During these unprecedented times, everyone seems to be comparing their personal experiences of lockdown life. Phrases like ‘how’s quarantine going?’ have taken over our conversations with friends and family as a way of checking in, but mainly because we don’t really have anything else to talk about. For many people, this is the first time experiencing a quarantined lifestyle; in particular being cut off from friends and loved ones. The same, however, can’t be said for me.
In January 2018, I moved to France for a 6-month placement as part of my year abroad during university. After declining a job offer from a company in Paris upon finding out that it was unpaid (with a café au lait in Paris costing roughly €5.50, no one’s questioning that decision), I hurriedly accepted a job offer to work in St Malo, Brittany, a seasonal town best enjoyed in the rain-free months of July and August. Terrible timing from me but hey – I was desperate! You might be thinking “what kind of isolation occurs in a beautiful French town close to the seaside? What’s she got to complain about?!” – all I have to say is, buckle up.
Although my self-isolation in St Malo was not government ordered, my lifestyle became very similar to the rules we’re abiding by today: I went to work when I had to, I exercised once a day outside, and I didn’t see anyone outside of my household (not that I had the option to, being on the wrong side of the Channel and all). Much like cities such as San Francisco, where curfews have been put in place, I subconsciously created my own curfew. I was back from my exercise by 6pm, showered and eaten by 8pm. This gave me time to watch at least two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy predictably followed by one episode of New Girl (yes, I am intentionally plugging these shows, thank me later). When the weekend came around I would ‘treat myself’ to a glass of wine which, yes, did always end up being a bottle. Picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones, but replace the drunk singing of Jamie O’Neal’s ‘All By Myself’ to drunk giggling watching Mock the Week (again, you’re welcome). Before you know it, Monday would come around and the routine restarted.
I found it incredibly hard to meet people, the obvious route would be through work but they were all mothers of teenage kids. They were incredibly lovely women who made me feel very welcome, but it was like sitting in on my mum’s book club. Don’t get me wrong this is not a negative; who doesn’t love an excuse for friends to get together to eat nibbles and chat about a book that turns out most you haven’t actually read? I just missed talking to those of similar age to myself. Looking back on it now, I have never felt more alone or cut off from my friends and family than I did during those months.
I did have visitors, something up until a week ago we couldn’t benefit from in this lockdown; but I felt this was mainly to boost my morale rather than for their own benefit. A notable visit was that of my grandparents at the time of the 2018 Football World Cup. Both my Grandparents are football mad, so we went to watch the England game in a local bar. Ironically, it was the first time I’d stepped foot in my ‘local’ – my previous efforts thwarted by a lack of confidence whilst being alone. Even whilst sporting a very out of place retro England shirt, my grandad befriended the owner in about 0.2 seconds. One more friend than I had made in the 5 months I had been there…infuriating!
This being said, before you readers leave this pity party that you have unintentionally attended (apologies by the way), there is a huge positive I have gained from my 2018 Malouin life that can be transferred to UK pandemic in 2020. What is this great new skill? The answer is an anticlimactic one; being able to find comfort in being on your own.
How do you do this? Well, as a starting point I dedicated more time into researching the area surrounding me, in the hope of spending less time watching Friends reruns that I had already seen a million times; French Netflix is a dangerous place. I went on long walks and found cute, covey beaches, revisiting my favourites on a weekend equipped with an array of books. I even managed to finish Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, something that should be commended regardless of my situation.
I also took myself out for dinner on regular occasions. I used to think that seeing someone dine alone was sad, but it’s incredibly liberating. No one cares that you’re there alone, seriously, no one is looking at you. The first time I did I took a book with me to put on the table, like a safety blanket, which I only picked up once right at the beginning. For the rest of my meal I people watched to my heart’s content whilst sipping on a lovely French red wine whilst waiting for my entrecôte saignant to arrive. Sophistication at its finest, I know. As the weather improved I started walking to work instead of driving, strolling through Saint Servan amongst the early risers and shop owners, and purposefully passing the bakery Ficelle et Chocolat whose mouth-watering smells of pain and croissants filled the street air. This may be incredibly cliché, but they need a mention as I single-handedly funded the patisserie’s production of croissants almandes during my 6-month stay. I tried to turn the feeling of being alone on its head, and used it as an opportunity to better know myself and change my attitude towards the situation I had found myself in. I mean, who needs mates when you’re in one of the best cider regions of France – practically a home away from home having come from Bristol and growing up on Thatcher’s Gold!
All jokes aside, I became used to my own company: looking after myself, finding and doing things that genuinely interested me and helped my mental wellbeing. I think there are many parallels that can be drawn between my time abroad and the lifestyle changes which this pandemic has inflicted upon so many people. Not being able to go anywhere, do anything, and see anyone is a pain, sure! No one’s doubting that. But for those that have been isolating alone, whether by choice or involuntarily, I just want to say hats off to you. It’s a tough mental battle to overcome, and with lockdown measures easing it’s nice to see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
By Grace Browne
Give this article a rating below!