I hear a rustle outside the door of my studio. Who could it be? Another person? I run to my front door filled with anticipation and poke my head out. My building’s caretaker is vacuuming the hallway. She looks up at me expectantly and I chirp out “Bonjour!” as excited as a child in a candy shop. She returns my greeting, staring at me warily. So what if it’s weird – she’s the first person I’ve seen or spoken to face-to-face in almost a week since my solo lockdown began.
France’s mandatory confinement started on March 17th and for many people like myself in Paris, it means living a solitary life. I didn’t have a choice when it came to isolating solo – it was my only option. As the number of coronavirus cases surged from dozens to thousands throughout the country in one month, I understood that the safest, most comfortable place for me was my apartment, even if it meant not seeing other people for weeks, even months on end.
Living through a pandemic lockdown is stressful for anyone.
For me, it takes on an added layer as an American expat far from loved ones, and being solo in my corner of the world.
Time alone is a treasure for some and a punishment for others. As I’ve heard a million times, it’s true – we don’t have to worry about breaking up children’s fights or a partner getting on our nerves. However, after an extended period, the time alone can be daunting, even for introverts.
Connecting in the time of Coronavirus
Thankfully, the Internet provides distraction and a newfound sense of community. If I’m not video conferencing for work or engaging in Zoom apéros, I’m finding new recipes to bake or entertaining myself with TikTok videos. Between the invites for apéros, happy hours, work meetings and house parties (who else has a crazier social calendar now than pre-pandemic?), you would think it’s hard to find time to be lonely.
As much as it helps, video chats are not a replacement for in-person contact. Having face-to-face interaction is something that I took for granted before but crave now. It’s hard to imagine that it could be months before another human touches me – even a simple bise, the French greeting kiss, or tap on the shoulder. The day’s highlight is taking out my trash and being able to say bonjour to my neighbors as we scurry to our respective homes.
Isolating alone for an undetermined amount of time is difficult but not impossible. Once I realized I was far too invested in my neighbor across the street’s balcony lunches and whether his garden was doing well, I decided I needed a morale boost.
Strengthening through solitude
- A routine helps, but be gentle with yourself. By now, I’m sure we’ve all seen the schedules posted online pressuring us to exercise, learn a new language, master a hobby and become a master chef while at the same time managing your mental health during a pandemic. That is not the type of routine I mean. A manageable plan helps create stability in your life, but don’t overwhelm yourself with too many things at once. Taking on tasks one week at a time is a good way to ease yourself into the routine and you can add more once you’re comfortable with your current schedule.
- Engage in a circle wider than your own friends. The ability to meet and engage with new people has changed in our current circumstances, but it’s possible. I know several people making friends with their neighbors during the 8pm open-air salute from Parisian balconies to frontline health workers. Many of my friends look forward to that moment – whether it’s a “Bonne soirée” yelled to the person across the street or an “à demain” ringing out in the courtyard. It’s an uplifting moment to praise those who are keeping us alive and to connect with others.
- Have a few regular check-ins with other people that are alone during this time. When I first realized I’d be alone for the lockdown, my first thought wasn’t unbearable loneliness or boredom. I feared that I would fall ill and no one would know or be able to help me. I decided to institute a check-in system for others who are riding this out solo. We check in with each other frequently to make sure we’re still healthy and also to provide support if needed, even from a distance.
- When all else fails, dance it out. In the middle of the day last week, I heard singing. Loud, off-key, terrible singing ringing out into the hallway of my building. My solo neighbor was having their own karaoke party and from the sounds of it, enjoying it greatly. Dancing and singing, even by yourself, can be a wonderful release to shake off the stress of the situation. If you want a daily dance break with a larger community, check out the Facebook group Les 10 minutes du peuple. Everyday the group votes on songs to play for a virtual dance party at 7:30 pm. If you’re feeling daring, you can even upload the video of yourself dancing to the song.
I’m still learning how to cope with solo lockdown but these simple things provide a valuable lifeline right now. If I had things my way, I wouldn’t be alone but since I am, I can make the best of it. Now if anyone has any tips for how I can leave my solo neighbor a note to start a pandemic pen pal friendship without being creepy, let me know!