Solitude can be a splendid thing — but living alone in a pandemic can become a condition to treat as well as a skill to master.
“It has been emotional turmoil,” says Aman Caur, 32, an assistant professor of English in Amritsar. “There were times when I felt the walls were closing in. But there were also times I was happy to be alone. And when that happened, I started examining my state of mind. Why was I feeling okay at certain times? How could I find that space more often?”
At first, this made each day an emotional see-saw. “I started documenting my days and my thoughts in a journal and then something started to heal,” Caur says.
Writing, counsellors say, is a key tool in dealing with isolation. Caur says journaling helped her learn to live with her thoughts — tackling what psychoanalyst Arunava Banerjee calls one of the greatest clouds to loom during enforced isolation: “the fear of oneself, having to face oneself”.
As Caur examined her dreams as well as her fears, she found that she could look at herself from the outside with greater ease. “The journal has become a sort of book of my life,” she adds.
The second tool is talking. Make it a point to make a certain number of phone or video calls every day. These conversations will build into a sense of security; you may be the only one in the room, but you aren’t really alone.
Inject joy into your routine. Sanam Husain, 30, an engineer in Delhi, started to sleep, work and eat erratically, while confined to the indoors alone in the pandemic. “With nothing to do after work, I would hit the bed at 8 pm and wake up at 3 am.” She used music and books to add happiness to her day. “During this period I learnt to listen to the lyrics. I learnt the value of looking at things closely.”
Make or create. Constructive activity can add an element of variety and purpose. So construct that balcony garden, bake your own bread, perhaps even return to the crafts you enjoyed as a child. Husain returned to baking after a break of a year, took a slice of her cake out on to the terrace recently and ate it slowly. “I’ve realised I now have the time to look at the sky. I’m not sure how good I am, but I’ve started to paint too, and that gives me a feeling of serenity.”
If all else fails, try tragic optimism, says Dr Kamna Chhibber, head of mental health and behaviourial sciences at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurugram. “Europeans survived on this during their wars. It’s about fighting with your back to the wall but also feeling good that you are able to put up that fight.” It’s a tactic of accepting your reality, rather than trying to force a change in it, and using that reality to build resilience.