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Living By Yourself or Living With Yourself

My parrot, Pearl, is 18 years old this year. He still cries when he wants to be cuddled, especially if I don’t drop what I’m doing fast enough for his liking. He isn’t shy about his constant need for social companionship and his company is a salve for my soul on all days, and especially on lonely days.

From the time I was a little girl, I have craved alone-time. I was a natural introvert who lived in an active household and my mom was a full-time mom. We pretty much had something to do every hour of every day.

While this was a credit to my mom’s parenting work ethic, the few truly spacious hours that came my way were often uncomfortable as a result.

I knew they could be interrupted at any moment, so it was awfully hard to relax into that time for myself. Plus, I honestly just wasn’t sure what to do with myself when I actually had nothing to do.

Once my eating disorder began to unfold in earnest (around age 11) I didn’t have to worry about being unoccupied….pretty much ever again. Every free mental and physical moment was taken up by the eating disorder voice, with its ceaseless stream of instructions and criticisms.

In other words, I was alone yet never alone. And I suppose this was what masked my deep-seated social anxiety for so many years. 

Today, I look back and see so much progress. For many years even after college, I put up with truly sub-par living situations just so I wouldn’t have to live alone in my own place.

To be honest, although I very much wanted to be on my own, I was afraid I wouldn’t survive my own company. No matter how mean or combative my relationships with my housemates might become, it was still preferable to the outside chance I might not make it through the night.

About a decade ago, I finally made a break for it and did the deed – I took a place by myself. At first my alone-time coping skills mostly included drinking and panicking (not necessarily in that order).

Later, I got better at living with myself – to the point where I began to recall how I used to treasure and look forward to my rare alone-moments as a child. In those days, I didn’t yet have a voice inside my head telling me that I was alone because no one liked me, because I was fat and ugly and socially awkward, because I was mean and selfish, because no one wanted my company.

In the post-eating disorder recovery years, I got very busy doing all the things I had had to put off due to my illness. I made two music CDs of my original songs, wrote a book, launched a nonprofit, worked more part-time jobs than I have fingers and toes to count, began a career as a public speaker, launched a blog and wrote another book….I was really full-on tackling my bucket list and mostly happy doing so.

And then one day not even a year ago I woke up and realized everything was shifting again. Unexpectedly, my health is requiring more of my attention. So are my parents. Friends are moving away. A beloved partnership is no more. And there isn’t a thing I can do to stop any of it from happening.

Suddenly, I am looking down the barrel of unstructured alone-time once again.

And it is making me very anxious.

This morning during my meditation, I had this aha moment – that there is a real difference between living “by” myself and living “with” myself. The former is really lonely and scary – it is the kind of living I used to do, pretty much all my life until now.

The latter is where I want to be. It is on my bucket list and clearly not yet checked off that list.

My vision and intention is to learn how to live with myself as if I was my own life-partner, best friend, soulmate….because, in truth, I am.

Today’s Takeaway: Can you relate to craving alone-time yet resisting it too? It often seems like our whole world is set up in two’s. Whether a man and a woman, two men, two women or two of any other being, those of us who are singles can tend to feel like a) life has passed us by, b) there is something wrong with us, c) we are waiting for our life to start, d) lonely. How do you relate to your alone moments? Are they precious and treasured, anxiety-producing, take-em-or-leave-em, something else? 

Living By Yourself or Living With Yourself

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2018). Living By Yourself or Living With Yourself. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 May 2018
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