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Coronavirus Diaries: ‘This feels different and loneliness is at the fore’

by Jennifer McShane
29th Mar 2020

For this latest Coronavirus Diary, we speak to women who are living alone during the pandemic. To have your own space is something we all crave, but as they told Jennifer McShane, it feels different this time. With most cities on lockdown and no end to restrictions for at least a number of weeks, it’s important that we don’t forget to reach out to those who will be quarantined or cocooning without family members or a partner in their home

“It has been tough adjusting to living by myself in a pandemic”

Eva who is Irish and currently living in New York, one of the most severely affected areas of the pandemic, says the decision to stay or go home was a tough call to make. “I was living with a roommate before but when things started to escalate in New York, he moved back to Ireland. I’m lucky that I am able to work from home and so I’m trying to stick to a routine as much as possible. I have video calls with my friends and family every evening and people have been really great at checking in on me. If anything it has shown me what a great support network I truly have. In particular, there is a great sense of community amongst the other Irish in here in New York, we have all been supporting each other through this.”
It is tough not having anyone there, even just for small talk etc.. Video calls don’t fully make up for that and it can be a lonely time.  At the moment I’m just taking it one day at a time.

“It has been tough knowing whether I’m doing the right thing or not by staying here, everyone is scared and when you are scared you want to be home,” she continued. ” The situation in New York has escalated hugely in recent weeks and it is now the worst-hit place in the US. I  have been here 2 and a half years and my whole life is here. I would love to pack up and stay with my family in Dublin but ultimately my gut is telling me to stay. I would be afraid of travelling back and possibly putting my family members at risk. I’m lucky that I have a stable life in New York and I have access to healthcare, which in the US is probably the most important thing.”

“It feels very isolating now whereas before it was by choice”     

“Now it feels isolating whereas before it felt very much from choice – having escaped miserable marriage four years ago to live in haven levels of peace!,” explains Lisa, who currently lives in the UK. “I’m beginning to feel a little nervous about going out. My asthma is bad and I’m taking steroids so rather than being usually fit and well, playing tennis several hours a week, I’m now totally isolated and physically very still which is very strange. The world getting smaller and stiller. Fewer voices outside even. But daughters and girlfriends are in more contact than usual and actually Zoom partied with a group of women who haven’t got together in four years now in person. So I’m somehow, expanding and contracting in different ways.”

She explains that she has decided to see the positive side to all this by “maximising” her time alone.

“I am a personal development coach and was so always busy – I was abroad for work over 30 weeks last year, mostly in China, the Middle East and the rest of Asia – and I wasn’t practising enough of what I preach. This year 70% of my income has been cancelled already and I have all this time, so I am pretty much reassessing my whole life and business just as I would with a client. Giving me a chance to walk the talk and also to upgrade the ways that I work with others.”

“Not knowing how long this will last is worrying”

Jennifer, who is a freelance journalist based in the UK, also feels a shift in living by herself. “Living alone is something I’m used to, having worked alone from home for the last three years and on several occasions before that, but this feels different and loneliness is at the fore. The uncertainty of when I’ll see family or friends again, go to a gig or go on a date, and simply not knowing how long this will last is worrying too,” she says.  “I’m single, so dating apps are currently futile as it’s one long pen-pal exchange with no chance of meeting. Friends and loved ones are video calling, but it’s not the same, as I’m an extroverted, tactile person and the lack of physical contact wears thin quickly. We all know it’s for the greater good – but I can only hope this lockdown is over sooner rather than later.”

“I’m choosing to live alone during the Covid-19 crisis”

“I am married but choosing to live alone during the Covid-19 crisis in my apartment in Leeds,” Chrissie explains. “I proposed this to my husband who (fortunately) agreed. It’s a second marriage for both of us and we have no children at home. We know ourselves, and each others’, personalities and temperaments very well. I am fiercely independent whereas he craves companionship and family. We are complete opposites in almost every respect. Prior to Covid-19, I used to work away a lot as an international speaker and consultant whilst my husband worked from his apartment, surrounded by family and tenants in the same building.

“But being cooped up in that apartment 24/7 with each other for 3 weeks (and likely more) would definitely have put a strain on our relationship. We would have clashed over the smallest things which would eventually have grown into mountains, irritating and annoying one another to the extent that we would have ended up rowing incessantly and divorcing by the end of it.  Seriously. We know we are not suited to living together, but love one another very much and want our marriage to work.”

Unlike some who will find living alone during the outbreak daunting, she explains that she now as a welcome excuse to embrace life at a quieter and slower pace.

“Living alone is like heaven. Bliss. I’m finding it wonderful. Calm. Stress-free. Quiet. Slow. It’s in complete contrast to the way things were. My life used to be full throttle, incredibly noisy and super busy with a packed social and work schedule often up to 12 months in advance. Understandably, my primary work has fallen off a cliff. The ‘enforced’ slow down made me realise it’s okay to relax a little, nest, curl up and ‘settle in’ to cry along to any amount of comforting chick flicks rather than endure documentaries about wars; the last thing I need to watch at this point in time with coronavirus running rampant throughout the world. And I have the space and peacefulness to pause, reflect, remain positive and think clearly about getting through this crisis.

“My husband and I video WhatsApp every day, at least once (if not more), and are living a ‘virtual remote marriage’. It’s working fabulously. For all the obvious and terrible negative aspects surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak, there are positives. We are very fortunate in that we are able to have this (temporary) living arrangement. Change what you can, and manage what you can’t. We made the right choice. At least, I think we did!”

Main photograph: Unsplash

Read more: Coronavirus Diaries: The Dublin writer who’s ‘sheltering in place’ in an eerily still New York

Read more: Coronavirus Diaries: ‘My Dad has vascular dementia. Covid-19 is a challenge we had not expected’

Read more: Coronavirus Diaries: The 38-year-old with chronic fatigue syndrome who’s housebound in Dublin

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