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Killing bugs, mysterious rashes, and other dark things about living alone
At least I can open a jar of pickles by myself
I like living alone, but there are some things I don’t like about it. One thing — bugs. I don’t like bugs. Well, with the exception of ladybugs. Anyway, I don’t care for bugs. But when you live alone and a huge beetle comes into your bedroom late at night, you must care because you are the only one to deal with it.
Such was the case last night when a large beetle flew into my bedroom. I’m talking a “Silence of the Lambs” type of bug. The ones who will haunt your dreams, or at least the type that you don’t want flying above your head as you sleep. I was terrified; my cat, Olive, provided little assistance (she hid underneath the bed). If I was going to get rid of this beetle, it would have to be me.
So I got out my trusty handheld vacuum and after some screaming (which to my dismay did NOT alert my neighbours!) I managed to suck up the beetle and quickly threw out my vacuum onto the porch for the evening. I figured this was the best option — he could fly out or…wither away. Either way, I wouldn’t know about it!
The beetle wasn’t the biggest thing that’s happened since I’ve lived alone (more about that later) but it was just another example of “little things” that add up when you don’t have a partner or even a roommate to ask, “Can you kill that demonic beetle, pretty please?”
This has nothing to do with gender, by the way. I think this is an overall issue that most people might bump up against when living alone. Other problems that come up when you live alone include:
opening tight jars (hey, I have small hands and sometimes it takes a village, or a good pair of rubber gloves and a towel to get a solid grip on a lid)
carrying heavy groceries or packages (as my friend Victoria says, “I just need an extra pair of hands.”)
cooking meals (it would be nice to not to cook everything all the time without the only alternative to pay for takeout!)
cleaning (likewise it would be nice not to have to clean everything all the time!)
Okay, so about the last point. Of course we can injure or die without our partner or family around us at anytime, anywhere. But, let’s be honest: it helps to have your “in case of emergency” present most of the time if you happen to choke on your Chinese takeout.
Just like that episode of “Sex and City” when Miranda has to give herself the Heimlich maneuver on a moving box. Later, the fear that she’ll die alone overwhelms herself so much, she has a panic attack that sends her to the ER.
I’ve never related to anything more in my life. So much so that I quickly looked up “what to do when you’re choking alone” and when I discovered that carbonated water supposedly helps, you better believe I bought a case of San Pellegrino that day (I don’t promote this, for legal reasons, but I do encourage you to Google it yourself).
I never thought about dying so much until I lived alone, and then I started to think about dying a lot. A coughing fit. A weird muscle cramp. Swallowing a thick amount of peanut butter that got stuck in my throat. These were all enough reasons for me to think, “This is how it ends. I’m done. I’m a goner.”
A couple years ago a friend sent me a text about her partner’s co-worker, who was in his early 40s and single. He hadn’t shown up to work one morning, my friend said. After not picking up calls or texts, a couple of his co-workers ventured to his apartment. No answer. Later, after contacting the superintendent and authorities to access the premises, they found him on the kitchen floor. He had died of cardiac arrest. Alone.
“Can you imagine dying that way?” my friend asked. Dying alone, as a single person, with days passing before anyone noticed? For the first time in my life, yes, I could imagine that. And it terrified me.
Between 2020 and 2021 it was normal for me to call my doctor’s office every other week (although I tread lightly on the word ‘normal’). During this time I had three ultrasounds and a triple skin biopsy. The ultrasounds came from my insistence that a weird muscle cramp was either a hernia or cancer (and turned out it was neither – just a weird muscle cramp). The biopsies were something I insisted upon having, and while I said it was for preventative measures since my mom had melanoma twice, it was mostly because I had recently watched a TikTok video about a young woman who died because she hadn't had her deadly moles detected early enough and, frankly, it scared the shit out of me. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she’d pointedly said to the camera, her head wrapped in a scarf from the chemo, probably moments before she perished. I made an appointment with my dermatologist the next day.
“Everything looks fine,” my dermatologist said a couple weeks later as she inspected every inch on my naked body, before adding nonchalantly: “The one on your foot is most likely not anything to worry about.”
Dropping a penny from the top of the Empire State Building will “most likely” not kill anyone, but that doesn’t mean one should chuck the contents of their piggy bank over the railing for the hell of it. “Most likely” was not something I was willing to gamble with. I asked for a second opinion. The second opinion came back the same. But, still, I wanted to be sure death wasn’t imminent. So the mole on the bottom of my foot, including two others that I had convinced myself looked suspicious enough to no longer belong on my body, were sliced off.
Two weeks later, as I was hobbling around my apartment, newly scarred, I was thankfully informed that all three moles were most definitely benign.
“You feel better, right?” My dermatologist asked.
“I do,” I said, and I did, albeit temporarily because then I started to get the rashes.
Tiny bumps, which turned into hot red rashes, mysteriously popped up on my torso and legs, disturbing me throughout the day and night. A checklist of plausible causes raced through my mind: Was it my soap? My shampoo? I tossed both. Was it a food allergy? Had I been eating too much avocado? Maybe it was the coconut oil I had started swishing in my mouth in the morning on my new Ayurveda kick? I wasn’t sure, but I tossed them anyway. Was it my cat?
I didn’t toss her, but I did eye her suspiciously for days.
But the rashes still raged on. All sorts of fears swirled through my brain: bed bugs, kidney disease, cancer, you name it. I had my apartment professionally cleaned. I barely ate anything because I was afraid to eat. I dropped five pounds in a week. The rashes would come and go without any seemingly rhyme or reason.
Things took a turn for the worse a couple weeks into this madness when I started to feel the familiar itchiness as I was precariously sipping an avocado-less green smoothie. I went to my full-length mirror and lo and behold, red rashes, larger than ever before, had quickly spread across my back, neck, and underneath my breasts. My tongue suddenly started to feel itchy. Before I knew it I was hyperventilating. My heart was pounding hard against my chest, I couldn’t catch my breath. I was terrified and, so, as a single woman living alone, I did what I needed to do – I texted my mom, and then I called 911.
Have you ever called 911 for yourself? I hope you haven’t and I hope you never do. It’s a pretty surreal experience. You’re pressing those numbers, truly believing you’re in an emergency life-or-death situation (unless you’re one of those idiots who call because you’re tripping out and think everyone’s a a human crab) and then you’re met with a soothing-yet-stern voice who answers, “This is 911, how can I help you?” just like how they do it in the movies.
But that’s where the movie magic stops and reality sets in. Instead of an ambulance racing towards your house in seconds, your emergency is placed into a queue depending on the level of importance, like, how close you are to death. I suppose this system makes sense from an outsider's perspective (i.e. the stoners aren’t taking precedence to an actual emergency) but I was panicking, and wanted instant relief – and not feel like I was ordering an Uber.
However, I wasn’t near death. I wasn’t even close to the top five. I was coherently conversing with the operator, and even cracked a joke about being a “long time listener, first time caller” (it’s insightful to know that I quell my anxiety by doling out Dad jokes). About ten minutes later, the ambulance was scheduled, and the operator swiftly informed me she was moving onto the next caller as if I was one of those guests in the opener of the Frasier Crane show.
“You can’t stay on the phone with me?” I asked, curled up in a ball in the middle of my kitchen.
“I have other people on the line,” she said. “You can call back if you get worse.”
Worse? Meaning dead? She hung up, reminding me that if 2021 had a bumper sticker it would read, “No one cares.”
The good news was, I was self-aware enough to know that I was probably having a panic attack, and not anaphylactic shock, which was confirmed by the three paramedics who eventually showed up at my apartment. After my vitals were given the green light, I took an antihistamine and was told to figure out the problem “sooner than later,” which was probably meant to be helpful, but didn't ease my mind.
“I know how you feel,” the paramedic with the name tag Joan said to me sympathetically, as she packed up her kit. “The same gosh darn thing kept happening to me. Turns out I’m allergic to Christmas trees.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” said the young male paramedic who genuinely seemed more concerned about Joan’s allergy than my own. “That sucks.”
Nodding to the Christmas lights outside my window, she said, “Yeah, it’s a hell of a time of year for me.” As I consoled myself that at least I could enjoy Christmas trees, I knew I couldn’t live like this forever.
Later that week I connected with an allergist. After running through my symptoms with him, the allergist agreed to order a blood test but wasn’t convinced I had an allergy.
“It sounds like a reaction caused by stress,” he said.
STRESS?! I mean, it was in the middle of the pandemic, so that made sense. But I also knew it was related to the stress that comes with living alone.
So I dug into my mental health and spiritual work. I meditated more. I strengthened my faith with God/Universe, and, more importantly, I strengthened my faith in me. There was no ten-step plan here. More like doing a shit ton of inner work and healing that was aching to be done, a process that will look different for everyone. I needed to find a way to feel secure from the inside, out. That no matter what happened, I could trust myself to figure things out and do right by myself.
And…the rashes eventually disappeared! Only to reappear a few months ago. However, instead of freaking out, I knew that I could handle it. I took stock of my stress levels and adapted my lifestyle, making sure that I was being kind to my adrenals and reducing cortisol whenever I could. Within weeks, they disappeared again.
Look, there are so many wonderful things about living alone (a post that I will write about in the future) but there are also some scary and annoying things. I’m still quick to Google every symptom that comes up but I’m better at talking myself off that ledge. During moments that freak me out — like the bug last night, or my rashes — I have to constantly remind myself that I have the ability to look after myself, and that I will be okay because I’ve got me — and she’s a pretty cool individual who can do incredible things.
Even if, and maybe especially if, that means screaming bloody murder and sucking up a large beetle in a vacuum.
So, yes, I think living alone can be an empowering experience. And it can also suck, and I could always use another pair of hands, so in the meantime, I will rely on myself, knowing I can.