockdown. For many of them, this is the longest period they’ve ever had to stay home alone, and it really isn’t easy.

The first few days might feel like a holiday – you lounge on the sofa, you watch Netflix. But by day 3, it’s starting to feel slow. By day 7 it’s starting to feel really slow. And by day 10 you’re listening to the government extend the lockdown by another 2 weeks and trying hard not to cry.

Now, I’m not going to give you one of those “make this time wonderful” speeches. If you can “make this time wonderful” then great, do it. But for many of us being alone, being lonely, is hard. So I’m far more about how to survive this, than how to have an orgasm over it.

I’m no psychologist, so take none of this as gospel, but I have spent a lot of time in isolation in my life. Being a writer is, by definition, an isolating kind of a job. Being a single writer, which I was for many years, even more so. As for being a single writer, snowed in for 3 months of the year in a tiny house in the Alps without internet, and sometimes even without electricity… well you get the picture.

It wasn’t easy, but I made it and you can too. Being alone and isolated for long periods of time isn’t easy. But you can get better at it. You can learn how to do it better. So here are my top tips for surviving lockdown without going completely bonkers.

The ingredients for a wholesome day.
For a day to feel wholesome it needs, IMHO five main ingredients.

  • Structure.
  • Food for the body.
  • Food for the brain.
  • Exercice.
  • Contact.

If you’re feeling meh, then all of these will feel like an effort. But the route to depression is giving in to the dark side that is meh. And the route to feeling sane is exercising willpower to push it back into its box.
– So cook yourself a healthy meal (Food for the body). Do not give in to the desire to exist exclusively on chocolate ice cream or whatever is your fetish food.
– Read a book, or write something, or learn a language (there are online courses), or practice that musical instrument or paint that picture. Or play chess. (Food for the brain).
Exercise. If you’re normally fit and healthy and allowed to get out, then do it! It’s important. Go for a walk, or go for a run. If it’s raining, put on a hoodie and do it anyway.
And if you can’t get out, do yoga, or pilates, or keep fit. You don’t need any equipment to do any of these, just google “30 days of yoga with Adrienne” or “5BX Canadian airforce exercises” and get going. Stay fit. Or if you’re not fit, use this time to get fit.
– Talk to at least one person every day. (Contact). Make that phone call. Or Skype chat. Or Facetime. Talking to other human beings is essential to your mental health. Try not to moan too much or talk about the damned virus while you’re chatting. Talk about your last holiday. Or where you want to go next. Or how you’re getting on with learning Japanese. Talking about real life is important, because it reminds you that this shall pass. There will be holidays in the sun. There will be family dinners again.
– Finally, Structure. Your normal life is probably pretty structured. Most of us live constantly watching the clock as we calculate if it’s time to move onto the “next thing.”
Initially, that lack of structure will give you a feeling of freedom. It’s the “holiday” feeling that says you can lay on the couch for two hours staring at the TV eating Mars bars if you want to. But after a few days that lack of structure may well make you feel meh. And meh as we know is the enemy. So structure your day and beat it.

My own regime to avoid going nutty is something like this:
8:30 (or when awake) Get up.
8:30-10 (slow lazy breakfast, read papers).
10-10:30 Yoga with Adrienne on Youtube.
10:30-11:00 Shower.
11:00-12:30 Write (or on weekends, read).
12:30-2:00 Cook and eat lunch.
2:00-4:30 Write.
4:30-5:30 Go for walk or run.
5:30-7:00 watch Netflix or Prime video series.
7:00-8:00 Watch news and cook dinner.
8:00-9:00 Talk to someone.
9:00- 11:00 Watch a proper film or read a book.

The point about having a schedule, is that whenever the sense of emptiness and meh starts to wash over you, there’s always something you should be doing. So instead of having to be creative at the very moment you’re feeling the worst, all you have to do is get with the program and do whatever is next on the list.

You’ll obviously need to tailor this to your own hours and your own needs. For instance, if you’re not a writer, then you’ll need to find something else to replace the hours I spend writing. There are a thousand things you can learn to do online, and I’ll bet there’s at least something you’ve always wanted to do. Well, now’s your chance. Do it. Learn to speak french. Learn to paint. Learn to draw. Learn yoga. It doesn’t matter what you learn as long as at some point during the day you use your brain. It’ll be hard to get yourself to sit down and do it, but you can do this. And when you do, you’ll feel better.

Finally some random warning tips:

Alcohol. If you’re a drinker, it can be an easy time to start drinking too much. And much like the “being on holiday” thing, this will initially make you feel better. But if you drink every day it will end up making you feel depressed. So if you were a weekend drinker before, then try to be a weekend drinker now. Obviously rules about only drinking socially are more complicated now – if you’re drinking it will almost certainly be alone. But organise a Skype date with a friend and have a drink with them on Saturday night. And give yourself at least 4 alcohol free days a week if you can.

News. For the last fifty years or so, “news” had meant almost exclusively “bad news”. At the moment “news” generally means “terrible news.”
You do not need to follow the details of every CV19 death. It will not help you. It won’t save anyone else either. But it will fuck with your mental health. So decide consciously how much news you want to consume.
I’ve limited myself to the newspapers over breakfast and an hour in the evening, and even that’s quite a lot of stress, I find. During the rest of the day I force myself not to look. Because all the constant updates were pushing me to the edge of a panic attack. So choose how much you want to know. As long as you’re scared enough to stay indoors, that’s enough. You don’t need any more.

Edit: Music. I can’t believe I forgot music! Music is one of the most efficient mood changers (drugs excepted) known to man. You may think about playing some music and think meh. But that’s the point about music. You don’t need to be in the mood. Music creates mood. So put your favourite tunes on. Dance with the cat (if the cat’s willing). Dance with a stuffed toy or a cushion, or the mop. Dance alone, who cares? There’s no one there to see you anyway, is there? (If there is, you should probably dance with them). But nothing is better for cheering yourself up than singing along and dancing. Just avoid the sad songs, for now, eh? Unless of course you need to have a cry. In which case go for it. Here’s a link to my cheesy dance list, in case you’re short of inspiration:

Voila, my friends. I think that’s it.
We will get through this. And when we do we’ll be romping on beaches and drinking in pubs and eating takeway pizzas in parks. Just remember it. We’ll get there.
In the meantime, love and luck to you all. Stay indoors. Stay healthy. Stay safe.

And if you have any tips of your own, please post them as comments below.

Nick xxx


3 thoughts on “How to be alone. (or how to beat the mehs).

  1. Thanks Nick. We have it pretty easy in Australia, but your tips are valuable in any case. Today I will dance with my puppies 🙂

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