“Hi. I just wanted to say sorry if it was hard living with me…”
I sent that message to all my past flatmates. I explained that I’ve reflected and realised I probably wasn’t the easiest person to live with. When I was confident and open and vibrant, it was breezy. But often I’d get into a funk, withdraw, or obsess over keeping the flat impeccably organised. I had unfair expectations. I found it hard bringing up issues. I hid in my room if I couldn’t bring myself to socialise.
Basically, I had anxiety. I was introverted. I was sensitive.
A recipe for flatsharing hell. For me and for them.
From the age of 18, to a decade later when I went off travelling the world, I lived in dozens of share houses. Some of them were friends or acquaintances, and others were strangers found on flatshare websites.
But what they all had in common was me. Me and my moods.
Truth is, living with anyone when you’re figuring out your life isn’t easy.
Living with people when you’re trying to figure out your life AND are experiencing mental illness is ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY UNBELIEVABLY DEVASTATINGLY DIFFICULT.
It can be tortuous.
You panic that people will be there when you arrive home. Maybe they’ll have guests over, and you’ll have to smile and be socially polite before disappearing to your room.
You worry that your sleep will be disturbed by housemates coming in late and banging doors. Or worse, turning on music and having a party.
You fret that your flatmate’s sour mood is because of you. Something you said or did that upset them. (When deep down you know it’s more likely nothing to do with you).
You wish you had the money to get your own place, your own space. Where you can be safe from the world and escape awkward social situations. Where you can curl up on the couch with a cuppa (and maybe a cat) and know you won’t be disturbed. Or worse, be forced to make small talk through gritted teeth and a fake smile.
When you’re anxious, or an introvert (or both), you crave your privacy. Having your own home helps you relax and unwind. You know it’ll be the same as how you left it. And there’ll be no strangers in the kitchen or late-night parties, unless you want there to be.
But we don’t always get that luxury. Especially in our teens and 20s when we’re just starting out in the world or work and can’t afford our own place (especially in the city).
Flatsharing teaches you a lot about yourself. You realise what you need for peace – and what fuels your anxiety. You learn which personality types you gel with – and those you loathe to live with. And you learn survival skills because you have to. You figure out how to politely decline invitations, or ask for a bit of quiet, and eventually you learn how to explain your anxiety to your flatmates so they understand why sometimes you’re just not ‘feeling’ the communal vibe.
And then, one day, you get your own place. Your own space.
Finally, you can create your own little cocoon, your hideaway from the world. A private little den to decorate your way. A cosy nook where you won’t be disturbed. Your own escape hatch, where you don’t have to pretend to be anyone or anything but yourself.
Your light and darkness and everything in between – all your colours, all your moods, all your fears and frowns and heaviness and happiness and celebrations – finally they have a place to play. You splash them all over the walls. You throw them like glitter around every room.
This place, this space, it’s all yours and it’s all you.
I have just finished my flatsharing chapter, and have moved into my very own place with a man I love. It’s been a rough road to here. But I’m excited to finally have my own private space to play and create and cry and hide. I’d love to hear your story about flatsharing when you have anxiety or mental illness. Please feel free to comment below. x