wellness

"It's about more than just loneliness." The unique mental load of going through lockdown alone.

On Sunday night I was woken suddenly by a violent thumping in my chest, followed by a feeling of dread twisting itself into knots in the pit of my stomach.

My first thought was that maybe I was having a heart attack (or my body was reenacting the chest-bursting scene from Alien) but thanks to a general bill of good health, and a dash of common sense, I quickly talked myself out of the idea that I needed to call 000.

As my heart continued to do the Macarena in my chest I was left with a sense of baffling confusion as to why I was shaking, instead of sleeping.

I am not an anxious person by nature, so why now, when I was perfectly safe and tucked away in my locked apartment, was the darkness making me feel like I was stuck in a lift with doors that never opened.

Looking back on that night, as a single person living alone through Sydney’s current COVID-19 lockdown, I know now that it had taken a moment of unconscious panic for my body to acknowledge the thoughts that my mind had been brushing aside during the more forgiving hours of daylight. 

To acknowledge the dragging heaviness that comes with essentially having to survive lockdown alone, knowing that the world is still somewhat spinning around you, and your friends and family are now behind doors where you can no longer be welcomed. 

Knowing that thanks to your own circumstances, and the necessary restrictions that come with each new flare-up of the pandemic, you are the playing piece that is seen to be most easily removed from the game board.

It should go without saying at this stage, with the possible exemption of the team who founded Zoom, that no one is a winner when it comes to living through COVID-19.

But if, like me, you went against everything the rom-coms of our youth warned us against and are currently single and living alone in Sydney, you might be feeling like the road you've been asked to walk is particularly tough.

 Like no real allowances have been made to help ease the way.

“There’s a lot of privilege that comes with being able to live safely alone, but if you are single and living alone in Sydney right now, it’s expected that you’ll take one for the team and carry the mental load alone. No matter how hard things get.” Image: Laura Brodnik Instagram. 

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It has now been three weeks since I saw the face of someone I love in person. 

Three weeks since I hugged a friend, experienced laughter that wasn't filtered through a screen, heard someone call out my name, shared a meal with someone other than my houseplants, or just sat comfortably in silence with another human being.

With high case numbers still being recorded in Sydney, and the lockdown expected to stretch on for many more weeks, the thought of jumping on a plane to see my family in Queensland is one I've banished from my mind for the foreseeable future. 

I'm not sure when I'll be able to touch another human being again, since even the simple act of bumping into someone in a shopping center is now tinged with danger, and as someone with no current intimate partner, the rules clearly state that I have to go it alone.

During that special time of day where Sydney residents collectively feel like they are about to tumble out of a plane sans parachute, otherwise known as the daily 11am presser, New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard recently confirmed that people who don't live with their intimate partner would still be able to visit each other. 

He reasoned that it was important to "strike a balance of compassion and common sense", saying that it was inhumane to expect people in relationships to experience that level of physical or emotional loss. 

In almost the same breath he doubled down once again on the idea that a singles "social bubble" policy —  much like the one finally implemented during Melbourne's difficult and extensive lockdown — would not be granted. That, at least for the foreseeable future, there is no legal way that single people can nominate a friend or family member to spend time with in their homes. 

"With high case numbers still being recorded in Sydney, and the lockdown expected to stretch on for many more weeks, the thought of jumping on a plane to see my family in Queensland is one I've banished from my mind for the foreseeable future." Source: Getty.

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It has to be said that there's a certain level of privilege that comes with being able to live and isolate alone in the face of a global health pandemic, to have the means and physical ability to lock yourself away in a safe space.

However, on the flip side of that privilege, lies a nagging sense of resentment that single people don't qualify for these dollops of compassion the powers that be have handed out.

And, as a friend who is also single and living alone through lockdown so eloquently said to me this week " if I was still grinding on that fuck boy from the gym who microwaved his wet socks to dry them then HE could legally come to my house whenever we wanted. But I still can't have just a friend over when I need support."

Every person's experience with this is different, but for me, the waves of loneliness can be somewhat kept at bay with endless texts, phone calls, and video chats with loved ones.

(And an unhealthy amount of TV where I enjoy watching fictional people who are going through a worse time than I am). 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.


What never does go away is the mental load of navigating through a crisis alone, knowing that many of the safeguards you normally have in place to help you through the rocky times have all been stripped away.

For some single people, their mental load is hinged on financial stress and keeping a roof over their heads, for others it could be navigating the safest way to get groceries or access medical care.

For me, the smallest moments of distress have been the ones where I wish I could call a friend off the bench to help me out, just for an hour. 

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Just to have a second set of hands and eyes and another voice in the room when my car battery died, when a mysterious internet outage lost me a day of work, when the lockdown was officially extended by two weeks and I did yet another set of mental gymnastics figuring out how to survive it alone.

The crux of the pain is that if you're part of a couple, then you shouldn't be expected to bear the burden of walking this path alone. But if you're single, it's just expected that you'll effectively 'take one for the team' and forgo all human contact, with the exception of a socially distanced walk around a park, for as long as it takes. 

There's no competition about who is doing it toughest in COVID lockdown because unluckily for us, in this case there are more than enough short straws to go around. 

But if you are single and going through lockdown alone, please remember two things:

1. The mental load of being single in lockdown is far easier to deal with than texting a shitty ex, staying in a harmful relationship, or flirting with random guys in your building just so one of them is legally allowed to enter your apartment and put together your new IKEA desk.

2. You are strong and this too shall pass. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty/ Laura Brodnik Instagram. 

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