I have always been very introverted and would sometimes feel lonely, but while living in London I established a small but steady circle of friends who I could meet, one-on-one, for dinner or a hot chocolate. Last year, however, I moved to Vienna, where I knew no one, and the loneliness hit me hard. My office job was the perfect solution as it gave me a healthy dose of human company before allowing me to retreat back into my shell. I even started flirting with someone. Then Covid-19 happened and I found myself stuck in my gloomy flat for weeks.
In London, my landlord was an elderly gentleman who rented out a studio space for extra income. He lived in the same house, so we would meet every day and exchange a few words. It was the most perfect living arrangement. Now, in Austria, I don’t know my landlord or anyone in my building. My flat is an old historic building, very beautiful and double the space for a quarter of the price of what I paid in London. But it faces out on to a courtyard that doesn’t let in much sunlight, and I don’t really see any people when I look out of the window.
When the lockdown rules relaxed and I could go out, I found that I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I became depressed and the simplest tasks suddenly felt terrifying. To avoid the constant feeling of dread, I began to distract myself with DIY plans. I binge-watched YouTube videos about interior design and home makeovers, which I found very soothing.
The grout on the tiles of my kitchen backsplash were mouldy and it had always bothered me. Being at home all the time, I kept staring at them and, one morning, I ended up pulling them off the wall. It wasn’t some fun DIY project, it was more like I felt I couldn’t live with them any longer. It took three days, which made me feel guilty about my lack of dedication to my new job. I would stay up late at night anxiously fretting, which messed up my sleeping schedule. I would spend days with migraines and fatigue, giving me further anxiety over my poor performance. To calm myself, I went deeper down the rabbit hole, obsessing over paint samples. On some days, I was delighted by the small improvements I was making, on others I felt like I was inside a coffin, unable to even take a shower.
I had been going into the office for about six months before we began working from home and was just on the verge of really becoming “one of the team”. When we finally returned after lockdown, I found I was back to square one. All the burgeoning friendships had been put on hold and I had to be reminded of some of the more complex office processes. The guy I had been flirting with now had a girlfriend. I felt like I lost not just the time in quarantine but a lot of the time beforehand as well. Many of my colleagues who have families and gardens have preferred home working – but I think their experience of the pandemic has been very different to mine. It confirmed something I already knew: I need human interaction to function and avoid falling into a spiral of doom.
Jane Knowles is a pseudonym