How do I cope with living alone?
September 10, 2013 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Every period in my adult life where I've lived alone has coincided with moderate-severe depressive episodes. I'm being laid off and am facing 6 more months of living alone... how do I cope? More questions and more details inside.

I'm a guy who, despite being a bit of an introvert, has never been able to cope too well with living alone. Each time I've had to live alone, it's coincided with depression. Incidentally, I currently live alone and am being treated for depression (meds + therapist). To make matters worse, I recently discovered that I'll be laid off; I was given an estimate of 2-6 weeks until my last day. The lay off isn't entirely unexpected and I do not plan on searching for a new job right away (travel is planned). Understandably, this has made me very anxious about all of the time I'll be spending alone.

Right now, my partner spends a great deal of time with me so I'm rarely alone, but this will not be possible in the near future (due to his own traveling plans). I also have a strong network of friends, but I only see them every other week or so as it requires advanced planning to hang out. This means I'll be spending the majority of my time alone. That said, how can I prepare for and cope with the new physical loneliness I will undoubtedly encounter?

Another concern is the vast amounts of time I'll suddenly find myself with. Currently, I spend my time reading, drawing, going on walks or hikes, cooking, and watching tv (documentaries, anime, ect.), but I could really use some more budget-friendly suggestions, as these don't really seem like enough. I'm worried that I won't keep myself busy enough to prevent negative rumination, which is a huge problem for me. What are some budget-friendly solo hobbies that can help me pass the time? I've already taken some free online college courses and plan to take more, but I'd like something to do outside of academia. Some additional resources at my disposal include a reliable car and proximity to a major city.

Finally, a subject that concerns both of the aforementioned subjects has also weighed heavily on my mind. My doctor has suggested I acquire a (psychiatric service) dog. I love pets and have been wanting one for years. However, I haven't really 'owned' a dog since childhood and the thought of being responsible for another being for 12+ years is completely overwhelming to me. I am worried I am not strong enough or prepared enough to have the equivalent of a toddler following me around. My partner suggested adopting an older cat, but I feel it would encourage me to stay indoors (negative), whereas a dog would encourage me to go outdoors (positive). I also feel like being laid off would be the perfect time to acquire and train a dog. But I can't tell if my fear of being alone is coloring my judgement there. I'm worried whatever choice I make will end up being the wrong one. Is there anything I can do to better help me make this kind of decision?
posted by stubbehtail to Human Relations (17 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Don't worry yourself into creating a self-fullfilled prophesy. The depression could be a cause of, or a symptom of, or have nothing to do with the depression you suffered.

Make two lists of goals. Things you have to do, and things you want to do. Break them out into subtasks so you can accomplish things and cross them off the list. And then have a different mindset for each list. The things you have to do don't have to be enjoyable or fun, they are just things you have to get out of the way. Don't look for fullment in laundry or washing the dishes, because any fulfillment you get from it will be temporary, and when it is gone, so will your motivation to do those tasks. And for your want to goals, make them fun, make them lead to something.

This is the biggest thing that helps this kind unfocused depression. Having a plan and something to look forward to. Don't look for things just to pass the time; that's depressing. Have things to do. Even if some of those things are siting around and watching TV or taking a daytime nap. Instead, look for things that interest you.

Don't get a pet unless you want one. Your doctor might have the best of intentions, and might even be right, but unless you are really positive on the idea, don't do it.
posted by gjc at 4:08 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not usually a good time to get a pet right before travel plans, so that one might not be your best solution. I don't find cats keep you indoors, just fyi. It's not like you will want to stay inside just to watch your cat sleep on the windowsill for 8 hours at a time.

Instead of budget solo activities, you should be investing time researching budget group activities. It'll take up time and solve the loneliness problem. Team sports, aim for a more fun then competitive league, are perfect as they also involve a lot off off time hanging out. It also has scheduled times and just enough peer pressure to get you to go, but not enough to overwhelm.

See if you can find a table top boardgame group to join, or D&D if that's your style. There's game to play when the conversation lulls, so it's a lot easier to deal with a group and meeting people.
posted by Dynex at 4:09 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is there an ASPCA or a vet's office where you could volunteer for a bit? That would give you some good doggy-time without having to take on the responsibility of a full-time dog. It would also fill the gap left where the job was.
posted by xingcat at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I've been unemployed. I've also been depressed.

I would find a passion that allows you to create stuff and feel fulfilled. Sitting around watching seasons of shows is pretty passive and might make you feel pathetic. But if you start writing about a subject you love/getting involved with that community, or start dedicating time into playing an instrument/writing songs/recording songs, taking up photography and going on excursions to take great photos/learn new techniques, learning how to build a website (if you have no coding skills, try Wordpress) that make turn into something and keep you busy, etc., I think you will feel like you're getting something out of your time unemployed rather than wasting it. You'll want to have something to show for your time. Even going to the gym everyday, now that you have no excuse not to, will make you feel good. Maybe you need more social goal-oriented activities. Take a karate class or a painting class or photography classes or wine-tasting classes something. I'm sure there are plenty of adult community education classes in your area. Volunteer at a shelter or with a community beautification program.

I have been unemployed and felt like a loser and it's when I wasn't doing anything with it. It's easy to isolate yourself and not do anything and sit around in pajamas all day. The last time I was unemployed, I didn't feel like a loser -- I loved it. I took a new hobby writing about something I love. Slowly I've been able to work my way up in this field and I'm getting paid to interview people and write about something and it got started because I poured myself into it when I was unemployed. I was never great at following this advice, but I'd encourage you to still wake up and shower and get dressed like you used to when you actually had somewhere to go for work, and still make a point to leave the house and do something.

There will be days where you'll think, "Man, I need a job." Or "man, I need human contact." Or "man, I need a reason to leave the house." Or, hell, "man, I need a reason to get out of bed in the morning." I think you can accept there may be days like this if they happen, and move on. Don't fret about it. Don't let it define this entire experience and prevent you from doing something with it. One day does not a life make. And stop telling yourself you will automatically get depressed because you will be unemployed and living alone -- that sort of thinking doesn't help. See this as an opportunity and a bunch of new possibilities for you. (And make sure you filed for unemployment -- free money puts the fun in funemployment.)
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:23 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where are you? I'm an introvert, prone to depression (and suicidal ideation) and I experience anxiety when I'm on my own for too long. I work from home, with people online, so I don't have an office to go to. I live with my best friend and that helps, but he's gone quite often. We can't have pets. How I cope is that we live in a thriving urban area. I live in a neighborhood where every day just by opening my windows I can hear the sounds of all the people around me, and on the weekends there's a big wonderful crafts fair and market that's only a block away. That fills me up on my people needs. The thing that makes me feel weird compared to other introverts is that I love crowds. I love to be in them. Going to a sports event, wandering through a market, sitting in a very crowded coffee shop - these are all things I can do by myself, but I get lots of people-time. The trick for me is that I have to live in an area where this is easy to achieve. The times when I've lived in the suburbs (I don't drive) I've gone off the rails.

So my advice to you is to see how much time you can spend among other people. Not with them, but just among them. If you are in an isolated area, plan a few day trips to a city. Read in a crowded cafe, go to the big library, draw a view from a park, you could even visit an animal shelter, maybe in preparation of getting a dog after your travel plans, just to get used to being around animals. To stay on budget, use cash. Budget out your day and bring only that much in cash, and don't use anything else. If you're in an urban area already, make a point of getting out every day. Don't look at going and doing stuff as chores. Look at them like opportunities to engage with your neighborhood, with the people around you, in a non-invasive way.
posted by Mizu at 4:26 PM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

What about fostering a dog?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:53 PM on September 10, 2013


I'm serious.

When you run for long enough and hard enough for it to take the piss out of you, it becomes impossible to be lonely. It works wonders for anxiety, which often has its physical origins in inactivity. It's the perfect antidote to rumination.

I've been where you are and I know that the hardest part is starting.

But it's inexpensive, it can take you places, and it works.
posted by rhombus at 5:03 PM on September 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

I was going to suggest fostering some kittens. They are very cute, they need a moderate amount of care and you give them back to the agency in a few weeks when they are old enough to be adopted.
posted by metahawk at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2013

1. Exercise
2. Write down a daily goal. Every day.
3. Start a 'gratuity list'. A little bit like a diary, but a daily list of things you're grateful for.
5. Volunteer!
posted by matty at 5:17 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

You have my complete sympathy. I am an introvert and I struggle with connecting, but living alone makes me depressed.

Something I notice from your question - you are concerned about how you will cope with loneliness, and you ask about solo hobbies. Why not explore some group activities? Look at meetup and at free or inexpensive classes in your area.

Try different things and notice what settings make you feel most comfortable and satisfied. A drinking group might involve a lot of talking and unstructured interaction, Toastmasters would involve mostly structured talking. An art class usually has several people sitting quietly together each working on their own projects and not talking much.

You could also try going to your local library or coffee shop to read or write - this is pretty low-key and allows you to be around people without necessarily talking. Volunteering is another way to connect in a variety of settings.

As you do this consider the overall balance - see what combination of activity and interaction works best for you. Also, be assertive about setting up future time with friends.

As for dog vs cat - maybe visit a shelter with NO intent to buy and just pet a few different animals and see if you gravitate to any particular one.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 PM on September 10, 2013

How committed are you to your current living situation? I don't advocate getting roommates and trying to turn them into insta-friends, but many shared housing situations tend to be more like cooperative living/dorm life just due to the personalities of the people involved. Many of my friends have lived in shared houses or apartments like these where, although the tenants start out as strangers (usually friends of friends or just found on Craigslist), they end up cooking dinner together, throwing parties, or even just hanging out in the living room together typically. It doesn't mean you'll have friends around 24/7 but it might take the edge off of literally being alone all the time at home.
posted by telegraph at 5:35 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

The year after I graduated from college, I joined a co-op house, but not as a resident. I was a "quarter boarder"—I paid a quarter of the board cost and did some chores, and got a quarter of the meals (which basically worked out to dinner five nights a week). This was fantastic. Even when I didn't feel like talking that much, I was still at a communal meal, and got to listen to others' conversations, and the chores I took were usually cooking and breadmaking, activities which I enjoyed.

If there are any co-op houses in your area, could you investigate a similar arrangement?
posted by ocherdraco at 5:43 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Introvert here with a strong tendency towards solo activities. Different reasons to yours, but I decided I need to start meeting more people as many friends live interstate/further away/less ability to do things without prior planning etc. I agree with seeking out free group activities, or low cost ones.

I joined a local choir which is just enough people interaction for it to energise me, and not so much that I start making up excuses not to go because of being peopled-out. I've also just gone to a queer stitch & bitch which happens twice a month - this was really useful because it helps me feel more connected to the queer community (I am not the only gay in the village) and also I could just focus on the craft when I wanted to back off the interaction a bit. Companionable without being overwhelming. But yeah, you need to look at your interests - many of the suggestions above are good, I just thought I'd throw in a couple more. Book clubs, bushwalking groups, cooking classes, a sci-fi group where you can talk about the TV shows you like (I picked sci-fi because it seems to be a thing, not sure if there would be for other genres). Try to use your interests to connect you to other people rather than isolate you from them.

Also definitely volunteering. You are doing something useful, developing skills, looks good on your CV for the next job you go for, working with people, gives you a reason to get up, showered and doing things, etc. It's a good chance to try something outside your normal comfort zone or do something your normal occupation doesn't let you do (eg work outside when normally you do office jobs).
posted by Athanassiel at 7:41 PM on September 10, 2013

On the topic of pets - and since you mentioned "budget friendly" - be aware that vet bills can get VERY expensive. We had a dog which had two separate $1500+ operations, in addition to countless followup vet visits, medications, etc.
posted by see_change at 2:19 AM on September 11, 2013

Now is not a good time for you to adopt a pet.

So after you return from your travels, set up a little routine for yourself.

1. Walk or go to the gym.

2. Breakfast, shower, get dressed.

3. Spend X hours searching for and applying to new jobs.

4. Lunch

5. Volunteer work.

6. Dinner

7. Games, computer for leisure, TV, Hang with friends, etc.

None of this is budget busting and it will focus you on external stuff. Living alone doesn't mean being alone. Interaction with other folks is KEY to being a happy solitary.

Do rotating pot luck with your friends. Every Wednesday, my girlfriends and I would take turns cooking a meal and hanging out together watching TV. Every Sunday, we'd meet for Pizza and X-files at Sharon's house. We'd usually meet for happy hour on Fridays. So...not alone!

Take a class that will add to your job skills. You can do that one evening a week. I recommend a tutorial in, but I'm partial. Advanced Excel is good, or an MBA. You get the idea.

You need to build in activities and accomplishments into your time between jobs. Then you can talk about it during your interviews. "I took a bit of a sabbatical, I traveled, volunteered at the animal shelter, took some classes, just recharging my batteries. I really feel that this has been an invigorating experience and I'm ready to get back in the job market."

You have a great gift being given to you. You can use it wisely, or squander it. Your choice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:10 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I read your question, I feel like you really want a pet but you're afraid, and your fear is making up reasons why you shouldn't do it. I think a pet would be a really good thing for you, actually, whether or not the pet takes you outside. And if you feel overwhelmed by the thought of a new puppy, you might consider ...

- an older dog (see this list for reasons why -- they're far less demanding than puppies, and they often have trouble getting adopted)
- an older cat (for similar reasons)
- a pet rat (they're very affectionate and not so demanding as a larger animal)

Most of all, though, I think you'll be surprised at your capacity to take care of an animal. I also think that a companion animal is a really, really good thing -- they can be incredibly loving and amazingly good listeners.

I also wonder -- have you considered taking a class or joining some sort of hobby group? Any regularly scheduled activity to get you out of the house would probably be a good thing.
posted by ourobouros at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2013

Get a pen pal: From what I've heard, prison is so boring that prisoners love mail and will write basically anyone.
posted by aniola at 6:49 PM on May 24, 2014

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