I made my way to sit and write in a cafe today out in Le Plateau because I’ve been craving a change in scenery. The walls are a cutting white crisp with old wooden beds laid out in contrast. The lights are dim, though I don’t suppose they are meant to be and if you look close enough, the paint on the walls is beginning to tear ever so slightly. I watch as the barista lines up machines that flood a dark roast into my cup. Plain, simple, black. There’s no nuance to this space, but something about it just feels easy. It’s not trying too hard with clusters of green or arrays of posters and art on the walls. I’m not opposed to colour or character, but today I just needed simple, and this felt quite fitting.
I’ve had a particular conversation with my friend Megan ruminating in my head, one where she mentioned how grateful she is to exist in a quiet space. It struck me then, how accustom I’ve been to living this way as well. Over the years I’ve spent living on my own, I nearly erased the recognition that this hadn’t always been the case. I grew up in a space where screams, banging doors, and holes punched through the walls were nothing more than an average Tuesday. When I moved out of my home at seventeen, I found myself weaving into the mix of student housing, a small bubble of a world where signing a lease with 5 people that you only just met six months prior is the norm.
It always happens in the same way. On a Friday night, you wind up in the trenches of a sweaty nightclub that echos the same top ten chart music you’ve already had on repeat two months ago. In hopes of reviving your otherwise mediocre and blurry night or rather to hide from yet another sleazy guy merging inside of your “friend-dance-circle” to grope your body, you make your way inside of the hidden sanctuary otherwise known as the women’s bathroom.
Here, you’ll often find at least one woman on the floor crying with a swarm of supportive former bathroom-users who keep trying to convince her that he is just not worth her tears! PS: No judgment here – I’ve been that woman many times. You’ll either befriend said woman crying or maybe the one who compliments your hair – if you’re lucky, both. The conversation will escalate from compliments to deep and intimate life tales, and once you’re ready to leave the sanctuary, you insist – no, you promise that you will hang out sometime and become the best of friends.
I have never seen any of those women again in my life but I think of them often, and hope they’re doing well.
You make your way back to the circle of friends that live on your residency floor feeling almost enlightened, but ready to go home because now you have begun to enter inside of the deep-conversations-and-crying–whilst-eating-greasy-food part of the night. This is really where it all happens. The moment you stare into your floormate’s eyes, sobbing and mid-bite of your two-dollar burger:
“I can’t believe we won’t be living on the same floor next year!”
“I know, I was thinking the same thing. Maybe we should just live together!”
You may never see former bathroom women again, but these statements that stem in the night’s closing do in fact have a high rate of follow-through. Although I don’t have any regrets about those decisions and I did happen to forge really close and intimate friendships, I still find the entirety of those four years to be quite bizarre and impractical. As an introverted human sponge, I am pretty selective with how I spend my time, let alone who will live with me. Although I know of many people who can blindly enter into a living situation, I am quite frankly not one of them.
In those years of my life, I didn’t exactly have the privilege to live on my own, but I was also impulsive and emotion-driven. Working a few jobs to pay my rent and tuition while studying full-time didn’t leave much room for further reflection of any kind (at least not until I started therapy). It was only until my housemates left to go back home for the summer of my third year while I stayed back for work that I got the entire apartment to myself.
In those few months, it was as if a new person had emerged, one that was far closer to who I felt I always was. I was lucky to have housemates I loved, and so it didn’t quite make sense why all of a sudden, I felt more free and alive. Looking back now, I understand that it isn’t necessarily who I live with, but rather this need of having a space all to myself. Being a highly sensitive certified-people-pleaser who by nature, absorbs the thoughts, emotions, wants, and needs of all my surroundings, I’m often left overstimulated and with little to no room for myself. Being in a place where I can live on my own, I get to have this quiet sanctuary that is just meant to spend time with me. I have time that I would otherwise not be able to give myself because I’d spend it soaking up everyone else’s energy.
Gone are the days I’d spend having to cry in secret under the covers in hopes that no one would hear me – now I can just cry openly while laying on my living room couch! I don’t have to worry about carrying on a conversation in the morning before I get a chance to drink my cup of coffee because I ran into a housemate leaving the bathroom. To extroverts, none of this will make any sense, but these small moments do make a difference to the level of energy I carry throughout any given day.
My quiet moments are not only meant for recharging but also for recognizing my own thoughts and emotions apart from those of my loved ones. Solitude is my self-care, whether that means hours of daydreaming, going over old conversations in my head, delighting myself in finishing the remainders of my latest read, having a good old ugly-cry session, or putting pen to paper.
Having this space to myself allows me to give back my energy more intentionally. Without it, I feel flooded with a mix of feelings that aren’t my own. Although I’m better able to set boundaries and remain more detached in social settings, there is a limit (varying day-to-day) to how stimulated I can get before I need to be alone again.
I can’t write this without acknowledging the pandemic and the ways in which this part of me has been affected. It’s been an odd mix of the initial frequent and pressurized zoom hangouts, a back and forth of anxiety each time I enter the grocery store, and feeling too alone and isolated against my own will. There is quite a difference between deciding how to utilize and expend your energy and being forced to remain in solitary confinement. The latter has not been ideal, though I am grateful that I am in a far more privileged position than many can say. I love feeling deeply connected to people, and in a time that is marked by separation, I’ve noticed that too much time on my own is also not a great thing.
I find myself rummaging my mind for answers to what an ideal outcome or state of the world would be for me. Instead, I’m left with anxiety of going back to normal again which feels it may become overstimulating, but I am also very sick of myself at this point. In the midst of a great disconnect, I found myself back in the depths of depression. Though this summer has felt more “normal” than we’ve had in quite a while, I did feel this gnawing pressure to connect more, almost to make up for lost time. There was also this strange idea I had to overstimulate myself before the fourth wave leaves me back in confinement.
I’ve been in this stream of preparation for all that may come ahead, but this notion of accumulating connection as if it were as dispensible as coins in a piggy bank will not save me from future discontent or isolation. In a summer that has felt quite chaotic with change, I’ve been in need of quiet again, but this time, disregarding that desire. The reality is, if I need moments of solitude at a time where things are a bit more open, then I need solitude. Forbidding myself of such isn’t going to do much other than make my present life feel more daunting than it is.
I recently stumbled upon Alice Catherine’s post, Time Taken, where she explains, “Even if we currently feel slightly broken and worn down, many of us are so lucky to have something that so many don’t have – time ahead. We have days to look forward to and adventures in the pipeline.” Reading that felt like a wave of relief. It nearly gave me permission to live as I need during the small spans of time when things open up before shutting down again.
I’ve always needed quiet, so why take that out of the equation now? I don’t know what things are going to look like moving forward, but what I can do is continue on my days giving myself what I need so long as I am able to.