Relishing hours (OK, days) of alone time, doing naked sun salutations, and lounging in my Harry Potter onesie without fear of judgment… it’s what I love about living alone. But the one thing I don’t love? Feeling isolated, especially after the time I woke up paralyzed.
A few months ago, I went to a new chiropractor who had a five-star rating on Yelp. That night, my once-healed spinal injury flared up and locked down the muscles around my trunk (read: total length of the spine).
I lay there in bed frozen like a statue, wide-eyed, and terrified, unable to wiggle more than an inch in any direction. Each time I tried, I was pulled back to stillness by a stabbing sensation in my low back. My phone was about 5 feet away on my desk, far out of reach. I had no choice but to breathe through the waves of pain until morning.
Thankfully, one of my best friends was visiting me from out of town and had a spare key. The timing on that was lucky.
But what if it happened again?
After the hospital, I Googled “check-in service for women living alone” and disappeared down the rabbit hole of options. Most of them were designed for older adults: bedside buttons to press, monitors I could wear, and automated services that would greet me like a perky hotel concierge. None seemed like they would fit until I came across a personal safety service called Kitestring.
The simplicity of the website made me nervous at first (is this a scam?), but it won me over because the service looked discreet, intuitive, and would connect me directly to my loved ones. Plus, it promised to make my user experience as “easy as cherry pie.”
Now more than ever, if you’re worried about an illness debilitating you, this is the robot that will make sure someone knows to check in.
Kitestring is self-care in the digital age, especially for solo dwellers.
“Digitalized wellness services like Kitestring can provide peace of mind, allowing us to put our self-care first so that we don’t have to worry about what might happen if we don’t,” says Juli Fraga, PsyD, a psychologist who specializes in women’s health and wellness.
My account is set up so the bot texts me twice per day, once around 7 a.m. and once at 7 p.m. If I don’t text back “OK” within 12 hours, it’ll auto-notify my emergency contacts that something is off.
These contacts are my neighbor, a few friends, and my oldest sister, who is exceptionally good at responding to texts at light speed.
“Even if you embrace solitude,” says Fraga, “living alone can cause anxiety to spike due to the realization that no one can help out in the event of a medical emergency, household accident, or safety issue.”
Thanks to Kitestring, I’ve also opened up about personal safety concerns with my friends and family, who get to have peace of mind even though they aren’t subscribed to the service.
“I’m comforted by the fact that, if my friend goes on a blind date, out for a hike, run, or walks to her car at night alone and hasn’t made it home as planned, I will know within minutes to check in on her (or him),” says Melissa Hutsell, a fellow journalist and one of my Kitestring emergency contacts. “Plus, I also know I’ve got permission to break down my friend’s door if needed!”
See why she’s my emergency contact? What a boss.
Kitestring is free for limited use, up to three check-ins and one emergency contact. I opt to pay $3 per month for the premium subscription, which includes as many check-ins as I want and unlimited emergency contacts.
Having a handful of contacts makes me feel safer because if I’m suddenly rendered immobile, I know there’s a better chance someone will respond and come knocking.
Think of the robot babysitter like car insurance: it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. And for the price of less than a kombucha a month, I’m not too proud to pay for something like this.
You’ll start by customizing your check-in times. Heck, you can select every 5 minutes if that’s how you roll.
Next, you’ll create an outgoing emergency message for your contacts in case you ever need it. I’m sure there are more creative templates for the I-need-an-adult memo, but mine looks like this:
“Hi, this is Hilary via Kitestring, a personal safety service. If you’ve received this message, it means I’ve been inactive on my phone for 24 hours and something could be wrong. Please call me at [my phone number] or swing by my place at [address].”
You can also customize how much time will pass before your buddies get the alert that you’re actively MIA. I like 12 hours because I’m flaky with my phone and forget about it often. You might want to choose a shorter time span, depending on what you’re up to.
If you’re walking home alone at night, consider checking in every few minutes. If you’re on a Tinder date with someone you feel lukewarm about, use it every hour. If you’re out kayaking, try half a day. You get the idea.
Oh, and take it from my experience: You’ll definitely want to let your emergency contacts know that they’re on your list. I didn’t, and I accidentally scared the sh*t out of my sister one morning when I forgot to text the Kitestring bot. (Like I said, kinda flaky with my phone. Oops.)
Once I apologized profusely for the mishap, she told me how smart she thought it was. “I’m glad that I’m an emergency person,” she said.
A month or so later, when I forgot to text my other sister back for a few days (*ahem* weeks), she knew I was fine on the other end, despite probably being annoyed at my questionable phone etiquette. “I figured you were OK, because you have that service,” she said, unphased.
You can set up three check-ins per month with the free service. If you’re planning to use one for an adventurous outing, be sure to update the outgoing message with your activity and approximate location so others can find you, should something not cool go down.
Here’s an example of what that could look like:
“Hi, this is Hilary via Kitestring, a personal safety service. I am currently out on a walk at [location] on [name of the trail]. I was scheduled to be finished at [time]. If you’ve received this message, it means I’ve been inactive on my phone and something could be wrong.”
There’s another feature that’s worthy of a heart-eyes emoji: customizable duress codes.
Let’s say someone attacks you and steals your phone in the process (what a dick). When Kitestring checks in, unless your attacker enters the *exact* code you set beforehand, it’ll send out the emergency notice to your contacts.
Living on my own feels like a welcome rite of passage, but it definitely tests my anxiety at times. There have been a handful of 2 a.m. moments when I’ve freaked out that the tiny twinge in my spine is going to lead to paralysis all over again.
It hasn’t happened since last summer, but I still know it could.
And while I’ve learned that you can’t always trust Yelp (just sayin’), I’ve also come to realize that, sometimes, the most adult thing we can do is to ask for help — even if that help comes in the form of a texting robot.
I feel calmer on a daily basis now, both at home and out in the world. (Well, as long as my phone is charged and nearby.) It may not be as comforting as curling up with that special someone when I feel like crap or having a roommate who could hear me yelling for help, but this truly is the next best thing.
Hilary Idette is an editor for Greatist and a certified yoga instructor. When she’s not working, she can be found in nature with her two dogs, on a yoga mat, or planning her next travel adventure.