When I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder 1, I felt an initial wave of relief. Having a diagnosis, a reason for the decades of ups and downs that had marred relationships, career advancement and even how I viewed myself, meant I could begin to focus on living well with my disorder.

It wasn’t long, however, before I started to feel great dread. See, I am 1 of the 37 million Americans living completely alone. I don’t mean “alone but friends and family visit.” I mean alone as in it’s been 2 years since anyone has been inside my apartment other than for maintenance. I mean the phone doesn’t ring if it’s not a telemarketer or a doctor reminding me of an upcoming appointment. I mean alone as in if anything happens to me no one would know for quite some time.

In this I am not, ironically, alone. The Hill reported just this month (December 2021) that since 1980 the number of single households has risen dramatically representing 28 percent of all households across the country and 15 percent of the overall population.

It’s also been reported that people are more likely to live alone in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and that living in isolation can lead to and/or exacerbate depression. In a nutshell, the world is becoming very aware that we are not meant to journey our whole lives alone. Yet, in order to survive, we must adapt.

Having lived alone since my mom died in the 90’s and having no family, I’ve always had to look out for myself in ways people I knew did not. If I don’t make it home from a date no one’s going to know unless I text. Is there a problem or am I just having the time of my life?

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have lived in safe neighborhoods with alert neighbors and that’s a great comfort. Just looking out my window across a city that I love gives me a sense of peace and gratitude. But no matter where we live, those who live alone and with mental health disorders share unique circumstances and concerns. The following are a few of my tips to help those of us living solo live as safely as we can.

  • Kubaton
    If you aren’t familiar, a Kubaton is a self-defense instrument that you can place on your keyring so that it’s with you at all times. It weighs practically nothing, it’s made of a durable type of plastic and it’s actually pretty. Unlike mace, there is no concern about mistakenly spraying oneself in the eyes. It’s easy to carry, inexpensive and there are several YouTube videos that you can follow and practice at home to learn some simple self-defense techniques. I’ve been so impressed with mine that I’ve given a few as gifts to friends. They’re less than $10 USD and you can get one on Amazon here.
  • Nanny Cam
    While I strongly suggest that anyone who lives alone have a security system, many living on a single salary can’t afford a monthly subscription. When I had to decrease expenses during the pandemic, one of the first things to go was my security system. I found an inexpensive nanny cam on Amazon and purchased two; one for my bedroom and one for the living area. In just 10 minutes both were hooked up to Wi-Fi and both audio and video can be recorded or reviewed at any time.

    Initially, I would review recordings daily just to make sure the cameras were working properly. To my surprise, I started seeing some things that would interest my doctor. For one, I wasn’t sleeping well at all. Since the camera was set to record motion, I began to see that every single night in bed was an Olympic tournament. I was tossing and turning all night long and then waking up exhausted. While my initial installation of these nanny cams was for safety, I actually learned some important things about me that I could share with my doctor, and just recently I was accepted to an overnight sleep study. That’s a benefit I did not see coming.

    So if you want an inexpensive way to feel safer at home, a nanny cam may be the way to go for you. And the side benefit is you may learn some things about yourself.

    There are far too many good ones out there for me to recommend just one, but I purchased this one from Amazon because it was inexpensive, rotates on its own 360-degrees and it’s actually cute. It also fit my budget at under $50 USD.

  • Window Frosting
    I love living in a high-rise apartment. However, even though I live high up, there are other high-rise buildings nearby. And depending on my state of dress at any given time, neighbors might see a show! For less than $15, a can of window frosting is a stylish and easy fix. I frosted half my bedroom window and half my living room window. Now I can look out into the world at any time of day or night without concern for who can see me. The best part about this solution is that it is inexpensive to install and just as easy to remove should you be a renter. In less than an hour my windows can be back to their clear condition with no security deposit lost. I’ve done this almost everywhere I’ve lived.

    While I’m not a slave to brand names, I’ve stuck with Krylon over the years since I’ve had no problems with it. This is the one that I use and a 6 oz. can is plenty even for these gigantic windows I have.

    There is another option I feel I have to mention – window clings. You can see here there are infinite gorgeous styles and patterns to choose from. I’ve used these with great results, but it’s more tedious than necessary for an apartment. If this were a condo or a house, I might be more willing. And while you can just peel it off, roll it up and take it wherever you want to reuse – if the windows are not the same size, you’re back at trimming and…trust me, friend. Don’t bother. 😝
  • Wi-Fi Bulbs and Plugs
    Over the years I’ve had some outrageous electric bills. I’m not thoughtless, unconcerned or rich. Having chronic insomnia in addition to bipolar disorder 1, I am frequently awake until the early morning. And when I do fall asleep I could crash for a few hours or all day. There have been times when I have left the lights, television and other electronics on all day and all night not realizing I had.

    Just recently I got an email from my electric company saying that my home is one of the most efficient in my neighborhood (photo on Facebook). This is after replacing most regular bulbs with Wi-Fi bulbs and using Wi-Fi plugs for several items, such as fans, humidifiers and heaters. Most of my lamps are set to turn off after two hours. If I’m awake and on the couch, all I have to do is turn it back on. And if I’m asleep it stays off like it should.

    I also have my electric toothbrush set to charge just 25 minutes a day. Think about it. You brush your teeth, at most, about 4 minutes a day. Why must your toothbrush be charging 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? I even have my deep freezer set to turn off for a couple hours a day. As long as it’s not opening and closing all day long, it doesn’t get a chance to defrost and I’m saving big bucks, clearly!

    Most apps have smart features you can set up. At sunset my living room light comes on automatically. And in the evenings my kitchen stove light turns on so that I don’t have to flip the light on and off every time I enter. It’s amazing what a tiny expense like this has done for my bills.

    There are several other brands and returns are free. Try one or 2 inexpensive plugs or bulbs first with a brand you trust and see how you like the device and the app. If all is well, you’re on your way to savings.
  • A Living Will
    At my last doctor’s appointment for a general check up, I spoke to her about a living will. Knowing that I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she showed some concern for what seemed like my fascination with death. As I explained to her clearly, I am doing my best to live, and live well with this disorder. However, as a single woman who has no next of kin, should I not be able to speak for myself, I do not want someone who knows nothing about me to make choices about how I may have to live the rest of my life in the event something happens to me.

    While it may be dismal to consider, think about it. Whatever your choices are are your own but if you have a preference get it in writing and make sure those responsible for your care are aware of it. I don’t know about anyone else, but the last thing I want to happen to me is to have somebody who doesn’t love me deciding my future.

    I haven’t taken the plunge yet but I’m learning what I can. The Mayo Clinic is a reputable source and I found this short article very useful in explaining the terms and what each means. Mayo Clinic Explanation of Living Wills & Terms You Need to Know
  • Government Benefits
    I realize that in every state and in every country benefits are unique. I have never thought of myself as a disabled individual. I enjoy taking care of myself, shopping, I know how to balance a checkbook (even though few have one anymore) and I can devise and follow a budget. The misconception many have is that a disability can be seen. Not all disabilities are visible.

    I have worked all of my life including being a consultant for the New York City Mayor’s office at one point. Any benefits I may receive to help me live are not at all a handout, and receiving disability benefits does not mean one can never work again. There is no shame in needing help to live your best life, especially when you’re a party of one. Being homeless, for instance, isn’t going to help anybody. My turning down benefits that my taxes went toward benefiting others when I didn’t need them doesn’t help. Benefits set aside for individuals with mental health disorders deserve to be used by those of us living with them. It’s as simple as that. Had I known I’ve had a condition for so long that wasn’t addressed I may not have needed them now. But there’s no reason to look back. I’m looking forward and thankful there are resources available that I never dreamed I’d need.

Living safely alone is one of the best ways we can feel confident in a world we navigate by ourselves. Having the tools to be able to communicate and offer helpful data to better understand and manage your mental health is indispensable. Even professionals question emotions but real data is hard to ignore. Load up your mental health toolbox with what works for you and share with others that can benefit.

As the demographic of people aging and living alone grows I would love to hear some of the things you have discovered that have made it easier to live safer alone, whether it’s a hack, a product or even a regimen that you’ve found useful. Drop your feedback in the comments and let’s talk about it. ❤️

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