I moved out of home and in almost one year I actually never lived alone. It was a fear I always managed to avoid. I comforted myself saying, “I will never have to live alone, so why should I get used to it?” I even had conversations with my friends who enjoyed alone time by asking them questions like
What does it feel like?
Don’t you get bored?
WHY put yourself through it?
Luckily, my friends loved me and patiently answered my questions.
I was visiting India for my summer break and planned to head to California after a month to “live alone” for 8 weeks. I was supposed to spend most of my days working, working out and travelling over the weekends. But as each day passed, this weird feeling in my stomach started getting worse. I had only experienced it once before when I was at a student exchange in Egypt in 2019. I remember I had preponed my tickets back home because my internship was over and I was homesick. But this time, it felt worse.
I was spending enough time with my family and friends. Eating good food, socializing. Everything was going as planned, but every time I saw my suitcases waiting to be packed, that pain stung me and my eyes would well up. I kept joking about extending my trip but I never acted upon it. I was just 5 days away from leaving and now there was no excuse, I had to start packing! I came back home from a very eventful Saturday and went to sleep with a heavy heart.
The events of the next morning are still a blur. I only remember clenching my stomach, crying and screaming in pain. My parents rushed me to the hospital. I was unable to talk to the doctors, the pain was unbearable. I remember overhearing the doctor tell my father that I cannot fly back in 4 days especially if I am going to live alone there. Those words forced a gush of tears. It was a task to reschedule my tickets. My mother kept asking me to go back after school started.
At that moment, I felt like I was on a plateau in Kashmir. Surrounded by fog on all sides. I could see my immediate three options but not their respective consequences on how it would affect my life. Each one had its pros and cons and would be part of some storyline of my life. If I stayed the whole summer at home in Pune, I would develop my spiritual and social life track. If I went back as scheduled my career track would benefit but maybe my mental health would take a hit. The third option was to leave in 3 weeks, where I would be contributing to each track, just a little. Unable to decide, I took option 3. I would still have to live alone for a month, it seemed like a good bargain. I made my peace with it and as the time to leave came closer, the stinging pain in my stomach was there, but not as strong.
As soon as I landed, somehow, everything was falling into place on its own. As a recent member of the “I Trust the Universe” club, this was very reassuring. Dinner with my friends and jet lag took care of my first night alone. The next morning I woke up, looked at the California sky outside my window and said: “This will be the best day ever”. And the universe took care of me again. My school friend, Saloni, called and asked me to spend a couple of days with her. In the last year, going to Saloni’s house was one of my hacks to avoid living alone. I again felt like I was on a fog-filled mountain. I could go to Saloni’s to fight my jet lag with some love or go back to work and start living alone as planned.
I unpacked my India bags and headed over to Saloni’s. After 4 days of living there, I had maxed out my “recovering from jetlag” excuse at work and had to go back to reality. I went from living in a house with 4 people back to living alone. On my way home, I tightly held a piece of paper in my hand. One page had a to-do list with everything crossed out. On the other side, there were two plans. First, I had planned out my day for the next four weeks until my classes commenced. The second was a table with the goals I set from August to December in each path of life – career, social, personal, travel and so on. Weirdly, there was no pain in my gut, no fear in my mind, and no sad feeling. Maybe it was there, but my trust in things falling in place was even stronger.
The first day, when I came home from work, I felt a little anxious but then it immediately went away because I had a dinner lined up with my family friends.
Over the next couple of days, I went back into a rhythm and followed my plan. I met with my acquaintances at work and the gym. Every time I felt I was alone, something would come up and cover-up. I realized, my fear of living alone was not because of security. I am a black belt in karate who is decently self-aware of her surroundings. The fear was of an extrovert not being able to have enough human interactions in a day. This is when I remembered the conversation I had with my friends who enjoyed alone time. I took up their advice that I had previously dismissed and went to a park with my painting kit. Honestly, I loved the vibe and did not feel weird sitting alone. A friend called to check in on me and asked me what I was doing alone in a park? To be fair, it was quite off-brand for me. I was surprisingly proud when I said I had come on a date with myself. That was probably the first time I said it out loud, but accha laaga. [Yes, I don’t think words in English can define this feeling.]
The first weekend alone, I remember I had 2 human interactions in 3 days. One was the panditji at the mandir who asked me how my India trip was and the other one was when my grocery cashier wanted to know more about my haircut. If this were me a few months back, I would have probably called my parents, cried, run to Saloni’s house or booked my tickets to go visit my sister in Texas.
I felt like I found a switch to my previously unknown zen mode. I didn’t force any meetup plans with my friends, If it works out – good, if it doesn’t – no problem. I went out to eat and shop on my own if no one was free. I went to dance classes and worked out religiously. I switched things up by occasionally running around my block and spending quality time cooking. I shopped at the farmers’ market and had some really interesting conversations with my Uber drivers. This feeling of self-reliance for my happiness was new, but it kept refuelling me to do more. My to-do lists kept getting over and I kept getting ideas for new tasks.
I like this new version of me. My claim of “I’ll never have to live alone again” may or may not come true, but at least now I am prepared for either case. I also realized that it was in a way a luxury for me to have never been alone, to have always been surrounded by people who love me. Becoming accustomed to living alone for a few weeks did not make me a pro, but it filled me with gratitude. I also realized that never having to live alone was a luxury I was awarded that not everyone has. And, that not everyone could be expected to understand the roots of the fear in me.
Being out of my comfort zone for a year has brought out so many new features in me. Every time I cross a new hurdle, it is like a new version of Jagruti is launched. I can’t speak for the people around me, but that’s how I feel from inside. When I was in India, with the extra three weeks, I got some time to do a little thinking. I mapped out how I see myself living 5-7 years from today. A lot of the elements were obvious, given that I am a brown girl in her early 20s. But I liked adding the smaller factors like I am a smoothie freak who runs marathons and is a plant mom. I may not know what the immediate future entails, but the fact that my distant future is so beautiful, I am filled with hope and gratitude. I am filled with hope and gratitude because facing what I thought was my biggest fear made me realize how rewarding it actually is. I think this has been the biggest takeaway of the last year and I am excited to see what else there is to learn and experience. Here’s to more fears to strike off my to-do list…
Originally Published on Enterprise India Fellowship on August 24, 2023