How To Enjoy Being Alone When Being Alone Scares You
When I was a kid my report cards read “social butterfly, works well with others”, and the description still rings true. I am an extrovert by nature and enjoy social interaction and team settings. EFNP much?. Of course I am also a comedian and DOUBLE of course I am most drawn to improv- most likely because of its collaborative nature. Connecting with other people gives me energy and inspires me to create. The thing is, although I thrive in a group, I am SO utterly terrified of spending time alone...
I'm not sure why time alone frightens me. It might be that I come from a loud, expressive family where privacy was not an option. My mother never closed the door when she went to the washroom unless company was over- a cute little "thing" she continues to this day. Also, the only sport I was ever good at was Synchronized Figure Skating (a real athletic activity and a shining example of my white privilege). Whatever the culprit is, I am a spaniel woman, petrified of being on my own. I shut down. I forget to eat. I become aimless. I take too many showers and waste too much time and spiral into internet vortexes about children who murder other children. No good!
Although solitude has always been difficult for me, I was really struggling in the spring of 2016. This was around the same time that I started to experience public anxiety attacks. Toronto suddenly felt hostile. I found I was neither comfortable alone or with other people. This was an extremely isolating time, and I knew something needed to change. I sought therapy, but the wait-list was long. I tried to avoid social situations, and to get better at being on my own, but had no proper plan in place. In June, my friend texted me about a last-minute theatre gig in Southampton. I would be stage managing a play up north for five weeks- away from my home, work and all of my social networks. I knew I had to say yes.
When this job offer landed at my feet, I knew taking a chance and getting out of my comfort zone could only do me good. I wanted to face my fears, get out of the city and learn to somehow embrace spending time alone. I know not everyone struggling with time alone will suddenly have some magical Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants opportunity befall them like me, but here's how I did it:
1. Move Far Away From Everyone/Everything You Know And Make Sure You Go With FREEDOM Mobile As Your Service Provider*
A change of scenery is great for gaining perspective and doing some much-needed reflecting. If you take away all the familiar crutches (ex. nice boyfriend, friends, cool dog, family, reliable cell-phone service!) you'll be forced to spend time with your own self and sort through your thoughts without day-to-day distractions. Bye bye, wifi, hello long, pensive walks! *It also doesn't hurt if where you're moving to is a lovely cottage-town with beautiful sunsets...
2. Get Back Into Binge Watching... Especially The Shows Your Partners Or Friends Refuse To Watch
I started this gig very close to the release of Season 4 of Orange is the New Black on Netflix- perfect timing! In the first few days of learning to be alone, OITNB was everything to me. This season is chock full of rich, strong female characters who are dealing with their shit- which encouraged me to try and deal with my shit! I've said it once, and I'll say it again, TV can be therapy (see: Bob Ross- The Joys of Painting). But your show doesn't even have to be "good" or therapeutic in any way. Just watch things and do things that you'd normally put off because it's just not everyone else's "thing". F everyone else! Enjoy some ME time! Not only did I binge OITNB season 4 in 3 days, I also got back into music I enjoyed but felt embarrassed to listen to when my roommate was around. PUMP UP THE VOLUME, YEAH!
3. Treat Yourself
In the same vein of #2, take some time to indulge yourself, by yourself. This is something I am not good at when I am on my own. I have somehow trained my brain to think that if I eat a doughnut with friends, it's fine...but if I eat a doughnut alone then I am a sad-eyed lady of the lowlands (but not in the poetic Bob Dylan way- just literally a sad woman from a rough area of town who might have conjunctivitis). But HEY! It's cool to eat bad foods on your own! It's cool to take a soak in a tub every once in awhile! It's cool to spend the entire day masturbating (if that's what you're into- just an example!). It's not wasteful, it's not shameful, it's not selfish, it's HEALING, DAMNIT!
4. Be Okay With Not Having Plans
The Protestant work ethic has been both a blessing and a curse to me. On one hand you feel immense pressure to fill your day with accomplishments and social engagements-and this pressure makes you get shit done! But the other hand wants to soak up the sun and feel the beauty of the here and now! Take some time to just do whatever. Pick some wildflowers for pressing under all those books you'll never read! Take a long walk. Whatever it is, just breathe and BE. And who knows where life can take you when you're obsessed with a fixed, regimented schedule. For instance, I spent hours one night that summer reading about famous humpback whales! What a roller coaster life is! Long live Migaloo!
5. Immerse Yourself In A Project That Demands A Lot Of Your Time
My career is as an actress/comedian/writer/neurotic. My actual job at that time (pre-summer gig) was handing out newspapers outside of subway stations. While I appreciated how stress-free this newsie gig was, I realized that sometimes it's not easy to do something every day that you give zero fucks about- especially when you're not making a ton of money in your CAREER career. When what you're doing for money doesn't matter to you in the slightest, it can be hard to want to show up. Taking on the last minute gig meant working full time at something I actually went to school for and care about. I got back my sense of purpose pretty fast because the job demanded a ton of effort and attention. Sure, stage managing wasn't exactly my dream job, but I was with a fantastic group of people and I took pride in our work. I stopped worrying so much about being alone because I didn't have the time for that anxiety. I was busy creating art with professionals!
6. Take Time To Deal With Hard Stuff
When you're not busy working on your consuming project or indulging yourself, consider why it is that you have trouble being alone in the first place. For me, being alone meant being alone with my thoughts, which I did not feel ready to deal with head-on...so a day alone felt scary AF! I'm still working through things, but now I am at a point where I can be honest about who I am and where I am- whereas before I was avoiding dealing with myself. You have to tackle your baggage in order to move on and be a healthy, happy person. You can't just smile and wag your spaniel tail and hope for a fine-looking tramp to come by and share a pasta noodle with you and make everything better...
7. Move In With A Family With Young Children Who Have No Time For Themselves
So here's the thing- a lot of women are NOT afraid of time alone. A lot of women can't even remember the last time they even had a moment to themselves to pee, let alone make introspective breakthroughs. For example, mothers. I spent half my time up north billited alone in a motel and the other half staying with a family with daughters ages 2 and 5. The dad was fantastic and always present for his kids (who are also great!)- but for some reason these girls wanted mama 24/7. "Mama! Where are you?" "Mama, are you sleeping?" "I want Mama to do it!!!!" There was nothing that made me cherish my time alone more than spending time with someone who was not afforded alone time EVER. To even finish a meal without taking someone else to the bathroom was a luxury for this woman! This poor, strong, creative, wonderful, beautiful woman. Eureka! Perspective! Why was I terrified of time alone when so many women would give anything for just a minute of solitude?
Because I am a spaniel woman, that's why.
Once I got back to reality and out of toddler-land, it became a lot easier for me to embrace time alone. I realized what a privilege it was to have time to myself...and after weeks of self-healing, I finally enjoyed time with myself. The opportunity up north had forced me to confront one of my greatest fears- and I was all the better for it.
Jessica Perkins is a writer, comedian, actress and proud dog owner living in Toronto. She's an alumni of Second City's House Company and is one third of the improv troupe Living Bloodsticks. @perkin_it