A love letter to... my crappy old flat

A mouse came out from under the fireplace. I screamed and it ran back under, hopefully down the chimney. But still, it was the latest in a number of unfortunate reasons why I am dying to move out of my tiny flat and into the house me and my boyfriend had an offer accepted on in November, seven months ago.

In my tiny flat, the TV aerial is no longer working, the oven isn't good for baking, the toilet chain is on the blink and there's just not enough space for both of us when Jono is staying with me. The last thing I need is a rodent infestation. 

An admittedly huge part of the problem was I hadn't planned on staying in this flat long, and I certainly hadn't envisaged someone else spending so much time here with me! When I first moved in I was decidedly moving on soon, and moving on solo. I'd taken it on without looking at many other places as I needed to leave the house I'd shared with my ex-boyfriend quickly.

It needed to be cheap enough so I could afford the bills by myself, and have some left over to save up, so I couldn't afford anything fancy. I took a small flat in a big house on the Avenues, with peeling woodchip on the walls and an old-fashioned gas fire.

When I first moved into my flat in September 2019 I was having the hardest time. I was completely broken after the end of a really difficult relationship, having not even healed from the end of my marriage yet, and the break up and months leading up to it had left me an empty shell of former myself. 

It isn't usually this tidy...

I remember unloading all my boxes into my new flat and my dad saying to me "Be brave!" when he gave me a hug and left. It was my first time living alone. I didn't realise then just quite how brave I'd have to be, both now and just six months later.

Those first few weeks I got into a good routine and it felt peaceful living by myself, I loved picking out new home things, lighting my candles, lolling around in the bath. But I wasn't a well person at all. I would either cry myself to sleep at 9pm or stare at the ceiling until 4am, and six weeks after living there I finally found the strength to get some help and started seeing a private counsellor. To be honest I’d needed it for a while. 

Therapy helped me endlessly. But so did having the space and privacy and comfort of a place all to myself.

In these three rooms, just a bedroom, open-plan living room/kitchen and a bathroom, I began to learn that I could take good care of myself, learn to love being by myself, and learn how to trust myself again. 

When I’d learned I could rely on myself, I finally started to take better care of my life, I learnt to change broken lightbulbs and bleed gassy radiators and build flat pack furniture, and then do really difficult things like face up to my money worries, and decide what I was going to do with my life!

As the months passed by, life got easier as I made some new friends in Hull, kept myself busy with work, kept seeing my therapist and still kept enjoying spending some time by myself, including travelling solo, and by March 2020, I was doing a lot better. I was really enjoying living alone.

Then, things got even harder again...

Being alone for three months of the pandemic was really hard

I had my last therapy session with my counsellor on my very first zoom call, early in the first lockdown, April 2020. I was one of those optimistic people that had thought coronavirus (as it was then) would be all over within a few weeks!

All the work I'd put into self care, self trust and self reliance had come in really useful when it came to navigating the pandemic, but it was still tough!

I panicked having to try and find food by myself when everywhere was selling out, I panicked about what I'd do if I got ill, with no one to look after me. All my usual social connections were out the window - Friday lunch with my friend at work, drinks with my friends on a weekend, my Tuesday yoga class, meet ups and book club and writing groups - they all went with the incoming pandemic. 

Adding some colour to my office corner

In this draconian lockdown, which was incredibly hard for those alone, I didn't want my flat to feel like a prison, I wanted it to feel like a place of sanctuary. So I hung up rainbow bunting in my windows, I ordered plant deliveries and made myself a nice desk area for working from home, even though I didn't have much space. I clapped for carers out of my open first-floor window, smiling at the girls down the street doing the same. Even though I was physically alone, I wasn't really alone. A lot of us were going through the same thing. 

To get through the tough times, I had to make the most of what I had in my home. I would open my windows on sunny days and listen to the birds sing, or listen to the rain when it was drizzly. The Avenues was such a good location for this. I put my records on and danced around my living room, did yoga in front of YouTube, had picnics for one at my coffee table, lit candles and put on face masks in the bath. I read lots and lots of books, sprawled out on my sofa, cooked delicious food, was grateful for all that I all had in a time of great worry.

I didn't dance to The Cure

As a woman, I think you expect that if you're living with others you're safer, but that's not always the case. When you're living on your own it's up to you to make your life as comfortable as you can, and I think that's why I felt safe and happy here - even though it wasn't the most practical or pretty place I'd lived, I'd succeeded and found myself content with my life. 

When me and Jono started chatting a few months into the lockdown, I sent him some photos of my flat to show him around virtually and I felt proud of how I'd made a tiny, old-fashioned rented flat my own. I'd put up photos I'd taken of Hull, postcards from my travels elsewhere, I kept reminding myself how far I'd come and how many reasons I had to be proud of myself. 

Starting to feel like myself again

I always think about a scene in the film Brooklyn, where Saoirse Ronan’s character Ellis asks her housemate Sheila about how they want their life to turn out. She says...

Would I get married again? No. I want to be waiting outside the bathroom of my boarding-house forever.

Of course I do. That’s why I go to that wretched dance every week. I want to be waiting outside my own bathroom. While some bad tempered fella with hair growing out of his ears reads the newspaper on the toilet.

And then I’ll wish I was back here, talking to you.

It makes me think of how much we often wait for the next great thing to happen for us, that we don’t realise that there’s a lot of happiness to be found in the here and now, even if the situation isn'r perfect and you aren't really where you want to be in life. I found a lot of unexpected joy in my crappy flat, and that’s a lesson that will stay with me. 

The flat is also home to lots of happy memories of mine and Jono’s time here together as a couple, even if it's definitely the right time to be moving on - only two years later than I had originally planned!

So even though I am keeping my fingers crossed that very soon I'll be moving out (and hopefully getting away from the mice!), I'll never forget my time in this crappy old flat. I'll always remember my time here for how different the woman who moves out will be to the woman who moved in, how much I improved my life for the better while I was here, and how having a safe space, as small and basic as it was, to call my own helped me to find myself again.  


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