“You can pull over by that white awning,” I told my Lyft driver.
I hauled my two large army-green duffles, red Osprey suitcase, black backpack and canvas bag — filled with essentials like my electric kettle and drum from Sedona—out of the trunk and onto the curb. I noticed a group of graduate students greeting new residents at the door wearing Columbia University t-shirts that said Office of Residential Services on the front. It still felt weird to be back at school.
After I checked myself in, one of the students wearing the Office of Residential Services t-shirts came over with a giant yellow bin and asked me if I would like help bringing my stuff up to my apartment. I happily accepted, tossed all of my stuff into the yellow bin, and we rolled it to the elevator together.
“What floor?” the student asked.
“Sixteen,” I replied.
When the elevator doors opened, we followed the numbers all the way to the end of the hall until we reached my assigned apartment. I opened the door, rolled the yellow bin inside, and started unloading my stuff. At about 300 square feet, there was hardly any room to walk with all of my possessions piled up in the middle. There were two large windows at the far end of the room that offered a beautiful view of a nearby church and neighborhood park. There was something charming about this apartment even though it was tiny and 3000 miles away from my husband, friends, and community. I was excited, scared, nervous, and lonely all at the same time.
So this is what it feels like to live alone, I thought to myself.
The Ups and Downs of Living Alone
At first, living alone was exhilarating. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I stayed up late binge-watching Schitt’s Creek. I worked on creative projects for hours on end with no interruption. I covered every surface of my tiny apartment with string lights, plants, and #AllTheCrystals. It was a fun and freeing experience.
After a few months, though, I noticed my mood change. I missed my husband, my friends, my home. I developed insomnia for the first time in my life, suffered from constant headaches, and didn’t feel like doing much other than work.
A Therapist’s Take
“A recent study concluded that living alone is linked to common mental disorders,” said Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFTP, and Virginia/Texas-based Talkspace therapist. “Although many of us might experience one of these disorders at any point in life, be it depression, anxiety, or any other,” Catchings added, “living alone exacerbates the disorder, putting the person in greater danger.”
There are times when Catchings finds it’s beneficial for someone to live alone, such as if their current situation is toxic. No matter the circumstance, Catchings reiterates that feeling happy and having a strong support system is important for anyone living alone.
Warning Signs to Watch For
If you start to lose interest in doing things that used to make you happy, it might be a signal that living alone is not good for your mental health. Here are a few other warning signs to look out for, according to Catchings:
- Mood changes
- Avoiding others
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Crying spells
- Need to talk to others more frequently than usual
Finding A Happy Medium
Two months ago, my husband made the 3000 mile cross-country move to join me in New York City and we moved into a new apartment together. At 600 square feet, double the size of my last apartment, things feel delightfully roomy. Even though there is not a single drawer for silverware or countertop space large enough for a cutting board, I am enjoying having my husband here to share in these laughter-filled discoveries.
What I learned from my 8 months of living alone is that I’m more introverted than I thought. I do enjoy regular me-time to rest and recharge. Being able to communicate these needs to my husband has strengthened our relationship as a whole. “You need to know yourself and your roommate to be able to share a space and to set boundaries,” Catchings said.
Catchings recommends partners or roommates seek the help of a therapist together to create the most supportive living situation for both parties. “A professional does not only help couples or roommates during rough times,” she shared. “The therapist can assist you to find the perfect middle to create your own space before issues arise.”
While I am still getting back into the swing of cohabiting — no more eating dinners at the computer or waiting three days to do the dishes — it’s been fun having the companionship of my husband again. This time around, I am more conscious of giving each other the space that we need. Love doesn’t mean you have to do everything together.