Montrealers who live alone share stories of pandemic isolation

Throughout the pandemic, the government directives have been clear: stay within your household bubble. But what if your household is made up of just one?

Limited contact with friends and family presents unique challenge for solo dwellers

How Montrealers who live alone are handling pandemic isolation

1 year ago
If you live alone, keeping your contact within your family bubble isn't really an option. 3:43

Throughout the pandemic, the public health directives have been clear: stay in your household bubble.

But what if your household is made up of just one?

This is the challenge facing many Montrealers who live alone and have been keeping friends and family at a government-mandated two-metre distance for the past four months.

'A roller coaster of stress'

Nadia Stevens is self-employed and had to stop working once the confinement began. She described the financial worry and sudden loss of normal social interaction as a "a roller coaster of stress."

It's over 100 days now of no hugs, or no future of hugs.- Nadia Stevens

According to Statistics Canada, four million Canadians live alone, but Stevens says she feels solo dwellers are in "a category of people that have been forgotten."

With much emphasis being put on families who were struggling to work from home and take care of kids full-time, she said awareness about those weathering out the pandemic alone took a back seat.

"It's lonely when everyone you know in your immediate circle still has their job and/or is homeschooling their children," said Stevens. She said having a balcony provided a lifeline to the outside world and she found herself striking up conversations with strangers passing by.

Still, the physical-distancing rules meant keeping normally close friends at arm's length, presenting a unique challenge for those who live alone.

"It's over 100 days now of no hugs, or no future of hugs," she said.

Virtual chats

Haneefa Corbie, a high school teacher in Montreal, returned from a vacation in March just before the province closed non-essential businesses. That meant an unexpected 14-day quarantine alone in her home.

Haneefa Corbie, a high school teacher, said being able to keep up with her students helped her pass the time and feel connected. (CBC)

She said not being able to come and go as normal was a big adjustment, and made the time stuck inside feel longer.

How to fill the hours? Netflix, baking, chatting with friends online.

"I made the banana bread like everyone else did," she joked.

Corbie said interacting with her students, even virtually, was a blessing.

"I was really thankful at least to have that. Because that gave me something at least to do in the day. I would chat with my students and I could prepare work for them."

Try something new

Electrical engineer Mostafa Bayati was laid off from work at a consulting firm, so he decided to make use of his time to start picking up new skills.

"I thought, I have two options. I can either panic and just stay here and cry like a baby. But the second option was kind of taking advantage of my time," he said.

Mostafa Bayati, an engineer, said taking online courses helped him pass the time alone. (CBC)

With many online courses being offered either for free or at reduced prices, Bayati took 10 online training courses including one where he learned about digital music production. 

"I'm still impressed by myself how I could pass that many certificates and exams," he said. 

While the isolation has been challenging, and travel restrictions have prevented him from seeing family in Iran, he said he's tried to stay positive.

'Be gentle with yourself'

Following a divorce, Kathryn Presner found herself living alone for the first time in her life. And then following the pandemic, she had  to limit physical contact with friends as well. 

Early on, she said, she felt acutely anxious about the spread of COVID-19 and the risk of contamination.

"I wasn't going outside for the first couple months at all," she said. "I had developed a sort of almost a phobia of going outside."

But being alone pushed her to seek out other forms of interaction, and she formed a virtual workshop group with people she'd taken a storytelling class with at Montreal Improv.

Presner said when things sometimes felt overwhelming, her motto was not to be too hard on herself.

"I try and be gentle with myself, to be gentle with others when I start feeling irritated," she said. "Just reminding myself that this is an exceptional situation, that everybody's in the same boat."


Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.

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