5 Things No One Told Me, An Introvert, About Being Alone All Day
When I was a teenager, my mother used to joke that I was like a beached whale – stuck in place, with little to no hope of finding its way back to the ocean. I could go hours, maybe even days, barely moving, barely speaking, content to read Star Trek fanfiction or binge-watch Lee Min-Ho’s latest drama.
In retrospect, these sound like symptoms of depression, but I wasn’t depressed. I just really enjoyed being alone, doing nothing, and living in complete silence.
And then COVID-19 happened. Social distancing happened. 10 weeks of working from home happened (I haven’t been to my office since January). And I started to miss parties, concerts, and small talk-laden office lunches. Earlier this week, I visited Jewel and found its emptiness a little unnerving. Was I living in an episode of The Leftovers? Is this is what Tony Stark and Captain America felt like after Thanos snapped his fingers?
A little background about my living situation: I’m unmarried and live with two housemates, neither of whom is working from home. Both usually only return close to midnight. I have no children, no pets, and no live-in helper. I don’t even have any family living nearby and my job requires very few conference calls. So I can go days without saying anything other than “thank you” to the Deliveroo guy and “teh c siu dai upsize” to the coffee shop aunty below my flat.
While I’ve (mostly) been loving my extended break from the accursed “have you eaten” conversations, there’s a lot that has surprised me – in both good ways and bad – about having the option to be alone, all day, every day, for weeks at a time.
1. It’s harder to fall asleep when you’re not hanging around people all day
Before COVID-19, I could doze off within seconds. Now, I rarely fall asleep before 2 AM. Thanks to not commuting and not having to spend time doing my makeup, I can sleep in an extra two hours. And thanks to my lack of mobility, lack of socialising (battery forever full) and to all the time I spend working in bed, I don’t expend enough energy to fall asleep before midnight.
My solution? Exercise, melatonin, and cutting my coffee intake from two cups to one.
2. You will definitely forget how to make conversation
For introverts, socialising is like exercise. The longer we go without it, the harder it is to start again. So let’s just say that the abundance of silence and the subsequent lack of stimulation makes me a little slow, once I start interacting with people.
Thankfully, all the breaking news provides more conversation fodder than ever. If all else fails, ask them what they’ve tried on Deliveroo or if they’ve seen Donald Trump’s latest tweet explosion. And speaking of food delivery…
3. You won’t necessarily become a better cook
If you love cooking, then yes, you’ll probably get better at it. You finally have all the time in the world to try new recipes and techniques.
But if you hate cooking, you’ll make pasta thrice, realise how much work it is to plan meals, conclude that it’s not worth it to spend hours grocery shopping, cooking, and washing up for one, and will revive your food delivery subscription. After a few days of this, you’ll feel guilty about how much you’re spending and will learn to subsist on cereal, oats, instant food, and frozen dumplings. At long last, you’ll cave and start asking people out for dinner – gasp, self-initiated socialising – because with all the lockdowns happening worldwide, you’ve learned to start appreciating the presence of other people. And anyway, there’s only so much instant noodles your nearly-immobile body can take.
4. You might waste just as much time as you would on any other day – and that’s okay
With a fully charged social battery and an abundance of time spent at home, I thought, finally, FINALLY, I can start all the things that I want to do but am normally too busy and tired for.
And yeah, my first two weeks of working from home were extremely productive. I’d get up by 8:30 am, finish my work by around 3, do chores until 5, prepare and eat a well-rounded dinner by 7, and be showered and in bed before midnight. I finally got started on all the projects I’d been putting off – Marie Kondo-ing my closet! Tackling my mountain of unread books! Perfecting my pour-over!
But once the novelty of being alone 24/7 wore off, I ended up taking my free time for granted. I filled the hours with naps, an entire season of Kingdom, and even a couple episodes of Love is Blind. My closet got messy. My books collected dust. I ordered coffee delivery from Toast Box instead of making my own. And then I felt guilty, anxious, and bored, but had no one to talk to about it.
Eventually, I stopped forcing myself to be productive every minute of the day during non-work hours, because truth be told, some activities – like making a big batch of brownies or watching zombie shows – are simply more enjoyable to do with other people. Instead, on weekdays, I’d schedule in one must-do activity in addition to work, and as long as I did that one thing (which could be as simple as doing laundry or taking a walk outside), I’d consider it a day well spent.
5. Introverts get lonely too
Spending 10 weeks alone day in and day out isn’t the same as spending a precious Sunday cooped up in my room before heading back to the office. Like all humans, I am a social being. Countless studies have shown that social engagement helps improve our immune system, extend our lifespan, boost our mental health, and even improve our memory. Face-to-face contact generates dopamine (our body’s natural painkiller) and enhances our resilience to stress.
Nowadays, I can’t see some of my friends as frequently. But technology makes it easy for us to stay connected. It can be as silly as sending colleagues WFH memes, or as serious as asking someone else how she’s coping with all the anxiety.
(Still, no amount of loneliness will convince me to turn my camera on and un-mute my mic during a corporate Zoom call. There are some meetings that should, even during socially distant times like this, be left as emails.)