by Elizabeth Drucker
Medically Reviewed by:
Bethany Juby, PsyD
by Elizabeth Drucker
Medically Reviewed by:
Bethany Juby, PsyD
Deciding to live alone, despite my mental health condition, has brought its challenges. But I wouldn’t trade them for the confidence and independence I’ve gained.
After finishing college, my friends were ready to move on to the next stage of their lives. Being done with living in dorms and sharing off-campus apartments with friends, one by one, they leased their own apartments.
Some of them were lucky enough to score stellar, well-paying jobs that allowed for posh apartments. Others took the next step in college relationships and moved in with their partners or even got married.
Meanwhile, I was going in and out of severe depression. I didn’t know if I would ever live alone. And it was a fear that rattled my bones and scared me out of my mind.
As much as my mother is like a best friend to me, I wanted to live alone. I wanted a key to an apartment that was all my own. I wanted to load my refrigerator with the Healthy Choice frozen dinners I shove down my throat, even though they’re probably loaded with sodium.
I wanted what everyone else had.
But with my frequent depressive episodes, my psychiatrist was unsure about how I would fare living away from my mother’s watchful eye. A psychotherapist herself, she was in touch with my psychiatrist when she worried about me. She knew when I wasn’t eating or bathing or choking down the capsules and tablets that were supposed to fix my depression.
Everyone worried about letting me live on my own. My mom was worried that she would get a phone call from an Emergency Room one day or night saying that I had overdosed.
But I yearned to live alone. And when my mom re-married, her new husband wasn’t too keen about having me around. Suddenly, there was pressure for me to pack up my belongings and find an apartment for myself.
I didn’t need my mom’s hand holding. I’ve always known how to reach out for help, how to dial 911 and call an ambulance when I felt myself descending into a mental health crisis. And I’ve always known when to reach out to my psychiatrist on the online portal, just when a depressive episode is starting.
I had all the skills. I just had to prove myself to the skeptics who didn’t think that I could live on my own.
The first month of independent living was exhilarating. I’m a slob and it felt refreshing to leave dishes in the sink and leave cardigans and sweatshirts hanging from the chairs at my kitchen table. I could eat when and what I wanted.
And, of course, I had several pill bottles next to my bed. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep without swallowing my psychiatric medications.
I can’t drive because I have a seizure disorder. It was empowering to shuttle myself around the Chicago suburbs in Ubers instead of nodding off in the passenger seat of my mother’s jeep. I was suddenly responsible for so much —and I had to do it all by myself.
I had to set the alarm on my cell phone so I could get to my job on time. I had to see my psychiatrist and go to the adjacent hospital’s outpatient lab to have my medication blood levels checked. I had to nourish myself with groceries.
I was the captain of my own ship.
But things weren’t completely rosy. They never are when you’re dealing with chronic depression. A few months ago, I found myself sinking into a debilitating depression that ultimately led to a hospitalization. I felt like I had failed, that maybe I needed my mother more than I thought. Maybe I wasn’t this independent young woman who was calling all the shots.
Then I met Dr. S. My former psychiatrist had retired and I worried that I would never find someone to help me navigate the highs and lows of my mood disorder. Somehow, I was able to get off her waiting list and in May, I slithered into her office almost entirely out of control.
Dr. S doesn’t live with me, obviously, but she has given me the skills I need to take care of myself without having my mother checking on me every minute.
Dr. S encouraged me to keep track of my moods with a chart and to journal about my depressive episodes. In my many appointments in her office, she’s encouraged me and illuminated the pathway toward mental wellness.
Sometimes she recommends things that don’t exactly thrill me, like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). But at that point in my treatment, my medications had stopped working and the ECT treatments Dr. S prescribed saved my life. She always knows exactly what I need and is a partner in this experiment of living in my own apartment.
I also have a therapist named Lauren, whom I see every week. She has been invaluable in keeping me well, even when she has to recommend that I seek inpatient treatment.
Even though, for the most part, I love living alone, I do get lonely. My friends from college are located all over the country and I only really interact with people on social media.
I’ve tried to make a life for myself that exists outside of depression and mental illness. For example, I’m getting my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in creative nonfiction writing and I’m working on a memoir. Being busy with school and work enables me to push through some of the loneliness I encounter by living alone.
Also, my mom and I talk every night about how I’m feeling, if I’m sleeping enough, etc. I’m living alone in my own space, but I have people in the surrounding suburbs whom I can count on, should I need it.
Holding myself accountable for self-care can be a challenge at times. Some nights, I’m so exhausted and don’t want to take my medications. I have a pill box that reminds me that I need to stay on my meds.
Dr. S encouraged me to journal about my last major mental health crisis so that I can remind myself that it’s essential to stay on my medication. Even missing a single dose can lead to extreme consequences. When I was living at my mom’s house, she would remind me every night that I needed to take my medications.
Now, I have to fill up a glass of water, spread the capsules and tablets on my bed, and get them down — one at a time. I take my meds because the depression is so dark and dangerous that I can hardly stand it. Without my medication, I can be found in the fetal position on my bed, so paralyzed that I can’t even move.
Living alone tests my commitment to my recovery and staying healthy, but it’s something that I have to do. It’s been empowering and transformative to “grow up” and take care of my own needs.
There are people who are on my side, cheering for me, even if they don’t live in the next room down the hall. I have learned when and how to ask for help when I need it.
I never would’ve known that living alone could be this impactful. Knowing that I have the strength and commitment to my health is enough to keep going — even when the going gets tough.
Medically reviewed on January 25, 2024
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