Alone and Overwhelmed? This Short Film Has Some Tips for Sheltering Solo

The new short film 'Going It Alone' from Sneakout Studios gives voice to the mood swings of life in the pandemic, finding comfort in the fact that our emotions are temporary and that we can build resilience through mindfulness.  (Sneakout Studios)

Journalist, actor and filmmaker Brent Rose bought a Sprinter van and essentially converted it into a mobile studio apartment, thinking he’d save money and find some adventure while traveling around for work. The plan was to live in the van for a year. Then one year became five. And though van life allowed Rose to tour the snow-capped mountains of Colorado and brick-red deserts of Utah and New Mexico, he also found the road somewhat isolating, especially when it came to relationships.

Then, when shelter-in-place orders came down in California, Rose suddenly found himself feeling very alone. A first date he’d long been looking forward to was canceled. He sought comfort in a Zoom call with two coupled-up friends, but when they kissed on screen, he went into an anxious spiral of wondering when he’d experience romantic love and physical intimacy again—even so much as a hug.

So Rose decided to write, and emerged with a cathartic essay about the emotional ups and downs of weathering the pandemic solo—the sadness, the smugness at not having to deal with kids home from school, the frustration, the hope, the grief, the moments of peace. After he shared the essay with a group of his close high school friends, they teamed up to turn it into a short film: Going It Alone, released last Friday through the newly formed Sneakout Studios, which consists of co-director and animator Rebecca Silvers, composer Yea-Ming Chen, sound designer Greg Sextro, illustrator Dylan Ricards and photographer C. Bay Milin.

Like Rose, Silvers, who collaborated on the storyline, is also sheltering alone in her apartment in Berkeley, and the two friends both use mindfulness and meditation to cope with the careening mood swings the pandemic can create. Observing one’s emotions, accepting them and letting them pass without judgment is foundational to many types of meditation; this idea anchors the plot of Going It Alone.

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In the short, the protagonist, an anthropomorphic, cartoon number 1 voiced by Rose eventually comes to terms with the fact that the flurry of emotions is going to cycle in and out of him for a long time. The more he works on accepting these volatile feelings, the less earth-shattering they become, and the more resilient he will be.

“It’s not just about the loneliness of wanting a romantic partner. A lot of it is the literally being alone,” reflects Rose, who is sheltering in place in the Central Valley town of Paso Robles. “When you have to be your own rock and you’re also feeling unmoored, it’s exhausting. And you have to come up with better coping strategies.”

The Sneakout Studios team in a recent Zoom meeting. Top row, left to right: Rebecca Silvers, Brent Rose, Dylan Ricards. Bottom row, left to right: Greg Sextro, C. Bay Milin, Yea-Ming Chen. (Sneakout Studios)

Indeed, some psychologists have described life in the pandemic as a collective state of grief. Whether we’re mourning a personal loss or taking in the scope of the global tragedy, the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are typically not linear, and come and go in waves. Making matters more challenging, the grief only becomes more compounded with each new report on the pandemic’s death toll and economic devastation. For many people, it’s an emotionally exhausting cycle that’s left them feeling stressed, depressed or depleted.

“Basically we’re all processing trauma, and the trauma hose has not been turned off,” says Rose. “We’re still in this precarious situation. We’re still scared. We’re still learning about this virus, and we’re trying to figure out what our new reality looks like and it’s shifting under our feet everyday.”

The creators of Going It Alone wanted to provide comfort, and to let viewers know that sheltering in place while single has its challenges, just like being cooped up with a spouse or entire family. Whether alone or with others, we all now have to find ways to cope.

'Going It Alone' poignantly illustrates dashed hopes of romantic connection during the pandemic. (Sneakout Studios)

“The notion that I can be OK currently as a single person living on my own and being content with that is a pretty new concept for me in my own life,” says Silvers, adding that she’s sometimes felt judged for not actively seeking a partnership. “It’s not an easy thing to accept because it goes against these kind of ingrained societal norms.”

To deal with life in the pandemic, Silvers says she’s been meditating every day and listening to talks and guided meditations by the psychologist Tara Brach. She and Rose decided to add mental health resources to the Going It Alone website, including links to Brach’s online offerings, the Open Path collective of sliding-scale therapists and the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK.

The film ends on a hopeful note: the pandemic is temporary and the emotions this time brings, overwhelming as they may be, are temporary too.

“I just have to buckle in for the ride and stay present,” says Rose. “That helped me so I hoped it would help other people.”