“I can really sit with my emotions” When isolating alone helps mental health

Latifa Al-Mohdar from Tower Hamlets talks about being isolated alone and how it has improved her mental health. Pic: Latifa Al-Mohdar

The UK has been in lockdown for almost seven weeks. Many are with family, a partner or friends, but what is it like to be completely alone for such a long time?

Latifa Al-Mohdar from Tower Hamlets talks about her experience of going through lockdown alone and how she uses the time to work on herself.

“Honestly, time has flown by. I think it’s because each day is so similar to the one prior,” she says. “It all kind of blobs together, which makes the time move super quickly.”

She originally didn’t plan on being alone, without her roommate or a friend, but because many of her friends are from continental Europe and left to go home or live in the US or in different parts of London, she ended up staying at home by herself. 

“I actually enjoy being isolated by myself, and I didn’t want to quarantine with someone I wasn’t completely comfortable with,” she says.

While being in lockdown alone for such a long time does have its downsides and challenges, Al-Mohdar remains positive and sees this time as an enlightening and enriching experience that has helped her better herself; overall, her mental health is even better than before. “I take things a little bit more lightly, like for example when I drop something, or slip or whatever I kind of just laugh at myself,” she says. “I feel a bit more light-hearted, whereas in the past I would’ve been a bit harder on myself, and I’m not sure why that is.”

Some days are more challenging than others, and what Al-Mohdar finds particularly challenging is not being able to move freely. “The worst part I’d say is just the lack of movement,” she says. “Both in terms of freedom, like being able to just walk to the coffee shop, because all the coffee shops are closed, but also just in terms of actual physical movement, because I would walk a lot during the day, and now I find myself not walking very much because I’m literally going from bed to table to couch to terrace.” 

Working from home is also something she has had to adjust to over time, as well as not having anyone to talk or complain to directly. “There have been times where I felt a bit of panic, especially when there was something I didn’t understand from work, or I was just overwhelmed with the bombardment of requests,” she says. 

However, the worst part for Al-Mohdar remains not knowing when lockdown will end: “If I had a deadline, I think my mindset would be a little bit different and I maybe wouldn’t see the negative things as darkly as I do.”

Her coping mechanisms to help her keep sane consist of calling her mum, siblings and good friends. “I have a handful of people that I talk to regularly, like daily,” she says. “But then I also have a broader group of people that I talk to maybe on the weekends or whatever to socialise with, so that’s definitely been keeping me sane.”

What has also helped her cope is being able to go outside on her balcony. “The fact that I have a terrace has been saving me,” she says. “If I didn’t have a terrace and I didn’t have somewhere to go outside regularly, I think that would really impact me negatively.”

By journaling every night, she has been able to become more aware of herself and her feelings, and by reading books and watching Netflix series she has been distracting herself when necessary. “I’ve also caught myself talking to myself out loud, especially when I’m cleaning,” she says. “I think it’s just a reflex, being alone for so long, but it feels like a good thing.”

While she is looking forward to “just feeling the energy of other people and friends” again at dinners once this is all over, she is overall grateful for her own personal development throughout this difficult time. “The best part has been being able to work on myself and focus more on myself,” she says. “And as much as I FaceTime people and call and text, I still at the end of the day am completely in solitude, and so I can really sit with my emotions and just be without any inputs, and just feel quite raw with everything; and that’s been the best part.”

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