Surviving a pandemic alone is powerful, not pitiful | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 25, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 25, 2021

Surviving a pandemic alone is powerful, not pitiful

During a global pandemic, living alone may sound terrifying to some and liberating to others. I would say there is no straightforward answer. It can certainly get overwhelming at times, but I have found it can also be beautiful, courageous and empowering.

I have been living on my own for quite some time now and have been facing a lot of the challenges associated with living alone as a single woman in a patriarchal society. Still, things were different until the pandemic hit, as I used to be at work during the week. Besides the regular tasks of living alone and working full time, the additional responsibilities that come with being safe in this pandemic were humongous. However, they made me even more resourceful, self-sufficient and resilient. There were times I felt lonely, but I simply considered that as a part of the experience through which I had to navigate the pandemic.

 

The highs

Staying away from workplace toxicity and politics helped me to be in a better mental state and to develop a better routine with a focus on my needs. The emotional eating that results from the stress of workplace drama was not there, resulting in significant progress toward my health goals.

One day, after speaking with a friend, I learned that his favourite pastime, dancing, was largely on hold due to the pandemic, but he had picked up a new hobby instead—painting. This inspired me to buy my first ever ukulele, something that I always wanted to learn to play. I started learning the western music notations for the first time with the help of a musician friend who happily agreed to give me lessons online.

 

The challenges

In the times of coronavirus, I need to be extra cautious while living alone in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, since most people here generally do not think about the unconventional challenges solo dwellers might be facing. I know that I cannot afford to get Covid-19, as I can hardly expect any help from anyone if I fall ill.

Living alone definitely became a lot more challenging during the pandemic, in this society where almost everyone lives with someone. As a result, the system only considers the challenges faced in communal/family spaces, ignoring the unique psychological, emotional, socio-cultural, economic, structural and systemic challenges of living alone in a pandemic. Finding reliable online stores, ordering online and getting home deliveries might sound simple, but is quite complex. Online platforms are relatively new in this country, and there are many problems with that system.

For a major period, I was imprisoned in my own house, with restrictions imposed on moving out of the apartment complex. The building owners locked the main door and the rooftop, leaving me feeling claustrophobic at times.

Obviously, there is no opportunity to have shared meals or physical contact. "Touch" being one of my primary "love languages", I keep wondering how long someone can survive without in-person contact. The days when I go out to a pharmacy or a grocery store, it is probably a good thing nobody ever asks how I am doing; I do not know if I could resist the temptation to share all that I have kept unspoken. I do not dare ask others how they are doing. Talking to strangers is not at all a norm in this culture. People act even colder/more guarded in the context of a pandemic that is of a contagious nature.

Last but not the least, I could not do partner dancing—something that takes me out of time and space, bringing me into an energetic reality of altered consciousness. I missed the mystery, the fun, the passion and the poetry that is created on the dance floor.

 

Coping mechanisms

When work from home started, it was a completely new thing for me. When I learned about a friend's goal to come out of the pandemic as a healthier, fitter and more disciplined person, I quickly realised the importance of maintaining a routine and holding myself accountable to a healthy lifestyle during Covid-19. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle—eating clean, working out and maintaining meaningful relationships are key, now more than ever.

I feel extremely lucky that my favourite Zumba instructor continued to teach classes online. Not only that, but all my instructors who are based in faraway lands started to offer classes online. That gave me the opportunity to continue classes that I once attended in person, with teachers that I admired. One hour of Zumba is one happy hour in a day.

Whether dancing with a group of people or dancing on my own in the kitchen—dance makes me feel happy to be alive. My morning rituals include meditating, listening to upbeat music and sitting in the sun. The sun that falls on my skin and the wind that touches my hair reminds me to be grateful for life. Often, I touch an egg or an onion to feel their texture, to feel alive. Having an attitude of gratitude helps me to survive. I am grateful to the people who speak to me about things other than Covid-19; talking about Covid-19 has become the new perfunctory conversation. I am also grateful for those people from all different time zones who work hard to find time to video chat with me. These moments of connection, though distant, are the best gifts possible.

Instead of counting the numbers of people infected and dead, I try to keep myself busy counting my blessings.

I do whatever it takes to nourish and nurture myself, without judgment. At times, it means listening to the same song repeatedly, and other times it means changing the songs way too many times. I sing out loud, not needing perfection or an audience to enjoy my singing. I realised that I have been given the gift of music to feel joyful, and I can sing and wash dishes at the same time.

 

The lessons

Quite often in our daily lives, we race around and fill our days with one activity after another, as activity is thought to be good, and lack of it bad. We forget to sit still, to contemplate clouds or stars, or to pet an animal. In the pandemic, I learned the art of stillness and discovered the energy that comes from sitting still. I learned the importance of setting aside time to do "nothing" and not feel guilty about being "unproductive".

Surviving a pandemic all by myself has also taught me about minimalism. For many months, I only bought the necessities—groceries and medicine. The pandemic keeps reminding me about Memento Mori (remember that you die) and makes me remember repeatedly the dispensability of material things.

Something that never really made complete sense to me in the past, started making sense—while living alone during the pandemic with no physical contact with other human beings, I understood why my yoga teacher used to teach us to kiss our feet and hands and say to ourselves "I love me."

The pandemic has helped me connect with the people who matter. I reach out to check in on people. I try to be "present" when they share their feelings. Talking to others also helps me put things in perspective. The pandemic has created an opportunity to unveil ourselves to others and appreciate the beauty of rawness. Even the most reserved people have become courageous enough to be vulnerable and to have honest conversations with others. Those to me are the most magical and precious moments during a very difficult pandemic.

 

Faria Rashid is a freelance writer and human rights activist.

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