As lockdown extends, my main reminder of a life before gets further and further away. (Image: Tina Tiller)
As lockdown extends, my main reminder of a life before gets further and further away. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Covid-19November 6, 2021

A world of one’s own: Living alone in lockdown

As lockdown extends, my main reminder of a life before gets further and further away. (Image: Tina Tiller)
As lockdown extends, my main reminder of a life before gets further and further away. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Lockdown sucks for everybody, but doing it solo is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, writes Sam Brooks.

Two weeks before lockdown started, I got my nails done ahead of a trip to Wellington. The base coat was sparkling gold, and each nail had a neon green streak from bottom to top. As we enter the 12th week of lockdown in Auckland, the only thing that remains of this indulgence is a centimetre long tip on my left pinky finger.

It’s become my way of keeping track of how much time we’re spending in lockdown, and it feels more real than keeping track of the days, the cases, the vaccination rates. The further that gold slips off my nail, the more time we’ve spent in lockdown. (The chipped nail polish I poorly applied on my other nails, however, is merely a reminder of how much lockdown sucks. One of many.)

Manicures aside, this lockdown couldn’t have been timed worse for me. I was meant to move out of an uninhabitable apartment (hole in the roof from the flat above, completely normal) on a sunny Wednesday morning. Everything was packed, movers were booked, deposit paid. Then there was one community case, and we all know the second act of that story.

Thankfully, I was able to stay with a dear friend for a month of lockdown, and I moved into my new flat towards the end of September, the fifth week of lockdown. For the past month, I’ve lived by myself in a beautiful, high-ceiling, two-room apartment with a lovely view.

But even the loveliest view becomes stale when it’s the only one you ever see.

For about three months before the lockdown, I lived by myself and really enjoyed it. I tried to see people after work every night, and put aside the weekend for myself. I filled my life with appointments, I went out and read in restaurants and wrote in bars like a true stereotype. Essentially, I lived a life that justified living by myself: it was the only time I got to be solely with my own thoughts. When you live by yourself, the home is a place that you choose to invite people into, rather than having to constantly negotiate that space with other people.

It makes you responsible for yourself. If that plate hasn’t been washed or if that coat is still lying on the couch, you know whose job it is to clean it up. It also makes you responsible for setting up the circumstances for you to care for yourself. For example: right now, I am looking at a painting of Tom Holland’s performance of ‘Umbrella’ on Lip-Sync Battle. This is me taking care of myself, because looking at that painting makes me feel good. Your mileage on how good that would make you feel might vary, but that’s why it’s my painting and not yours.

I enjoyed my relationship to my solitude in normal times. But in the midst of lockdown, my relationship to solitude has become a bitter marriage with no pre-nup and no concrete end in sight. I used to live by myself. Now I live alone.

While I might not have a physical human flatmate, I do have an Alexa, two tower fans which I sometimes put wigs on, and my thoughts, which live quite literally rent-free in my head. Without appointments, without seeing my friends all the time, without being able to read and write somewhere else, those thoughts turn into opposing armies, endlessly fighting over a desecrated wasteland.

I can feel my brain rewiring itself, creating new pathways to let the good thoughts through, and shutting off other pathways to block the bad thoughts. I can’t see my friends, so I know that I have to have at least five conversations a day in some form, be it text or video. So I don’t forget the sound of my own voice, I have to hear myself speak for five minutes before noon – easy if I’ve got a morning Zoom, worryingly surreal if I don’t. Every day, I go through my messages and make sure that I’ve checked up on other friends in lockdown, even if it’s just sending them a song or a silly meme. 

Is it the same? God no. But if I can’t have Coke, I’ll take Pepsi.

The view from my daily walk. (Photo: Sam Brooks)

I wish I could say all of the rewiring is good and productive, but it’s not.

My sense of time is completely warped, tied to whether an episode of TV is 22 minutes or 46 minutes long to prove that we’re actually moving forward at all. My memory is erasing blocks of time seemingly at random, like some sort of mercenary Marie Kondo, removing things from my brain that did not bring me joy, and are unlikely to do so upon recall.

For weeks, I’ve only been able to see one of my closest friends through a screen. These times have become important things to anchor my week around, whereas in a normal time, it would be one nice event on a delightfully packed calendar, rather than a rare highlight among the occasional distanced drink behind a church, like an unruly teenager.

When I think of him at the moment, the first image that comes up isn’t any of the lovely times we’ve had together, in the same space, breathing the same air. It’s of his face in front of a white wall, slightly too close to the screen. When I eventually see him in person again, it’ll be hard to shake that image.

We’re at the fulcrum point now, me and my brain. Every morning when I wake up, it’s a toss-up between my brain screaming at me to remind me this isn’t normal and never will be, or my brain lighting up a smoke and going, “Looks like it’s just you and me, babe”. Then I look at my one gold-and-green nail, still hanging on, still a reminder that there was a world before this, and there will be one after this. Once more, I will be living with myself rather than living alone.

A new documentary follows Scribe’s grim past, and looks towards a hopefully brighter future. Image compilation: TVNZ/Tina Tiller

Behind the scenes of Scribe’s new documentary

'We knew that potentially it could be an incomplete or unfinished story arc and that the end of the story might well be Scribe's vanished again.'
Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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