Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: My flatmate never leaves her room

On this week's podcast, Viv discusses how to deal with an introvert flatmate, feeling pessimistic about a career in the arts, and what to do when a grieving friend needs more help than you can give

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

Being an independent introvert, I'm out and about a lot, but when I come home that's my time to be alone. (Ideally I'd live by myself who can afford that?) I've always had a flatmate who is on the same page as me: we have our own lives and catch up now and then. And this was the basis of my ad when getting my new flatmate. She seemed ideal at the interview, but since moving in a couple of months ago, she never leaves her room. That's alone time to the extreme. Even at weekends, she'll be in her room from Friday evening to Monday morning, even on the sunniest of days. I try and inspire her with ideas for things to do, and include her on the odd occasion I have friends round. But I get the sense she wants us to go hang out and do things together. The truth is I would be happy to suggest us doing things together if she had her own life going on, or showed any real motivation. But even trying to have a conversation... she doesn't have much to talk about. I am beginning to wonder if she has social anxiety? In which case what can I do to be kind, while still keeping a comfortable distance so that I have my space?

Dear Independent Introvert with Mystery Flatmate, Well, this is a tricky one, isn’t it? I understand your anxiety about this situation and I can see that you want to empathise with your flatmate and do the right thing. However, I wonder if you’re worrying about nothing here. Apart from the fact that your flatmate stays in her room all the time, what evidence do you have that she is unhappy with that situation? I think this is less about her and more about you. Is it that really you want the place to yourself and you’re not comfortable that she is sitting in her room being an independent introvert too, albeit one who never actually goes out? You say you get the sense that she wants you to hang out and do things together. But can you be sure of that? Is it possible that you’re reading too much into this? I think there are a lot of options here and what we’re trying to do is read someone else’s mind on very little information and that is never a sensible or rewarding thing to do. I think the best thing to do is to stop stressing out about your flatmate -- because you cannot know what she thinks or might want or might be upset about until she actually tells you. The thing you can know about for sure is what you want and how you feel. So what’s really going on here, Independent Introvert?

Clearly you want your own space. Is it absolutely unaffordable for you to live alone? If that’s your dream, could you work hard on finding a way to make it come true? How much more income would you actually need to live alone and could you find a way of making that income? Maybe your flatmate is making you feel uncomfortable because she’s making you realise that you want a change and you’re afraid to make that leap. The other alternative is to have a clear and honest conversation with her. Ask her if she’s really OK being in her room on her own. Say that you understand because you like being alone too. But you just wanted to check that there was something she wanted to talk about. That way, at least you’ll know the truth. I think, though, that you don’t want to know the truth. What you really want is to find a way to be happy by living completely independently. I wonder if it’s as out of your reach as you think. There are all kinds of options when you put your mind to it: finding someone to house-sit for; maximising your income in some way; downsizing to live in a place you really think is too small but that gives you your independence. The thing about all these things, though, is that they’re scary and they require decisions. It’s much easier to focus on other people and worry about the things that might be wrong with them. Be bold, Independent Introvert, and go after the thing you truly want: freedom to be alone with just you.

Dear Viv,

I'm 31, and a critically acclaimed and respected artist. From the surface, it really seems like I have it all, and in many respects I do. I own my own property, have an exciting creative career where I'm in demand and have friends and family who dearly adore me. Even though I'm single, I have every faith that the right relationship will come into my life in due course.
But I'm struggling financially and managing everything on a shoestring. This is not by choice. I'm having to juggle about four different projects to make ends meet. I don't have the money to hire help and have not been lucky enough to find the representation who might lobby for higher fees for my time and work. I'm spending time meeting with prospective management as well as raising money through grants and making the art work itself.

All this activity eats into my time and compromises my ability to meet someone new.

I know I'm on the right path but I just feel like curling up in a ball from anxiety, struggling with having to cope with so much on my own. I try and walk myself out of states where I beat myself up inside from the frustration and failure.

I know the answer is to keep going, but sometimes I really can't see the light.  I wonder if I will struggle financially and be alone forever as pathetic as it sounds. To stop would be suicide but to continue is equally as painful. This isn't a career advice email, more a cry for help in how to cope better.

I also hope this isn't a self indulgent artist rant. I suspect that many people are juggling a number of roles and may relate to what I'm saying? Do you have any wise and soothing words?

Help.

Dear Artist, I love your letter so much. Let me say this straight off: you rock. You have done an amazing thing, you are doing an amazing thing, you are yourself an amazing thing. It is absolutely no small thing to build a career -- let alone respect and acclaim -- in the creative arts. Many people give up at the first hurdle. And many people give up at the five hundredth hurdle. Please, please don’t give up. Don’t give up on your art. Don’t give up on yourself. And don’t give up on your dreams of finding a great relationship. When things are meant to happen for you, they will happen for you.

I hear the pragmatism in your letter and that brings me so much hope and joy for your situation. You clearly know that a lot of the success in your chosen career is built on luck and being in the right place at the right time -- or knowing the right people. To hold that in mind, keep on working and not become cynical and bitter is a full-time job and I personally have seen many people who are fantastic artists crumble rather than accept this cruel reality. Your letter is the opposite of self-indulgent; you see things clearly and realistically. You are not a moaner or a whinger. You just want to know when all this is going to get easier.

The thing is, it might and it might not. And it might get easier but you might be in the sort of state of mind that you don’t even notice it has got easier. And it might get harder but you might actually discover that you have more resilience that you ever knew. Let’s talk about finance first. It sounds as if you are taking all the right practical steps to improve your situation. It’s not easy. Keep at it. Be tenacious. Have faith. Be dogged. Don’t take no for an answer. Knock on every door. Listen to the La La Land soundtrack: “They say, ‘You’ve got to want it more.’ So I bang on every door.” The story you are living out has been lived out many times before. Find a way to enjoy this stage of uncertainty and fear and experimentation. It all sounds like it’s going in the right direction and you have plenty of proof of the possibility of future success.

As for the partner. Just as you are on the right path with your career (and you know it because you say so yourself), you are on the right path with your personal life. Keep going. Keep the faith. Keep trying things. Keep meeting people. That person is out there. Be hopeful. In a way this situation is a mirror of your artistic life: it’s all about believing in yourself and trusting that there will be a good outcome.

You know you can’t stop and you sound like a pretty tenacious person to me. Thank God, we need more artists like you. By the way, you have to keep going for the sake of other women and for the sake of other artists. On the days you are feeling low, maybe think about that. If you can’t do it for you, can you do it for other people? Every thing you do is making it easier for them. You also say that it’s painful to continue. Yes, it is. This is the struggle. Try and enjoy it. Nothing worth achieving was ever meant to be easy. There’s so much balance and self-awareness and wisdom in your letter. You don’t need me. Listen to your inner voice, it’s telling you the truth: everything is going to be fine. You can cope with the tough stuff, however much of it is thrown at you. You will come out on the other side. Please write back with your news. I know there will be a lot of it. I feel like the thing you wanted me to say in writing this letter was this: Don’t give up. It’s just around the corner. I can say it and I will say it but I know you already know it in your heart. Don’t give up. It’s just around the corner.

You can hear the answers to these and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

A couple of years ago a good friend and ex-colleague of mine - married with children - very sadly took his own life. Although I saw him less often in later years, we were both active on social media. There, I made friends with another friend of his, a younger woman he worked with more recently, who lives close to me. His death has hit her incredibly hard. She grieved quite publicly and still seems quite affected. From what I can tell by her updates, her mental health has deteriorated and she’s had therapy. She’s said she wants to talk to me about him, and asked several times if we can meet up. I know she suffers from depression, he’s not the first person she knew to die by suicide, and she’s single, so I can understand her need. I like her and feel for her. However, I don’t think talking about it will help me and am worried about what I’m letting myself in for if I do. I don’t want to feel responsible for what he did, or for her feelings.

Also, although she hasn’t specifically told me, and says she only met him in person once or twice, I suspect something went on between them. I know his marriage had ups and downs, and that during the downs he sometimes drank too much and over-confided in others. If my hunch is right, the more time I spend with her, the more likely she’ll go into details I don’t want to hear. Dealing with my own recent marriage breakdown and the effect on my children has been difficult enough, without getting involved in others’ problems. So far I’ve managed the situation by keeping busy, avoiding seeing her and restricting our communication to social media, where I can control it. I feel bad about this, and know I can’t keep it up forever. How can I politely let her know I’m happy to be friends but don’t want to talk about him?

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

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