Digital writer Hollie Richardson spent the first lockdown on her own. She writes candidly about her fears over spending a potential second one with flatmates.
“I’m coming back next week!” my flatmate announced in a voice note I sleepily played this morning.
A jolt of excitement and relief woke me up like a shot of caffeine. After living together for two years, she’d jumped on a plane back to Ireland days before lockdown was announced in March. I’ve not seen her in six months and I miss her.
But while I continued to listen to her talk about nerves and anxiety over returning, I started experiencing the same worried feelings in my tummy.
Why am I feeling like this? I consider my flatmate to be a good friend, so surely I should be nothing but happy about her return? What is it that’s making me feel so… uneasy?
I can only put it down to this: the news has made me reflect on everything that’s happened since she left, which is a lot. I’m only just getting used to a ‘new normal’ that I’ve spent shaping over the last six months, and the idea of readjusting to yet more change is exhausting.
For those first few months of lockdown, I was terrified, lonely and riding the coronavirus rollercoaster either on my own or with the pixelated faces of friends, family and colleagues over Zoom. I didn’t touch another human for a very long time. My alcohol (and banana bread) intake increased to the point of concern. I sometimes went to sleep convinced that I’d be calling for an ambulance in the middle of the night.
But, over time, the anxiety eased and lockdown rules became relaxed. I enjoyed having the flat to myself and realised I actually really liked living on my own. I started to personalise the place with plants, photos, furniture and flowers: something I’d never bothered doing before because it was a rented flat.
When social bubbles were allowed, I formed one with a guy I’d been dating – there was no one else in my flat to worry about. I started seeing my friends in beer gardens and in the park, going home feeling knackered from the company instead of lonely. I finally went to visit my family, knowing I wouldn’t have to isolate when I got back. I got into a good rhythm of working, exercising and socialising while living on my own.
Then, a girl took over the room of my other flatmate who had given up her room at the start of the pandemic. It took a while to adjust to living with someone I didn’t really know. Also, I could no longer invite people into the flat, and my social bubble popped.
I actually spent as much time as I could outside of the flat, which now felt small and not like the little lockdown paradise I’d created. I took advantage of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme as a bit of an escape. I also joined a co-working space and a gym, because my living room was no longer my office and Joe Wicks PE lesson space – I have to be conscious of the other person now paying rent to live there (even if she is actually lovely).
Again, I adapted to this way of living, and it’s been working fine. But it’s about to be upturned once more.
What I’ve learned here is that this ‘new normal’ isn’t a stationary state; it’s actually an ongoing process of change that might not stop still for quite a while yet. I’ll never know what’s just around the corner – just take this week’s new lockdown rules – so I just have to go with the flow like everybody else.
That’s why I’ll probably burst into tears as soon as I see my flatmate again. We’ll likely spend about 12 hours talking about everything that’s happened while working through a bottle of wine and sitting on the couch (the new one that I haven’t actually told her about yet). Our new flatmate will probably join us and get to know the person she’s never met before who she now lives with.
Then we’ll go to bed, fight over the shower the next morning, and get on with things the best we can, just like we’ve been doing all this time.